How Meditation Changes Your Brain
Self Help

How Meditation Changes Your Brain


“He who is mentally concentrated, sees things according to reality.” as the great Gautama Buddha has said. In the hustle bustle of daily life, our mind screams a thousand chants and sings a hundred sonnets. It gets difficult to centre oneself and focus on one thing at a time as we keep getting swept away to different destinations. But how necessary is this centering yourself? Is it truly something one would strive for? Which parts of the human body and soul does meditation affect or heal? These are all questions that will be answered in this article.

Meditation, perhaps, is as old a practice as Ancient India. It has persevered through the challenges of time and has still emerged as an exceedingly popular activity for exercise, attaining peace and relaxation. While originated in Southern Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent, as of late, meditation has gained a lot of popularity in the West especially in the urban spheres. So much so that becoming a mediation trainer in the US has become a highly profitable career path. This popularity has also led to 21st May being known as the ‘World Meditation Day’. Before we jump to the numerous benefits of meditation, let us understand what it truly is.

According to Counselling Psychologist and Mental Health Expert, Yashi Sonthalia, “Meditation is a very powerful tool that helps as a grounding technique, a relaxation technique and a focus-building exercise. It invites a unique blend of non-judgemental observation and a sense of autonomy in the way that one chooses to practice it. However, it is also important to remember that meditation may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Contrary to popular belief, meditation may be truly difficult or even harmful when an individual is so overwhelmed that the process, in fact, floods them with more distress rather than calming them down.”

Read More: Helpful Breathing Techniques for Meditation

Meditation: What Is It?

Meditation essentially refers to the practice of centering one’s concentration, while focusing merely on regulation of breath and nothing else as the body attempts to relax and focus on the now as the mind quiets down. Jennifer Aniston, a famous actress particularly known from her role as Rachel in the popular sitcom FRIENDS, has also talked about the importance of meditation in everyday life. “If I only have five minutes to do it, five minutes is fine. Usually, it’s just quieting down my thoughts” as she said in an interview with SELF magazine. Let us look more closely into what meditation is and its particular rise in the urban West.

  • The Meaning in Vedas. Meditation exists in Ayurveda which is the vedic text for medicine and overall health care which translates to ‘The Science Of Life’. Here, meditation was seen as the practice which could lead oneself to connect to deeper parts of their soul or their innermost self. Since then, the meaning has evolved.
  • The Expansion Of The Term. Meditation has now become synonymous with any and all techniques used to inculcate balance and improve breathing within individuals. Thus, it now involves numerous techniques which we will list as we go further in the article.
  • The Process of Meditation. According to the Vedas, the human body can be viewed in three aspects: the physical body which is the surface level human body and anatomy, then the inner faculty which includes the person’s mind and conscious aspects of self and third was the deeper inner self or the human soul, essentially. Meditation essentially connects the being with their inner self which is responsible for the conscious self and eventually the physical body.
  • The Uncountable Benefits. The ancient practice of meditation is gaining popularity now for a reason. It becomes a solace in the hurried and hushed life of the urban cities. Research has suggested that meditation is directly linked with stress reduction levels in teenagers and adults. Moreover, it is heavily used in drug rehabilitation centers since it can also be seen as having a direct connection to increased willpower. Besides these, meditation has countless benefits in various arenas. These we shall highlight in the following sections.

Read more: Walking Meditation Unveiled: A Pathway to Holistic Well-Being

The benefits that meditation has proven to provide are necessary especially in today’s day and age. Not only does it have mental and emotional benefits, it has direct implications for your physical body as well. Let us look at some of these below.

According to the Mental Health expert and Counselling Psychologist, Dr. Ruby Gupta, “What’s important at both the personal and professional levels is dedicating time, even just a few moments each day, for self-reflection. This practice is crucial for individuals striving for professional growth. In my experience, staying grounded in your conscious awareness is like training your mind, allowing you to gain control over it, albeit not entirely, but significantly.”

She explained further, “This practice is akin to meditation. Meditation isn’t limited to sitting down and deliberately focusing your attention. It’s about maintaining a connection between your conscious and subconscious minds, even as you do your daily activities. It’s about immersing into your inner world. Here, it is imperative to emphasise the importance of self-awareness.”

Brain and Meditation

The Ancient Vedic texts have talked about the direct implications of meditation on your physical body. This has now come to be supported by research as well, especially regarding the brain. Research has found that Buddhist monks after years of meditation actually managed to alter their brain chemistry and structure. The effects of this extend to both brain functioning and the actual structure of the brain! We will explore all of this in this section.


While this term may seem scary to understand, it simply refers to the ability of the brain to change its response patterns according to the conditions or ‘stimuli’. This is regarding the nervous system and neural networks which reorganises itself to change its activity in order to respond accurately to the circumstances. 

