How Meditation Helps Your Brain & Your Life
Beyond the commonly reported benefits of reducing stress levels and bringing a subjective experience of inner peace, meditation also creates a very real physiological and neurological shift in your body. These changes have been shown to start within just 1 week of starting a regular meditation practice of just 5-10 minutes a day of focused attention on the breath. In this article I share with you some of the science that backs up the value of meditation and how it helps improve your brain function, and thus your overall ability to function well in life.
The brain and nervous system are among the earliest systems to begin development within the embryo, and they are mostly completed before birth, with development in the upper cortex continuing up to early adulthood. While Nature guided our development from embryo to the fully formed human we are today, growth often progressed in a stochastic or even chaotic manner. As a result, the interconnections between the various levels of our system are incomplete, and in some cases, a few of them might be damaged or missing altogether. When communication and proper interlinking between brain regions breaks down during our developmental years, we can easily become our own worst enemy by adulthood, replete with sabotage patterns, limited modes of being, and loads of emotional baggage. On the other hand, with proper integration of the brain-body systems we can have huge potential to adapt, learn, go beyond limitations, and transcend.
Typically damaged neurons are not replaceable, yet the brain has a wonderful ability to adapt and recover from damage or faulty wiring. It can do this through its neurosplasticity, an ability to re-wire and reorganize neural tissue in order to accommodate necessary tasks. This plasticity is something that the brain is capable of throughout our entire life. In fact, the brain is always changing its wiring, for better or for worse, depending on the inputs we give it. By harnessing this capability, first through intention and second through taking actions, such as meditation and other forms of spiritual practice as well as healthy living that will restore balance, we can improve our brain’s functionality and the quality of our life. Nearly all faculties can be improved upon through proper inputs and actions.
This opportunity to remold the brain is an important aspect of our ability to rewire through meditation and connect to more transcendent and whole-brain states. Nature gave us one very connected brain. This interconnectivity is the most essential aspect of the brain’s functionality. Inter-system connections between different brain regions also provide the framework for strengthening our ability to shift awareness and attention to bridge to transcendent states, which is one of the main goals of meditation.
When it comes to rewiring the brain for optimal functioning and harnessing the full reaches of awareness there is a popular saying in the current field of brain studies that says: “What fires together, wires together!” In other words, when neural pathways repeatedly exchange information across the synaptic gaps, they tend to reorient closer to each other for greater ease of information exchange. Conversely, when they stop firing together, they disconnect that pathway over time. So what can we do to intentionally ‘fire’ the neurons in such a way as to produce positive rewiring and optimization of our brain?
Meditation works by synchronizing different brain regions through altering what are called brain waves. All of our emotions, thoughts, and actions trigger communication between neurons in our brains. Brainwaves are the electrical pulses produced from groups of multiple neurons communicating with one another. The brain’s neural networks can oscillate at a range of frequencies between 0-100 Hz (beats per second). These synchronized neural oscillations are called brain waves. Brainwaves are grouped into sub-ranges based on the characteristic states of awareness observed at these entrainment levels. The other world is often stimulating our senses and triggering different brainwave states. Usually, though, these stimuli are chaotic or imbalanced. Meditation is a key tool for learning to harmonize the brain and shift between these brain wave states at will and thus helping us to rewire our brains for greater interconnectivity and balance.
As a leader this means that through meditation you can regulate your mental states. You can balance your brain hemispheres and change the way your brain functions through meditation. This balance will give you a greater aptitude in all that you are working to achieve. Practicing deep meditation and achieving the slower brainwave states can have positive emotional, mental, and physiological benefits.
There are five general levels of brain waves:
Gamma State is when the brain frequency is between 30 Hz up to 100 Hz. This state is often associated with heightened and active creativity as well as peak performance. It is especially seen in those of the younger generations when they are in their creative visionary mode, as well as in the Tibetan monks when they are shifting from a deep inner meditation to a state of flowing compassion out to the world. Thus, a harmonized Gamma brain wave state is one that unifies heart and mind and sends that creative and compassionate energy outwards.
Beta State is when the brain frequency is at 13-30 Hz. In this brain state one experiences normal wakefulness, concentration and alertness. It is the typical state we are in for daily activities. This state is often a desirable state for maintaining mental alertness for study and having an active prefrontal cortex. In this state you can analyze, organize, plan, exercise, and discern. Beta is also the brain state that all new information is anchored from the outer world into the conscious mind.
Alpha State is when the brain frequency is at 7-13 Hz. This is when the brain waves start to slow down, shifting from outer to inner awareness, and you are able to quiet down your thoughts and begin accessing intuitive knowing. Light to medium meditation, as well as general relaxation, can be achieved at this state, bringing you more inner peace. This state can be accessed through getting out in nature, day dreaming, light meditation, taking a shower or relaxing bath, reading, doing some form of yoga or Tai Chi. This state can bring the hemispheres of the brain into balance and allow you to have greater awareness to your inner mental state.
Theta State is when the brain frequency is at 3-7 Hz. In this state you are able to achieve deep meditation or light sleep. Typically, Theta brain waves are dominant when we are transitioning between waking and sleeping. One of the primary goals of meditation is to access a sustained Theta state without falling asleep. Theta is the gateway into a deeply healing, restorative, and profound level of awareness. This is the state where you’re able to access accurate intuition and greater connection to higher universal consciousness. Also in this brain wave state you are able to create vivid visualizations for higher levels of spiritual work.
Delta State is when the brain frequency is at 0.5-3 Hz. This is typically found in a very deep dreamless sleep, coma, or near-death experience. In the deep, slow-wave sleep of Delta, our reticular formation of the brain occurs for reorganizing and cleaning up neural patterns, and during such time we are unconscious. This brain wave state can be cultivated by decades of meditation and other forms of spiritual practice. For example, there are Tibetan monks and other long time meditators who are able to maintain awareness during meditations in this brain wave state, and when they do, they report feelings of being One with All, no sense of self-identity or separation from the Universe.
Most meditation practices are aiming to get you into a combined Alpha and Theta brainwave state. The better you get at accessing Theta and sustaining that state while maintaining an observer awareness, the more depth and value you can get from meditation. While there are many forms of meditation available today, I recommend experiencing the Max Meditation SystemTM for really learning to access the full spectrum of brainwave states.
You can also speed up the rewiring of your brain by combining your meditations with the use of audio tools such as binaural beats and other brainwave entrainment compositions (such as the albums created by Dr. Theresa Bullard and J.S. Epperson found in our Store, as well as those made by the pioneers of the brain entrainment field The Monroe Institue). And for the most long-lasting benefits of rewiring your brain for more optimal functioning through meditation, we recommend daily practice to retrain your neural patterns to fire in a more balanced, harmonious, and well-integrated way.