Meditating Makes the Mind Less Busy
Meditating makes our minds more efficient and less distractable by changing how the different brain areas communicate.
When at rest, your brain will tend to wander and drift to whatever thought or feeling grabs its attention. In fact, this activity is called the default network; (1) in other words, your brain’s factory settings or what it defaults to when there is no task to direct its focus.
Experienced meditators show decreased activity in their default network. This means that when an experienced meditator sits down to rest or lies down to sleep at night, the brain doesn’t as actively start to wander. For instance, imagine if your brain was less busy when you were trying to fall asleep. Meditators can enter relaxation states easier as their resting mind is more peaceful. (1)
Meditation and the Shrinking Brain
The amygdala is the area of the brain where emotions are processed and given meaning. In fact, it plays a crucial role in our experience of intense feelings and how past emotional situations trigger current responses.
The amygdala decreases in size in response to regular meditation practice. (2) This change can result in less reactivity to strong negative emotions and reduced stress and anxiety. In particular, it becomes easier to remain calm in difficult situations and to allow the rational part of the brain to be in control.
Meditation and Brain Waves
The brain demonstrates different kinds of electrical activity depending on what state it is in. When focused on a task, it will exhibit beta waves, whereas, during deep sleep, delta waves are present, indicating deep rest.
In meditation, especially for experienced practitioners, two types of brain waves are prevalent. (3) The first is gamma waves which indicate intense focus and awareness. The second is alpha waves which relax and recharge the brain. The ability to increase both types of waves contributes to meditations’ stress-relieving effects.