For example, someone who is bilingual and tries to learn another language, the meaning, symbols and letters may differ, the neural plasticity of your brain helps in this. The nervous system attempts to adapt to these new symbols so that you can learn the language. Other areas where neuroplasticity is at work include learning a new ability, processing information and it is also activated during times of stress!

Neuroplasticity degrades as a person’s age increases. Meditation helps with this, as it avoids brain-degradation with increasing age. In a research cleverly titled ‘Buddha’s brain’, it is indicated that meditation helps lessen ‘neural noise’. Now, what is ‘neural noise’? Well, essentially, it refers to the way signals may get lost or inaccurately registered by the neural network. Thus, meditation helps in increased neuroplasticity and more accurate adaptive patterns.

Read More: The Heaviest Meditation

Structural Changes: Grey Matter 

Primarily, meditation affects three areas of the brain. These being grey matter, cortical thickness and white matter tracts. Let us understand the function all these serve and the effect meditation has on them. Grey matter essentially plays a role in memory, emotions, movement as well as the daily activities in life. Previous research has indicated that people who are more intelligent tend to have more grey matter. Meditation has been found to increase grey matter in an individual within 8 weeks of practising mindfulness daily! The reduction of grey matter has been directly linked to the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Meditation may be seen as a protective tactic here as well.

Structural Changes: Cortical Thickness

Cortical thickness refers to the distance between the outermost and innermost layer of the cerebral cortical which consists of grey matter. The thicker the cortex, the better it is. A thicker cortex has numerous emotional and cognitive benefits. Research dictates that a thicker cortex can be indicative of higher general intelligence. Increased mindfulness can be seen as increasing cortical thickness. Since the area is also related to attention, meditation is directly linked to the thickness of the cortex. It improves memory and sensory processing. It also leads to increased density of the grey matter which correlates to increased control over movements and emotional regulation.

Structural Changes: White Matter

Simply put, white matter is the area of the brain which helps in facilitating communication in different areas of the brain, particularly those containing grey matter. White matter plays a key role in cognition, solving abilities, thinking and processing information. Meditation has been proven to increase the connectivity in white matter tracts which makes the transfer of information much smoother. Thus, this ensures a reduced risk for depression and improves mood altogether. It also has several benefits for memory and knowledge acquisition and information discrimination. 

Meditation and Cognitive Enhancement

As we had mentioned before, meditation not only affects the structure of the brain, it also has deep impacts on their functioning. Cognition refers to mental activities such as thinking, memory, problem solving, decision-making and so on. Meditation has been known to aid individuals in focusing and concentration. Let us take a deeper look into how meditation affects cognition.

  • Attention. Since at the very core of meditation lies the need to focus one’s attention at a particular object or at the centre of oneself. When this exercise is repeated multiple times, it will surely over time improve one’s attention capacity. Thus, the practice of meditation betters one’s attention.
  • Clarity Of Thought. Meditation quiets down the mind which helps in separating helpful thoughts from extraneous ones. Buddha did not just out of the blue say that he has attained enlightenment after meditating under a tree. This practise helps in clarity of thought which furthermore aids decision making and problem solving. 

Read More: The Profound Context of Buddhism and Psychology

  • Memory. Research has proven that meditation or regularly practising meditation helps reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Meditation is known to improve memory since it increases neuroplasticity  which is directly responsible for memory.
  • Information Processing. Meditation has a direct impact on the working or short term memory of an individual. Individuals who practise meditation daily tend to have better processing capacities. Their enhanced neural networks help them in integrating information in a deeper way such that it is retained for longer. 
  • Learning. Meditation and mindfulness opens the mind a bit more than before. And the continued practice contributed to this. It facilitates the mind to incorporate and understand new information much more easily.

As per Dr. Ruby Gupta, “Yet, true self-awareness only comes from finding tranquillity with one’s thoughts. Without this inner journey, meditation loses its essence. Mindful breathing, being in touch with your physical senses and validating your emotions and feelings till the negative emotions lose their valence are important aspects of Meditation. It is here where the healing begins. Meditation means aligning your conscious mind with your inner self so that your thoughts, feelings, and actions are in harmony.”

Besides just benefits in regards to cognition and brain structure, meditation also has numerous benefits when it comes to emotional regulation and mental health. The next section will be your guide to these.

Emotional Regulation and Mental Well-Being

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”. This is a quote given by William James, a famous pioneer of psychology. This quote summarises in a way the way meditation contributes to betterment of emotional and mental health apart from the numerous physical benefits. Some such benefits are listed down below.

