Why Meditation Improves Brain Power


By Mary Jaksch

If you meditate regularly, you’ll know that even a short meditation in the mornings has the power to improve the way you experience your whole day. Not only will you feel more peaceful and relaxed, you’ll also be more alert, feel more positive, and have a greater sense of empathy.

That’s why meditation techniques have been refined over thousands of years.

But do you have to meditate for years in order to experience the benefits?

Recent research has proven that there are measurable brain changes after only eight weeks of meditating regularly. The research was conducted at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness

How we can change our brain

The brain is a complex network. People used to think that our brain is something we can’t influence. But in recent years, research has shown that the inherent plasticity of the brain means that we can create new neurons and lay down new pathways as the result of training.

The brain is like a muscle that we can train

Britta Hölzel, PhD, one of the leading authors of the research into mindfulness meditation, says:

It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.

Awareness is a key aspect of meditation

Most forms of meditation revolve around awareness training. Awareness is different from concentration. To become aware means that we notice what is usually outside our conscious experience.

So, what does this actually mean? It’s hard to become aware of what seems ‘normal’ to us. If you were a fish, for example,  You wouldn’t be aware of water, would you? In order to understand ‘water’, a fish would have to be outside of its ‘normal’ element.

That’s exactly what meditation training does: we come aware of what is usually hidden by going outside of our ‘normal’ mode of experiencing. If you were a fish, for example, you would only understand water if you were lifted out of it.

In the process of training our awareness through meditation, we learn to understand how our habitual thoughts shape our reality.

Let’s try a simple experiment:

Stop reading and notice the sounds around you.

When you start to attend to sounds, you’ll notice that sounds were going on all the time around you, but you somehow managed to screen them out.

What if you were screening out most of your experience?

Internal dialogues drown out most other experiences. That means that it’s possible to go through life, and only experience a fraction. If you spend a lot of time listening to your inner dialogue, you may be missing the small beauties of life: the warmth of sun on your skin, the smell of freshly ground coffee, the kindness with which a friend looks at you, or the delicate taste of the meal you’re eating. If you don’t want to miss out on life: start to meditate.

Meditation allows you to experience your life fully

What is your attention default?

What kind of thoughts does your mind return to most often? For most people the attention default is their internal dialogue. But we only notice what our attention default is when we start meditation, and experience inner and outer stillness. Again, it’s like taking a fish out of water in order to know about water.

Meditation helps us to change our attention default because it trains us to be more present. When we learn to become aware of  our moment-to-moment awareness, our life changes. We become more present, and less self-involved.

One of the changes in the brain through meditation is that affects we become more empathetic.  We become more in tune with others. When we emerge from the fog of our internal dialogue are we able to tune into the needs and hopes of others.

Use the breath as an anchor to the present moment

A simple way to retrain our attention is to use the breath as an anchor that brings us back to the present. Whenever we pay soft attention to our breath, it takes us out of our self-involved inner world. It also calms us and steadies us.

Who are you?

One of the main reasons why meditation changes us is because you can get a glimpse of who you really are – when you drop all ideas about yourself.

What you can notice is that we actually construct our sense of self from moment to moment. That’s the main function of the internal dialogue. When we meditate and are able to notice and let go of the constant chatter in the mind, we get to glimpse the reality of who we are in the depth.

Even if you only meditate for a short space of time each day, there will be a definite change in life after only eight weeks. There’s a radiance and serenity that comes with regular meditation. And, most of all, you’ll become present and really experience your life, instead of living in a fog of preoccupation.

What’s your experience of how meditation has changed your life? Or do you have questions? Please share in the comments.

Related post:
How to Start Meditating: 10 Important Tips

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by MindMapInspiration, Mary Jaksch, kurio's resource, desushil, Mukesh Chapagain and others. Mukesh Chapagain said: Why Meditation Improves Brain Power http://bit.ly/i8pFbI […]

  2. Hi Mary, good post overall and completely within my personal experience.

    From my own experience, meditation improves my “brain functions”, in some general sense. Last January I did a 30 day meditation challenge, and (although I failed for 11 days!) I decided to keep at it with a more relaxed attitude (even started a new blog, 100 per Zen, so far only with two posts). I strive to meditate daily (mindfulness meditation) and try to live a mindful life in general. And this have been by far my most productive weeks ever. Even if I spend my commute, daily chores and similar just engaged in mindful breathing, without thinking about anything, the number of interesting ideas, projects and solutions to problems that come to my mind when I’m working or just “not being mindful” has been astonishing. Up until now I used all that time to think about these kind of things, now I don’t and I have not felt it like a loss.

    Cheers,

    Ruben
    Ruben Berenguel´s last blog post ..Mindful Meditation- Eyes Open or Closed

  3. While many years ago I was a member of a meditation group, after getting married and having young children I slowly slipped away from my practice. In those days, if I stopped to meditate I would fall asleep! LOL

    Kids have grown and I’ve gone back to work. I now use my bus commute as a meditation time… Ssince recently removing my watch, I have adopted a more meditative approach to my “transition times” (the in-between, like waiting at the cash, etc.). Being an early bird, I also use that time when everyone else is still sleeping for a short meditation and/or quiet musing.

    Love your blog!
    Minimalist Wannabe´s last blog post ..Living Without a Watch a More Peaceful Way

  4. Sumit says:

    You have a good power to elaborate things.

  5. Martin says:

    I’ve been meditating for over a year now, 20 minutes a day, Sundays excepted. I haven’t really noticed all that great a difference. I only do it because I went in without expectations. I just think it’s a good way to spend some time, and no bad thing to learn to be good with one’s own company. As far as being more radiant or serene, I don’t think I am. Nor is it any easier to drop into a moment in my day to day. I suppose I now know there’s a moment to drop into, and I do when I think of it, but not in a moment to moment ideal.

