Written by Mita Majumdar, M.Sc. | 
Medically Reviewed by dr. reeja tharu, M.Phil.,Ph.D on Jun 14, 2018

Improve Brain Function

The brain has the ability to be moulded by experience

No one really knows how the mind, body and spirit are connected. But experts have noticed that the health of one affects the health of the other. This is to say that if the body is not healthy, the mind and the spirit also become unhealthy.

A lot of research has been done to find out how meditation affects the brain function and what changes occur in the brain during meditation.

To know how brain function changes during meditation, we’d have to know the parts of the brain and what they do. Following are the parts of the brain and the function of each part.

  • Cerebrum: Associated with functions such as thought and action. It consists of four lobes:
    • Frontal lobe: associated with planning future action, control of movement, emotions, and problem solving.
    • Parietal lobe: associated with forming body image, relating body image with extra-personal space, perception of stimuli, and orientation.
    • Occipital lobe: largely concerned with visual processing.
    • Temporal lobe: largely concerned with hearing, and along with the hippocampus and the amygdala it is associated with learning, memory, and emotion.
  • Cerebellum: Associated with regulation and coordination of movement, posture and balance.
  • Limbic System: It is often referred to as ‘emotional brain’. The limbic system contains
    • Thalamus: associated with sensory and motor functions.
    • Hypothalamus: associated with emotion, hunger, circadian rhythms, control of autonomous nervous system, and control of pituitary gland.
    • Amygdala: associated with memory, emotion and fear.
    • Hippocampus: associated with learning and memory.
  • Brain Stem: The brain stem is associated with involuntary functions such as breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure.

Evidence of brain function changes during meditation comes from electroencephalography (EEG) studies as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests. Studies revealed that the activity of alpha- and theta- band power increases in those who meditate over a long period of time. Increased alpha band power is associated with positive attitude, calmness and relaxed state of mind while increased theta band power is associated with increased attention, memory and orientation. It has also been shown that when we experience negative emotions the right side of the anterior frontal lobe shows increased activity and when we experience strong positive emotions the left side of the anterior frontal lobe of the brain shows increased activity.

Decades of research studies have shown that meditation practice significantly increases the low-frequency brainwaves – technically called alpha brain wave activity – that occur in the relaxed state of mind. Experiments on the brain function of Tibetan Buddhist monks in a meditative state showed lot of activity in the left anterior region of the frontal lobe indicating a high level of ‘happiness and compassion. [8]

When the experiments were conducted on stressed-out, unhappy workers, the results showed that after eight weeks of meditation practice, their left anterior frontal region of the brain was significantly active and the workers had a renewed zest for life and work.

All these tests provided support that the brain has the ability to be ‘molded by experience’.

References:

  1. Slagter H. A., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLOS Biology, June 2007.
  2. Bormann JE, Carrico AW. Increases in positive reappraisal coping during a group-based mantram intervention mediate sustained reductions in anger in HIV-positive persons. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2009;16(1):74—80.
  3. Nidich SI, Rainforth MV, Haaga DAF, et al. A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults. American Journal of Hypertension. Dec 2009;22(12):1326–1331.
  4. Bonadonna R. Meditation''s impact on chronic illness. Holist Nurs Pract. 2003 Nov-Dec;17(6):309-19.
  5. Bacci Ingrid and Richman Meryle. Fibromyalgia and the Sympathetic Nervous System. Advance News Magazine for Physical Therapists & PT Assistants. February 18, 2002, Vol. 13 . Issue 4. Page 33
  6. Meditation and Brain Function: A Review - (http://www.eubios.info/EJ141/ej141j.htm)
  7. Effect of Compassion Meditation on Neuroendocrine, Innate Immune and Behavioral Responses to Psychosocial Stress - (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695992/)
  8. Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, et al. Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: effects of meditative expertise. PLoS ONE [online journal], March 2008. Accessed on May 28, 2008.

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