What Our Brains Do During Meditation

Ever wondered what happens in your brain during meditation?

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and colleagues scanned the brains of eight Buddhist monks who altered between a “neutral” state of mind and a meditative state. Many traditional forms of meditation involve focusing on fostering a sense of compassion toward others and the larger world, usually known as loving-kindness meditation.

The kinds of brainwaves that appeared during the monks’ meditation, including loving-kindness meditation, were “high-amplitude gamma-oscillations in the brain,” the same kind of waves associated with neuroplasticity, or a state of learning. This suggests that the brain is actively re-organizing neural networks or generating new neurons as you meditate.

The regions of the brain seen to activate during meditation are actually some of the older regions, which are associated with our so-called primal instincts, as well as some bodily functions. This might explain why some studies have found improved immune responses in meditators.

Most religious and spiritual practices invoke some form of meditation such as prayer or reflection, as well as a call for compassion toward others, such as taking care of the poor. If these aren’t inherently good practices, scientists can begin to confirm some of the ways they benefit our health, both mentally and physically. Whether you’re a meditation newbie or a long-time practitioner, taking time to reflect and foster a sense of compassion probably stands to offer some benefits to your wellbeing.

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