July 29, 2018

Meditation Powers On The Brain

Art by dandingeroz
I am currently reading (among, possibly, 20 other books...yeah, I need to work on that) Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality, and though I'm still quite at the beginning, I already have so much food for thought!

The book talks about the science behind how our mind and thoughts can alter physical reality, starting with our own brain. As part of the intro on this topic, it brings up an article written by Tang, Hötzel, & Postner in 2015, which I'll partially transcribe down here for you.

The article talks about an astrophysicist/journalist, Phillips, who decided to check how meditation would affect his brain, and test it medically (to convince his skeptical self should there really be any major effects):

By Robert Voight/Adobe Stock
"After just two weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, Phillips felt less stressed and more able to handle the challenges of his job and life.;He reported that he 'notices stress but doesn't get sucked into it.'
Eight weeks later, he [went back] for testing. ... They found that he was better at behavioral tasks, even though he showed diminished brain activity. ... [H]is brain had become more energy efficient. ... His memory tests also improved.
His reaction time to unexpected events had been cut by almost half a second. (...)
One of the brain regions the researchers measured the hippocampus, ... and the part of [it] responsible for regulation emotion in other parts of the brain. ... They found that the volume of nerve cells in th[at part of the hippocampus] had increased by 22.8%.
...Such brain reconfiguration is occasionally seen in young people whose brains are still growing, but it is rarely seen in adults. (...)
[There is an] accumulation of a large body of evidence [that has] identified neural growth in 'multiple brain regions...suggesting that the effects of meditation might involve large-scale brain networks.'"

So reading this, I of course totally want to try it out (especially if meditation will allow me to get less angry at, say, loud neighbors that keep me up all night, or help me stay focused on my writing). Despite being terrible at sitting for long periods of time with nothing to do but focus on my breathing and whatnot.

BUT...

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli
Meditation is a double-edged sword.

Indeed, meditation can exacerbate problems instead of helping us overcome them, particularly if we are already suffering from certain mental or personality conditions.

So instead of calming us down, meditation could instead "trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas," and turn one more aggressive. In worse cases, it can truly make you lose your mind entirely, lose yourself and your identity entirely as "the boundaries of [your] ego dissolve," and push you towards suicide.

So, yeah. There's that too.

All of this does prove that meditation changes your brain, but whether it's for the better is not necessarily a given. And with my kind of writer's mind, I think I need to be careful. So for now I think I'll stick to what I know works for me, which is what I like to call "active meditation" or exercise (which I definitely don't do enough of, quite frankly).

Still, it is fascinating to see how much of an influence our thoughts have on our body, is it not?

Additional Sources:
When Mindfulness Goes Wrong
What Mindfulness Gurus Don't Tell You: Meditation Has a Dark Side

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