This past week I was reading up on some recent information from Richard Davison, world-renowned neuroscientist at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was completely taken by the new evidence that shows exactly how meditation can change the brain.

We used to think the brain you’re born with is, well, what you get. That the circuitry you’re dealt is the only one you can play with long term. Not so, according to Richard Davison and his studies. His findings tell us the brain is designed to adapt constantly.

  1. You can train your brain to change
  2. The change is measureable
  3. New ways of thinking can change it for the better

That’s great news!

Davison clarifies that “mindfulness is not like taking a pill, having it enter the blood stream in order to produce an immediate sensation, or to dull one. (With mindfulness) we can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain.” These changes can be achieved with practice.

Brain Changes Born of Practice

I think some of the following facts are fascinating in that they give you a deeper awareness of the potential of your mind so let’s look more closely at the ways your brain may change when you practice meditation:

1. Increased Grey Matter/Cortical Thickness in the:

  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex – this is located behind the brain’s frontal lobe and is associated with self-regulatory processes like your ability to monitor attention and allow for more cognitive flexibility.
  • Prefrontal Cortex – this is located in the prefrontal lobe and is responsible for planning, problem solving and emotion regulation (technically called Executive Functioning)
  • Hippocampus – the part of the limbic system that governs learning and memory and is very susceptible to stress and stress-related disorders like depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

2. Decreased Amygdala size: the amygdala, the brain’s “fight or flight” center and the seat of your fearful and anxious emotions, decreases in brain cell volume.

3. Diminished or enhanced functionality in certain networks/connections. The functional connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex are weakened. This weakening allows for less reactivity. It paves the way for connections associated with higher order brain functions–such as attention and concentration–to be strengthened.

4. Reduced Activity in the Brain’s “ME” Center: Practicing meditation or mindfulness decreases the activation of “monkey mind” which is when your mind is directionless and you go from thought to thought (in worst cases, you begin to ruminate).

Now the truth is the extent to which mindfulness or meditation can impact the brain is the extent to which you practice. In just 20 minutes per day of focus on the present moment, standing back without judgment, breathing gently, you become at ease, more accepting and less reactive.

You know that practicing a sport or an instrument strengthens and supports the brain networks involved in the sport or music. So Mindfulness can make the brain, and therefore, you, more responsive instead of mindlessly reacting to life.

The great news is that mindfulness can change that incessant chatter in your head. It can chart new pathways in the brain! Yahoo! We are powerful!

Some of my favourite teachers in meditation and mindfulness (including Richard Davison) are Jon Kabat Zinn, Sam Harris, Eckhart Tolle, Sadhguru, and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.  Book off some time for yourself to explore and see if a mindfulness practice is the practice and skill that helps you go from reactive to responsive.

Whichever way you choose to exercise your brain, get excited about this new information and apply it… I know you’re going to LOVE the results!



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