Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Focusing on the present moment improves your attention, emotion regulation, stress processing and your overall awareness.
How often do you feel like you are living in the moment? How often do you not think about anything and just observe the things around you, seizing the moment?
Now try to identify how often do you not have a thousand things to do? How often do your thoughts run from one to the other, where you don't even realize that you suddenly made it home from work, but don't remember how since you were just "in your head" the entire journey?
How often do you feel like you’re going on autopilot throughout the days, barely noticing the months go by?
My guess is that you could remember more of the latter happenings more than the first ones. I know my answers were the same before I started practicing meditation.
Many of us are feeling that time just passes by and we constantly have thousands of things running though our minds, from early morning to late evening and sometimes even keeping us up at nights. It’s not strange at all, considering that we have long hours of work/school, lots of responsibilities at home, and aside it all we try to fit in some free time to hang out with the family and friends.
Aside from our super busy lives, we are also constantly bombarded with loads of information from our smartphones. This is anything from social media notifications, to external information, such as the bad things happening in the world and horrific news about how fast our climate is changing.
We are truly living fast-paced lives, where we rarely stop to take a moment and just be.
One way to change this is by meditation
Originating from Taoist and Buddhist practices around 26 centuries ago, meditation is currently gaining popularity in the Western world. And the reasons for that are likely to be the above mentioned factors.
Aiming to eliminate thoughts and just focus on the present moment, many people find peace in their practice. In fact, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, George Lucas, Russel Simmons, Ariana Huffington and many other people considered to be successful dedicate some time every day to engage in a meditative activity.
So how does your brain actually benefit from meditation and why should you start including it in your daily routines?
Firstly, meditation is an act of being present, whether focusing solely on your breath, an object, or actively not thinking about anything – basically doing anything that brings your awareness to the present moment.
It can be practiced in a variety of ways, such as while lying down on the floor in deep relaxation, yoga practices, or even strenuous workouts which make you focus on how your body is feeling, removing any thoughts other than the present moment and what you are doing now.
Plenty of research is gaining insights into which brain regions are mainly affected by meditation and therefore scientifically backing its effectiveness. Here I am giving you an overview of a study, investigating several areas in the brain, reportedly altered by meditation.
The most constantly reported research is on the anterior cingulate cortex, which is responsible to attention. Meditation is considered to alter neural pathways in that region, enhancing attention in the long term. Therefore, even when you have finished your meditation practice, effects of enhanced attention remain throughout your day.
Another constantly studied region is the fronto-limbic networks involved in emotion regulation and stress processing, thus reducing the overall stress and improving emotional responses through meditation practices. This can be highly useful during stressful periods in your life, which make you feel "on edge". It can also be taken as a preventative measure for future stressful events, helping you cope with your emotions in whatever challenges you face.
The regions responsible for awareness to the present moment and self-referential processing – the midline prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex are also altered during regular meditative activities.
It may be self explanatory, but meditation does enhance your awareness to the present moment in long term.
I hope this inspires you to start dedicating some time of your day to just be present and notice the good things in your life. It truly helps me to become more intact with my goals and reduce my stress levels throughout the days. Meditation can indeed reduce stress, improve cognitive functions and promote the overall wellness.
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence on meditation and some techniques that I will post in this blog.
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Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness