Brain Awareness Week Post: Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

You know the brain behaves like a muscle right?

And what do we know about our muscles – the triceps, quads, glutes etc?

We know that we can change the size, shape and strength of them when we ‘workout’.  This is the general consensus.

Well mindfulness, and meditation practice especially, is an extremely powerful workout for the brain.  It can help strengthen the neural pathways connected with emotional regulation and even ‘grow’ the part of the brain associated with a sunnier outlook on life.  In this article it is reported that Zeidan, a research fellow in neurobiology stated:

“the more you sit in meditation, the more your every day non-meditative life looks like meditation.”

A common explanation of this process is that by meditating we are rewiring our brains.  This can happen because of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise and remould itself.   

Or you may wish to consider it like this…

Have you ever gone for a walk across a field where no one else appears to have trodden before?  You know this to be true because the grass is lush and springs back into place easily after you’ve walked on it.

And then you begin to tread that path everyday.  After a few days the grass stays flat when you walk on it.  Then it becomes a little patchy with brown, dusty sections coming through.  Then the grass has disappeared altogether and a footpath has emerged.  Others begin to use it and it broadens and becomes more apparent – easier to use.

This is an analogy for what happens to the neural pathways in your brain when you regularly commit to formal mindfulness practice.  The more formal mindfulness practice you do – developing the skills of being fully present, having an increased bodily awareness, exploring how to respond to, rather than react to events, being compassionate and empathetic – the more these patterns of thinking become the norm.

This is because MRI scans have shown that the parts of the brain that are strengthened through meditation are the pre-frontal cortex – connected with emotional regulation and logic, and the hippocampus – associated with learning and memory –  whereas the amygdala, the center of fear and anxiety –  is apparently weakened.  For more information read this article here.

Though no scientist, I wrote this post in recognition of it being Brain Awareness Week this week. I find the science behind mindfulness incredibly interesting and it is a real motivator for me to sit for a few minutes in meditation most days.  What are your thoughts?  

Petite Pudding
Diary of an imperfect mum

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