How Meditation Physically Changes Your Brain

How Meditation Physically Changes Your Brain

Everyone pictures something different when they hear the word “meditation.”

It could be a monk, sitting cross-legged in a stone monastery high up in the mountains.

Or a zen master chanting deep resonating notes while slightly levitating off the ground.

Maybe it’s your eclectic aunt surrounded by crystals and incense.

The truth is, most of the people practicing meditation around the world are just like you. 

You don’t need to be a zen master or travel to a faraway land to learn and benefit from the practice of meditation. 

In honor of World Meditation Day (which is today!), we decided to compile some of the scientific research that outlines the benefits of practicing meditation. 

There are dozens of studies suggesting that practicing mindfulness meditation can produce tangible changes in brain activity and structure.

One of the most well-known studies was conducted in 2011 by a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

As revealed by their fMRI and MRI brain scans, this is what your brain looks like on meditation:

An expanded and improved Neocortex, which is responsible for your critical thinking. It’s where you form judgments, solve problems, and make decisions among other things. 

A shrunken Amygdala. In this case, ‘shrunken’ is a good thing! This part of your brain is responsible for your fight or flight system. Basically, this is where your fear and anxiety is generated. 

A larger and thicker Hippocampus. This part of your brain seems to be mainly responsible for your learning, memory, and emotional regulation. In a thicker and denser Hippocampus, all these primary skills appear to be strengthened.

Essentially, our brains are a constant work in progress, and practices like meditation heavily influence the final product. 

As American neuroscientist and author David Eagleman puts it in his book “The Brain: The Story of You:”

“All the experiences in your life — from single conversations to your broader culture — shape the microscopic details of your brain. Neurally speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been.”

“Your brain is a relentless shape-shifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry — and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast, detailed patterns in your neural networks.”

If you are looking for a place to learn more about meditation, we highly recommend Sam Harris’ app Waking Up.