Neuroscience: Can mindfulness change your brain? PART 1
The effects of meditation on your soul
Or how the soul can change your body´s biology
Neuroscientists discovered how the “soul” can change the body and help to overcome illness. Meditation, yoga, and positive thinking have been seen as “esoteric stuff” for the longest time. They now have a place in conventional medicine.
22 depressive people were part of a study. One man (we´ll call him John) was a family father. During some phases of his illness, he was not able to leave the house for weeks. He just wanted to get rid of the brooding. No more setbacks, that was the goal of the study.
John and the other participants learned and practiced yoga and mindfulness. They tried to appreciate and apprehend the Here and Now. The first exercise was to find out: How is it when I see a raisin? When I feel it, smell it, taste it.
Once a week they had a group meditation and on the other days, they mediated 45 minutes at home.
John (who was a doctor) was very skeptical in the beginning. He believed in conventional medicine, yes; he even felt obliged to stick to it. He never dabbled into meditation and other “esoteric stuff”. Now he was sitting in the lotus pose and asked himself: What am I doing here?
The more and the longer he was working with his mind, the more he liked it. “It was the best raisin in my life” he said later.
Meanwhile, he is back to his old job and is not on medication anymore. He meditates every day.
Can mindfulness change your brain?
When he came across an article in “Psychiatry Research” that discussed the study, he was a part of he finally understood. Meditation has changed the biology of his brain.
The brain’s electrical activity has been measured before and after the tests. In addition to several neurophysiological tests, the reaction to individual tones had been documented.
The result? In contrast to the participants from the reference group the brains of the participants who trained and practiced mindfulness reacted much stronger to the acoustic stimuli. It learned to not constantly brood so that extra resources could be used on the sounds.
That fits perfectly to what John and the other participants experienced. Many of them felt that they can think clearly again. “Meditation helps to focus and direct attention,” said another member. “You do not get lost as often in negative thoughts.”
US American psychologist Bethany Kok also researched the healing capabilities of the mind. Her tests were focused on the vagus nerve. It runs from the brainstem all the way through the chest cavity to the gut, and it serves the ear canal, abysm, larynx, lung, stomach, bowel, and heart.
When we breathe in our heart often beats faster than when we breathe out. This difference is the stress condition of the vagus nerve. A high tonus guarantees a regular digestive function, says Bethany Kok. And it is also essential for social contacts. The look into the eyes of someone, the understanding smile, the agreeing nod – all of this is operated by the vagus nerve.
Wouldn´t it be awesome to learn how you can increase the tonus?
With her colleagues at the University of North Caroline, Kok started a 9-week experiment. 65 men and women wrote down the positive and negative feelings and happenings of the day. Half of them in addition to that attending a meditation class.
Bethany Kok presented her findings in “Psychological Science”: The vagotonic of the people who meditated had increased.
If we nourish our minds with positive feelings our tonus increases. That is related to better health and could lead to longevity.
It is the mind that builds its body
Said Friedrich Schiller once. More and more neuroscientists learn how right we was.
The mind can change the body.
With that knowledge meditation does not seem all that esoteric anymore, right? Many psychologists and doctors now combine the Buddhist and Hinduistic technique of meditation with conventional medicine.
Why not cure some diseases on the way to nirvana?
Nobody (at least not me .. ) is saying you can just think any disease away. But meditation influences health and it´s a side effect free way of healing that doctors and psychologists do not use often enough.
People would not need conventional treatment for years and years if the medication worked for everyone.
So why is mindfulness not more promoted and recommended?
There is just not as much money in the game. A lot of money is being made if you are ill and on some heavy and expensive prescription drugs. Or visiting a shrink for years. The side effects of most prescription medicaments will make sure that you can hardly leave the system.
What if I told you that you can probably achieve better results side-effect free? At no or low cost. I think it´s worth a shot.
Luckily, neuroscience made the topic more attractive. It´s now booming, and that is perfect for the people. Yoga, mindfulness, tai-chi, qigong – meditation is not limited to religious contexts anymore.
Another excellent resource is leading neuroscientist Mark Waldman’s free email series “Enlightenment and the Brain”. You can get it by clicking on the link HERE.
I hope you did enjoy part 1/4. The other parts will follow soon.
To sum up what we have learned:
- Meditation aids in the healing of the body
- Mindfulness is an effective practice
- The mind can change the body
- Most people can heal depression side-effect free
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