Meditation is the buzzword of this century! Many motivational and spiritual speakers are inspiring people to take a break from their busy schedule and get into a peaceful headspace. Meditation is the practice of shutting the world out and concentrating on one’s inner peace. But, spirituality apart, there is a scientific reason behind the many benefits of meditation. Our brain uses electromagnetic energy to function, and this electrical activity of the brain is displayed in the form of brain waves. Meditation causes an alteration in these brain waves.
How Does Meditation Affect Our Brain Waves
When we are in a state of meditation, our brain waves pass through different phases of relaxation. Whether in a state of rest, activity or sleep, our brain always displays some level of electrical activity. The frequency and location of electrical brain waves are measured with the help of EEG (electroencephalography) electrodes, which are placed in standard areas of the scalp using a custom-made hat.
What Actually Happens In The Brain?
In a study, MRI images of various candidates showed a drastic change in beta-wave activity in their brain after 20 minutes of meditation. Here is how the different parts of the brain get stimulated with meditation:
- Frontal lobe: This part of the brain helps us plan, reason, emote and be aware of ourselves. This lobe tunes off during meditation, thereby detaching our mind from ‘self’.
- Thalamus: The thalamus co-ordinates our senses and channels them from different parts of the body to the brain. It has been found that meditation slows down the rate of this channeling of sensory information.
- Parietal lobe: This lobe processes the data handed in by the thalamus, and gives you a sense of time and space. Meditation slows down the processing activity.
- Reticular information: This is mainly responsible for putting the brain on alert, based on what stimuli it receives. This part also slows down during meditation.
Types Of Brain Waves
Our brain waves fall into five categories:
1. Alpha Waves
These are the most common brainwaves that occur at the beginning of meditation as you try to go into a deeper state of mind. These are electromagnetic oscillations with a frequency range of 8Ð12 Hz. They arise as a result of the electrical activity of pacemaker cells in humans. They provide you the following health benefits:
- Calm the autonomic nervous system
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Calm the mind by lowering the production of stress hormones, particularly cortisol in the body
- Encourage weight gain over long term
- Promote relaxation, non-arousal, and hypnosis
2. Beta Waves
Also known as beta rhythm, these brain waves occur with a frequency range 12 to 30 Hz. They become active when the brain is working on goal-oriented tasks, such as planning an event or pondering over an issue. Meditation has the following effect on beta waves:
- Help create awareness
- Improve concentration
- Help logical thinking and extroversion
- Promote active conversation
3. Theta Waves
These waves are recorded from inside the brain or electrodes glued to the scalp. They are often considered the ‘third eye’ as they help gain wisdom. These become predominant when we do any task that is automatic like driving, washing clothes, shampooing hair, folding clothes, etc. They are also present in daydreaming and paranormal phenomena. During meditation, these waves provide the following benefits:
- Provide you with a positive mental state
- Promote a deep sense of relaxation and encourage creativity
- Improve problem-solving skills and make memorization easier
- Promote improved focus and concentration
- Strengthen mental connection
- Promote a balanced and calm state of being by lowering stress and anxiety
4. Gamma Waves
Meditation also causes an increase in gamma brainwaves. These are associated with intense focus and are weak in the regular brain activity. They provide you the following benefits:
- Decrease anxiety and fear and increase positive emotions
- Decrease depressive feelings and symptoms
5. Delta Waves
Delta brain waves in meditation are the slowest among all the brainwaves. These are high amplitude brain waves with a frequency of 0Ð4 hertz. These brainwaves are associated with the deepest stages of sleep. As we all know, proper sleep is critical for relaxing your mind and improving the thinking capability. Here are the benefits of meditation of Delta waves:
- Increase the production of two anti-ageing hormones, such as DHEA and melatonin
- Help promote deep compassion and empathy for others, improve social intelligence and avoid conflict
- Rejuvenate your mind and body by regenerating the chemicals that your body uses while you are awake
- Cause an increase in the release of human growth hormones (HGH)
- Improves sleep
- Facilitate quick healing
Caution: Excess of any of these brainwaves can adversely affect your health and mental condition.
Benefits Of Meditation For Brain
During meditation, the brain shows theta waves predominantly. These waves are associated with a relaxed state of mind as compared to alpha waves, which are associated with an aroused state of mind.
Let’s have a look at the benefits of meditation for brain:
1. Grey Matter
Although there is no conclusive scientific proof of this, some studies have shown that meditation is linked to the larger amounts of grey matter in the frontal areas of the brain. More grey matter can increase focus and emotional stability in an individual. An MRI study conducted at Harvard University showed that meditation leads to thicker grey matter in the parts of the brain, which are associated with compassion and self-awareness.
Numerous neural pathways emerge from the medial prefrontal cortex of our brain. These trails connect to the brain’s fear and bodily sensation perception centers. When you are in an upsetting situation, the prefrontal cortex makes you feel scared or anxious. Meditation essentially loosens these tight connections, so that such a strong reaction isn’t triggered in the prefrontal cortex. Meditation reduces the pangs of anxiety. Instead, it allows us to evaluate the situation more rationally.
Some researchers at the Wisconsin-Madison University took MRI images of Tibetan monks and discovered that meditation and resilience have a deep-rooted connection. The study shows that meditation helps the amygdala (which is associated with emotion and emotional memories) recover quickly from trauma or stress.
Reduced stress level is one of the biggest benefits of deep meditation. In 2012, researchers split a study group into three, and they are:
- One group practiced mindful meditation
- Another group took body relaxation training
- The last group was not given any training at all
A multitasking, stress-inducing test showed that those who meditated showed less stress than either of the other groups.
At Leiden University, Netherlands, researchers found that people who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better at tasks, which demanded new ideas. However, the same study indicates that the boost of creativity is not prevalent in those who practice the focus-attention meditation. However, creativity is not an easy thing to research as it is immeasurable physically. A lot more research is required actually to confirm the effectiveness of meditation in creativity.
According to research conducted by the Osher Research Center and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, people practicing mindful meditation could adjust the brain waves to tune out distraction. This increases productivity and easy incorporation of new information and thus boosts memory.
Do you meditate? What kind of meditation do you prefer? Share your views with us in the comments section below.