The impact of meditation on emotions

  • 2014

Participating in an eight or ten week mindfulness meditation training can produce measurable changes in the regions of the brain associated with memory, the sense of "self", empathy, stress and altruism. By Koncha Pinós-Pey for MIMIND Space.

Many people believe that the practice of meditation is simply associated with a sense of tranquility and physical relaxation. Medicine has long since confirmed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. But investigations go further.

The program directed by Dr. Sara Lazar, of the Massachusetts General Hospital, has come to demonstrate that changes in the structure of the brain can be the basis of some of these improvements mentioned, and that the meditators not only feel better, but that They may have more time to do other things.

Lazar has been able to confirm that there are structural differences between the brains of people who previously meditate and those who begin in practice, observing, for example, a thickening of the cerebral cortex in the areas associated with attention and the integration of emotions .

Although we knew that meditation can reduce anxiety, we had not identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy people. Now we are able to see which areas are activated and deactivated, causing disturbing emotions.

Anxiety relief

In a study presented by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in 2013, we were shown 15 healthy volunteers, with normal levels of anxiety. All subjects, who had no previous experience of meditation, participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as "attention to breathing." In this form of meditation, people are taught to concentrate on breathing and body sensations and not to judge the thoughts that distract them.

The brain activity of the participants was measured before, during and after the meditation training. Special attention was paid to a special type of imaging - magnetic resonance imaging - which is very effective in measuring brain processes in meditation. In addition, anxiety levels were measured before and after the brain scan.

Most of the test participants experienced a decrease in anxiety . It was observed that meditation could reduce anxiety by up to 40% in just a few minutes of conscious breathing. This study reveals that the relief of relational anxiety associated with emotions can be linked to meditative practice.

During meditation there was more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area that controls concerns. In addition, when the activity increased, the anterior cingular cortex - the area that governs thought and emotions - experienced a decrease in anxiety.

The attention to breathing is based on maintaining attention “moment by moment”, so that we observe our daily thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, the findings made reveal that regions of the brain associated with the relief of relational anxiety can greatly benefit from the meditative practice whether the subject is aware or not of what he is doing.

These conclusions are equally extrapolated to those with high rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, etc.

The impact of meditation on emotions

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