This is how mindful meditation changes your brain
Do you ever wonder why some people seem to move through life so effortlessly, while others trudge and gnaw their way through everyday chores? Some are full of enthusiasm and wonder for life, while others are beaten down by fears and loathing. These differences in personalities are the result of how our brains are wired – how we think, react, feel, and therefore behave. We all have default patterns of thoughts that are ingrained in our minds. And when these don’t work for us, life can seem dull, difficult or worst of all depressing. But what if these same wires could be changed for the better?
For years, people around the world have been using meditation as a way to deal with stress and anxiety. Today we know that mindful meditation can help us change the very fabric of our brains, changing how we perceive and interact with the world around us.
How the brain works?
Our brain creates patterns of thoughts by building connections between billions of brain cells. These shape our memories, habits, behaviours, emotions and traits like confidence and empathy.
People with strong wiring are able to learn things quicker and faster. They are generally better performers – good in studies, stable relationships and successful at work. While those with weaker networks tend to exhibit weaker performance as they are not so good at learning, retaining and applying. Such people often become frustrated and dwell in negativity, leading to unhealthy relationships with the family and society and often addictive habits like drugs, alcohol and smoking.
If we can change and mould these connections in the brain, we can effectively transform our personalities for the better.
How is this possible?
Till as recent as the last century, the scientific community considered the brain to be unchangeable. It was widely accepted that the brain develops till the age of sixteen years, after which it becomes fixed and hardwired. In other words, there isn’t much one can do to change their thinking past sixteen years of age. But recent studies have shown that there are ways to reactivate dormant wiring in the brain. Meditation is a time tested method to do this.
Take the great sage Maharishi Valmiki for example, who used to be a dacoit in his youth, killing and robbing people. After he began sadhna (or meditation), he achieved high levels of knowledge and eventually wrote one of the biggest epics of Indian mythology – the Ramayana. There was also the great Sanskrit poet and writer, Kalidas, who once cut the very branch on a tree that he was sitting on. He was considered a fool for many years. But after years of sadhna (or meditation), he became one of the greatest poets in Sanskrit literature. Such examples exist across the annals of history and even in the present time.
How Mindful Meditation helps?
Let’s first understand the process with which mindful mediation works. Meditation makes us focus on our minds, and become conscious of the thoughts flowing through it. We start identifying and recognising our thoughts, even the most negative ones like depression, stress, anger and anxiety. This recognition itself is more than half the solution.
Once we become aware, we can start neutralising our negative emotions and slowly begin to change the thought itself. In fact, one develops the power to choose – to think or not to think or to think otherwise. This process in itself is extremely empowering and transforming.
The real change begins as the brain decides which thoughts to focus on, which to let go and which to change and evolve. In this way, one can control negative thoughts which are often a reflection of one’s own faults and traumas. We can choose to look at events and ourselves differently.
By bringing the awareness into the present moment and regulating emotions, meditation further enhances attention and self control. Only by being present in the moment can we control our habits and thus change negative emotions into positive.
This process of self awareness and working on the self improves our relationship with ourselves as well as others. It serves to make us more sympathetic towards others. And with a mindful memory, our ability to learn new things improves as well.
The human brain has an amazing capacity to adapt, reorganise, edit and mould information, by changing the connections between the brain cells. Mindful meditation is a powerful tool to take charge of this process and hence, shape one’s attitudes, emotions and behaviour for the better.
- By Saroj Modi, Founder, The Inner Startup