People have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years, but only recently has science been able to gain insight into the neurological underpinnings of mindful meditation. Thanks to newfound tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, scientists can now peer inside the living brain to see what is going on during almost any human experience, including mindfulness. We now have a decent understanding of the science of mindfulness.
According to an article in The Washington Post by Manoj Jain, a professor at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, meditation literally alters the structure of the brain in positive ways. He writes in the article:
“One study found that long-term meditators had greater volume of gray matter in the insula and prefrontal cortices, regions of the brain activated during learning, memory processes and emotional regulation. Another found a decrease in the volume of the amygdala region, which is involved in processing the emotions of fear.”
This means that meditation works to boost the area of the brain involved in higher cognitive functions, but suppresses the area of the brain associated with more primal emotions. An article in Huffington Post reports that mindfulness can also elicit growth in areas of the brain that are connected to empathy.
After so many centuries of people practicing mindfulness, we are now discovering that our ancestors were onto something. Mindful meditation has the potential to mold our brains, the seats of our conscious minds, in the most positive ways.
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