Wait… How in the world does meditating help my focus?
“Meditation makes your body release positive chemicals, but more importantly it stops the release of toxins“
If you have begun your meditation and mindfulness journey then you know that feeling of extreme peace and comfort you find after a session. But have you ever stopped to wonder what is going on to give you that peace? It is more than just relaxation or a slowed mind. You are fundamentally altering the chemical reactions occurring inside your body through engaging with the mind and taking your control over it back.
SO MEDITATION ACTUALLY CHANGES THE CHEMICALS IN MY BRAIN?
Yes, quite literally you are altering the chemicals that your body produces. Let me take a second to explain what exactly is going on within your brain and elsewhere in your body.
In terms of an immediate response, when you meditate you slow down your heart beat, which in turn take stress off the cardiovascular system. The reduction in overall stress tells your body that it can relax and does not need to be so revved up. When you feel that sense of anxious or restlessness, your body responds by increasing the heart rate and preparing all of your muscles to either fight or run away (this is referred to as the fight or flight response). By bringing the heart rate back down, you reduce the amounts of adrenaline (epinephrine) or noradrenaline (norepinephrine) which are responsible for providing immediate muscle movement. While these chemicals are very needed in order to do things like run away from an enemy or fight someone during a boxing class, when they remain elevated in our day to day lives, it produces a litany of other “chemical cascades” which take away the nutrients and energy your body needs for the production of all of the other cells and chemicals required to maintain your health.
Okay, cool… but how exactly does that relate to helping me focus more?
Well, these other functions which the body should be focusing on seem to have drastic impacts on how our brains work. While we don’t yet understand why exactly this occurs, many MRI studies have recently shown us that those who undergo meditation and practice mindfulness show higher concentrations of grey-matter (responsible for memory-storage) contained within the hippocampus of the brain. Furthermore, a study conducted at UCLA has showed that not only was the gray-matter denser within this area, but those studied also were able to maintain more of their gray matter longer throughout their lives.
Secondly, and most importantly for our focus and critical thinking skills, mindfulness has been shown to reduce activity within the DMN (Default Mode Network) which is responsible for our day dreams. When we aren’t using our prefrontal cortex to focus more deeply on our projects, our DMN activity spikes and leads to our minds making random connections. These connections are thought to be what cause mental spirals, those moments where you feel sad and you just start becoming sadder and sadder and your perceptions of problems become far worse than they actually are.
Finally, the respondents in the studies showed within MRI scans that they possessed significantly less-activated amygdala’s than those who did not practice meditation. This region of the brain is responsible for our emotional reactions to the world. The less-activated is is, the more control you have over your reactions to negative events.
So next time that you have a ten minute bus ride, go out for a walk, or have a quick fifteen min of free time take a moment to meditate. You’ll come out feeling more relaxed, clear minded, focused, and in the long-term it may preserve your memory and prevent health complications.
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