  • Stress Regulation. Stress involves irrational fears, overwhelming thoughts, increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Meditation helps with regulation of breath which helps with most of the physiological symptoms that come with stress. Moreover, it helps with centering oneself rather than getting carried away with unnecessary thoughts. 
  • Balance. Meditation helps one find the middle ground amongst their emotions and not get carried away by altering emotions and moods of varying intensity. It helps strike a balance in the person’s mood and emotional responses. It provides harmony within the individual. 
  • Emotional Resilience. Meditation also helps individuals become emotionally resilient. This means that individuals gain more control over their emotions due to them being one with themselves and thus having a more composed nature.
  • Self-Exploration. Meditation helps one get more in touch with themselves. This means that they get to experience and interact with their innermost self which furthermore guides their action. Meditation has been known to lead to epiphanies and enlightenment.  
  • Connection To Others. Meditation helps one with stripping people off their social and societal labels and connecting with them at a much deeper and personal level since the focus on individuals becomes focus on souls.

Did you know that meditation is actually prescribed to people who have anxiety and depression? Nowadays, there are various different techniques employed for meditation. You can do these at home as well! Let us take a look at some of them.

Meditation Techniques

Meditation is an ancient practise but that does not  it has been exempted from change and evolution. Meditation is a living tradition which means that it has been growing and evolving with the times. For today’s day and age, meditation has become a requirement. It has emerged as a response to the fast paced city life and the advent of hustle culture which demands people to never stop working. Listed below are certain techniques for meditation that you can inculcate in your daily life.

  • Ocean-Sound Meditation. This has become an increasingly popular way of meditating. This basically involves playing ocean or sea sounds on a device and then meditating. One can focus on the ocean sounds and that alone, as they proceed to regulate their breathing. Certain sounds available enable the individual to breath in accordance with waves crashing which makes it easier to regulate breath.
  • Guided Meditation. Guided meditation can be of various types. These sometimes take place in meditation centres or can also be app based. Meditation teachers or gurus tend to hold classes where they describe the process of meditation to the trainees and guide them through the practice. There is no rigid method here, each instructor has his own style. Apps such as Mindspace have gained a lot of popularity for having guided meditation and grounding techniques. Even music apps such as Spotify now have podcasts which cater to this.
  • Chanting Meditation. This form of meditation involves the individual to slowly repeat a certain set of words or phrases that strike a meaning for them. This repetition can be vocally or simply in the mind. This technique is also used in a bunch of self-affirmative exercises. This was done in earlier times by using mantras. However, now the chants are more or less up to the individual.
  • Tai-Chi. Tai-Chi is a Chinese martial art practice and has always been associated with a form of meditation. It is known for its use of extremely slow movements, which puts emphasis on every bodily movement employed and requires the individual to maintain extreme balance and focus. 
  • Nature-Based Meditation. This involves an individual to go to aesthetically pleasing sceneries, immerse themselves into nature, and then attempt meditation. This sort of meditation has become increasingly popular because of the respite they offer from pollution filled cities. 
  • Eating Meditation. This is a form of meditation which involves the individual to focus on eating slowly and slowly. The aim of this exercise is to keep the bite in your mouth as your savour every flavour as well as focus on the movement of your jaw as you eat. This exercise is supposed to inculcate a greater appreciation for food as well as the customary benefits of meditation.

Meditation has become one of the necessities of life especially in urban spheres. It is becoming more and more the very much desired respite from the hustle bustle of everyday life. Its numerous benefits surely work in its favour as well as the ease with which this practice can be accommodated into an individual’s daily life.

References +
  • Sharma, H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233.
  • Pasternak, H. D. (2022, April 23). Jennifer Aniston on her ‘Very Personal’ meditation practice. SELF.
  • Puderbaugh, M., & Emmady, P. D. (2023, May 1). Neuroplasticity. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.
  • Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2008). Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation [In the Spotlight]. IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, 25(1), 176–174.
  • Dwivedi, M., Dubey, N., Pansari, A. J., Bapi, R. S., Das, M., Guha, M., Banerjee, R., Pramanick, G., Basu, J., & Ghosh, A. (2021). Effects of meditation on structural changes of the brain in patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease dementia. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15.
  • Tang, R., Friston, K. J., & Tang, Y. (2020). Brief mindfulness meditation induces gray matter changes in a brain hub. Neural Plasticity, 2020, 1–8.
  • Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B. T., Dusek, J. A., Benson, H., Rauch, S. L., Moore, C. I., & Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport/Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893–1897.
  • Menary, K. R., Collins, P. F., Porter, J. N., Muetzel, R. L., Olson, E., Kumar, V., Steinbach, M., Lim, K. O., & Luciana, M. (2013). Associations between cortical thickness and general intelligence in children, adolescents and young adults. Intelligence (Norwood), 41(5), 597–606.

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