Scientific studies have proven that the practice of mindfulness, through meditation or less formal methods, can actually change the composition of the brain by increasing cell growth and activity in some areas while reducing it in other sections associated with negative feelings and actions.
Research indicates that mindfulness can improve your focus, relationships, emotional control, sleep quality and immune system, as well as reduce risk for illness. There are many other benefits, too. But how exactly does it do that?
Let’s take a look.
Frontal cortex — Mindfulness practice can boost activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which regulates executive functions including planning, memory and the ability to switch between tasks. Increased function has also been documented in the medial prefrontal cortex, which learns associations between everyday situations and the best adaptive behaviors for each.
Amygdala — Long-term engagement with mindfulness has been linked to reduced gray matter and function in the amygdala. This small structure is the brain’s alarm system to impending danger in the present, but can become overreactive to past and future events and create stress. Researchers believe mindfulness can relieve symptoms in trauma victims and those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anterior cingulate cortex — Mindfulness increases blood flow to and activity within this section associated with error detection, morality, motivation, motor skills and attentional control. This culminates in the ability to focus on cognitive tasks and may contribute to enhanced control of painful emotions.
Social neural circuitry — These are the circuits that direct interactions with other people; with higher activity resulting in higher relationship satisfaction. Some of the positive results of this neural activity include a calmer amygdala, the release of hormones associated with human bonding, and increased skill at recognizing emotions in others.
Hippocampus — Simple deep breathing exercises can directly aid the hippocampus, the seat of much of our memory, because it contains more blood vessels than any other section and is the first to suffer from oxygen deprivation. Mindfulness can thicken the lining of the hippocampus, aiding its functions of retaining new memories and consolidating them with existing ones.