Body, Mind, and Meditation: What's Their Relationship?
There’s a lot of literature on meditation and its benefits. Although meditation was once a novelty brought from the East, it’s now a common habit for many Westerners. What some may not know is that there’s a deep relationship between the body, mind, and meditation.
Now, the advantages that this practice offers to those who do it on a daily basis are many. However, today we’re going to be talking about how and why it works. In other words, we’ll touch on the changes that occur in the brain and the body through its persistent practice.
In some way, meditation shapes the brain which, as a consequence, influences our emotions and body. To understand how the body, mind, and meditation interact with each other, there are some technicalities that we must touch on. Let’s see what they are.
“Only in my deep meditation do I come to know who I truly am.”
Welcome to the Fascinating World of the Brain
Here are the brain areas that participate in meditation and the way they work:
- The lateral prefrontal cortex is the brain structure that allows us to get a more rational perspective of things. The lateral prefrontal cortex participates in the regulation of emotional experiences and restrains the tendency to take things personally. This area is commonly known as the evaluation center.
- The medial prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that constantly talks to you about yourself; your experiences, your ideas, and your goals. It processes all the information pertaining to you and your relationships with those around you. We know it as the self-reference center. It’s composed of two sections. One of them participates in the increase of rumination and concern. The other one plays a very important role in empathy.
- The insula is the part of the brain that controls bodily sensations and experiencing emotions at the intestinal level. The insula is part of a system that helps modulate the level of response depending on the feelings in your body.
- The amygdala is our organic alarm system, also known as the fear center. It’s directly related to the ‘fight or flight’ response in situations that we perceive as dangerous.
How a Brain that Doesn’t Meditate Works
A brain that doesn’t meditate can often feel ‘stuck in itself’, given that it strongly depends on the self-reference center. On top of that, this center becomes linked to the bodily centers of the feeling of fear, causing strong neural connections between the two of them. In this case, it’s the self-reference center the one that’s processing most of the information received.
This dependence explains why some people get hooked on negative thoughts. This happens because the connection between the self-reference center and the evaluation center is weak.
When we increase the work capacity of the evaluation center, there’s a significant decrease in activity in the self-reference center, the part which, as mentioned above, tends to take things personally. This also improves the activity of the part involved in understanding other people’s feelings. This is basically the way it assimilates all the information received; discarding erroneous data and reducing excessive thinking and concern.
The Brain in Meditation
Several things go on in a brain that meditates regularly. For example, the connection between the self-reference center and the bodily centers of fear begin to break. This decreases the strength of the fear responses of the individual. In fact, this partly explains why anxiety decreases when we meditate on a regular basis.
On the contrary, a stronger neuronal connection is created between the evaluation center and the fear center. This means that when a bodily sensation of fear of something potentially dangerous reaches the brain, it’s able to evaluate it more rationally instead of automatically heading to a fear response. In addition, this helps the individual stop creating hypotheses about what’s going on in their lives (rumination).
“Meditation is a must before you can really love. One should be capable of being alone, utterly alone, and yet tremendously blissful. Then you can love.”
Empathy: An Additional Advantage
In a brain that meditates regularly, there’s a great increase in the connections between the self-reference center and the center of bodily sensations related to empathy. Through meditation, we activate the part of the brain involved in experiencing empathy: the insula. This way, we become more capable of inferring the mental states of other people, their desires, dreams, and motivations.
Body, Mind, and Meditation
The decrease in negative emotions seems to directly influence the immune system. In addition, practicing meditation regularly slows down the heart and dilates blood vessels.
Certain studies have found a connection between transcendental meditation and the reduction of blood pressure. On top of that, this practice also benefits the endocrine system. When you meditate, you secrete endorphins, the so-called hormones of happiness. Thus, you manage to maintain stress hormone levels at an adequate level.
As you can see, the body, mind, and meditation go hand-in-hand. Now, for those who want to start their meditation path, our advice is to do it guided by the hands of professionals as well as to be consistent. We’re talking about taking advantage of our neuroplasticity through habit and daily practice.
“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.”