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PodcastYour Brain on Meditation

Your Brain on Meditation

Today, Eve breaks down how meditation can physically change our brains and help us process strong emotions.

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Better mental health starts with Headspace. Unrivaled expertise to make life feel a little easier, using guided meditations, mindfulness tips, focus tools, sleep support, and dedicated programs.

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Better mental health starts with Headspace

(mouse clicking) (gentle music) Headspace Studios. (birds chirping) Hello, and happy Friday. Welcome to "Radio Headspace." It's Eve here with you. So you may have heard me talk quite a bit about why I got into meditation many years ago. And if you haven't, it was because of crippling anxiety. I was like a Jack-in-the-box, reacting to every stressor in unhelpful ways and spending so much time worrying about things that might happen, that I couldn't see any joy in my life. Now I bring this up today because I was very skeptical about starting meditation. How on earth could sitting still with your eyes closed help in any way at all? But it turns out it helps quite a lot. And I wanted to share some of the scientific research with you today. And one study in particular that seriously changed the way I thought about meditation and its impact, especially on our brain. (water trickling) Now, this particular study was conducted in 2013, out of the University of Pittsburgh. And it was done over a period of eight weeks while participants took part in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. Now I am not a neuroscientist, so I will do my very best to explain it. So, in this study, they used MRI scanners to look at changes in the brain. And these changes refer to a process called neuroplasticity, essentially a reshaping of the brain. This happens throughout our life, as certain parts of our brain are strengthened and weakened. Anatomically, our brains have different areas, each associated with unique functions. And these functions work when there are neural connections that spark these functions. For example, when you learn a new language, you are specifically making connections or building pathways in a certain part of the brain associated with language. And when it comes to meditation, it can activate an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, that is responsible for focus and higher level skills like critical thinking, decision making and planning. And it also plays a role in moderating our social behavior, essentially how we show up in the world. And while meditation can enhance positive traits, it can also deactivate negative traits. So, this study showed that the amygdala shrinks in response to meditation practice. And this is the area which is often referred to as the fight or flight center. It's responsible for fear, stress, and processing strong emotions. This is the part of the brain that kicks into high gear when we're stressed. And if this is consistently activated, it can have a really big impact on our overall health and wellbeing. And just to be clear, this does not get rid of stress or anxiety, but as the amygdala reduces in size, the prefrontal cortex, the area of our brain governing our awareness, concentration and decision making becomes thicker. So, through meditation we're actually increasing our capacity to manage stress and anxiety more skillfully when it does arise. I think it's...


Duration5 min

About your teachers

  • A former Buddhist monk, Andy has guided people in meditation and mindfulness for 20 years. In his mission to make these practices accessible to all, he co-created the Headspace app in 2010.

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  • Eve is a mindfulness teacher, overseeing Headspace’s meditation curriculum. She is passionate about sharing meditation to help others feel less stressed and experience more compassion in their lives.

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  • As a meditation teacher, Dora encourages others to live, breathe, and be with the fullness of their experiences. She loves meditation’s power to create community and bring clarity to people’s minds.

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  • Kessonga has been an acupuncturists, therapist, and meditation teacher, working to bring mindfulness to the diverse populations of the world.

    More about Kessonga
  • Rosie Acosta has studied yoga and mindfulness for more than 20 years and taught for over a decade. Rosie’s mission is to help others overcome adversity and experience radical love.

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