    I don’t doubt it’s true for some folks out there. I just wanted to point out that it’s different for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that I am aware of. Articles like this make it seem like there are.

    • Jos says:

      There’s tons of methods to do meditation, search the web or bookstore for it. It could be possible that your experience will change by experimenting with some of these methods.

      If you do what you do you get what you get.

  6. Hi Mary,
    I’ve meditated on and off over the past several years but never have been able to be consistent. Andrea DeBell an Alist Blogger member taught me RPM which stands for Rise Pee Meditate. This little acronym has helped me be more consistent. I do believe in our turbulent world meditation can be very beneficial.
    Tess The Bold Life´s last blog post ..The Loving Heart- from Conflict to Peace

    • Tess its so beneficial to meditate it actually ends up giving you a sense of more time in the day. I”ve done it on and off quite intensively-doing up to 5 weeks silent med. retreats. It’s truly the most important thing one can do for quality of life-because the mind and emotions affects everything we then do! I still struggle though to get myself to my cushion. I recommend then if one feels too busy to do yoga or walking anything active but esp. yoga will have a profound effect as well.
      Kala/Embark-LoveTheLifeYouLive´s last blog post ..Survive Toxic Air Like a Movie Star- Solve Indoor Air Pollution Naturally

  7. Leah says:

    Thanks for the post on meditation – what a complex subject. I agree that it is different for everyone. It’s a journey to find your sweet spot, and what works for you. What really helped me is learning to meditate through all emotions and even actions – crying, smiling, walking outside, moments of anger, joy. As I tuned in and became more mindful in the other areas of my life, I found it easier to sit still and quiet and meditate.
    Leah´s last blog post ..Rethinking Your Interior Design

  8. 2leo says:

    Thanks for this post. I meditate after a 40-minute yoga session, Hatha Yoga (9 asanas). One hour, three or four times a week, is the time I can spend yoga. I am always sorry to stop meditating. It’s really fantastic.
    (Translated from Dutch into English with Google Translate)

  9. Personally I do walking meditation. Living “At The Beach” allows me to walk along long deserted stretches of beach every day. Whatever I brought with me to the ocean’s edge soon disappears. The sound of the surf is really the only thing I hear, everything else falls away. It’s living in the moment at its best. And more often than not I will be blessed with some sort of inspiration. Not everybody can walk on the beach but we can all find that place where we feel at peace, go there, and sit quietly for a while. I wrote a Pug Adventure on Walking Meditation. You can find it here:
    http://www.wix.com/dianataylor/pugatthebeach/adventures
    Look for Pug walking with his sand pail and click on that image.

  10. Great articles on meditation. I also believe that it improves the power of the mind. It increases concentration and for me at least, it makes me more attentive to things. I notice things so much easier now than before. I personally prefer guided meditations because I still have troubles sometimes with my mind wandering around when I simply sit in silence 🙂 But it gets easier with every new meditation session.

    Marika
    Marika from Meditation Techniques´s last blog post ..Feb 17- Site Map

  11. Dr. Chris says:

    Life is better when it’s slow.

    Not to mention, meditation and conscious living decreases sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight) so that you’ll survive past the stresses of the moment.

    Thank you Mary.

  12. Meditation is an awakening process, it opens your mind to both what is inside of you and outside. I like to practice it any time during the day, one minute at a time, I love the simplicity of it – these days life seems so complex or maybe it’s just too cluttered because we get bombarded with so much information so I like to think of meditation as an antidote.

  13. Excellent article. I do guided breathing and meditation. It works. It has helped me to become AWARE, bring myself to the present moment (which is most powerful) and make decisions boldly and clearly. It has helped me to let go of Unknown fear and allow faith/love and gratitude.

  14. Kay says:

    Learning from Mary, I now meditate daily, but lying-down meditation in very early mornings when cannot sleep (every early morning). I feel like I am addicted to meditation and find it easier but I still want to sit down during the day for a meditation session–that is the challenge. I think meditation has changed me, but not enough yet.

  15. Rich says:

    This is a nice post. I’ve found that I can very quickly go into a meditative state – and deepen it almost exponentially – by not only being more aware, but by “being aware of my awareness.” The more I can pull back and take things in as an objective observer, including my own meditation, the farther I can go with my sessions. The more you can do so, the easier it becomes to sustain this mental state.
    Rich´s last blog post ..Technology Steals Us From God

  16. Great post!!!
    i don’t remember how i came up w/this web, i just know that it arrived at my life in a moment when i was changing inside and realizing a lot of things, it helped me as a complement to what i’m now. I love your posts! theyre very, i don’t know the right words but i will say theyre very wise. I like writing too, so i have a new blog, i really don’t have so much in there but i have 2 writings that i’ll appreciate if you can criticize them. They are nothing else than my thoughts, so they could be lack of knowledge or experience.
    Fabian Vazquez´s last blog post ..Mary Is Poppin

  17. When we lived on Ambergris Caye, Belize, I discovered meditation. I didn’t try, it just happened. I had time, I had the turquoise Caribbean from my boat dock, and I felt the warmth enter my left wrist, travel up my arm and chest and pure LOVE. I never expected this. It just did. I have tried to regain this feeling in my busy life in southern California, and cannot reconnect. I received a gift from Belize.

    • Will says:

      I am by no means an expert in meditation, but I consider myself proficient enough to be able to enter a meditative state on my own. I was not always so lucky or disciplined, and starting out I found that this website offering Free Guided Meditations to be extremely helpful to keep myself focused.

  18. BOB COLTON says:

    Just a beginner doing meditation 15 minutes morning and evening!