Your favourite takeaway order, the fact that a good cup of tea can put the world to rights and the preoccupation we all have with the weather. Some things will never change. But our brains can. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to biologically reshape itself and create new neural pathways. In the medical world, neuroplasticity has been used to help treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinsons disease, autism and others.
As time has gone on, ways have been discovered to improve the function of the brain on a daily basis. While there are many ways to do this, this post will focus on the benefits of meditation and its relationship to neuroplasticity.
What actually is meditation and what does it do?
There are so many types of meditation and definitions of it but for me, it means sitting down in a comfortable and quiet space and just focusing on my breathing, even if it's just 5 minutes (20 is my maximum - I get bored!) Though nothing fancy is needed to meditate it ignites myriad benefits beneath the surface. Meditating releases GABA - an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in our brains and is related to serotonin and feelings of calm and tranquility.
It activates the back part of the brain and encourages the neuropathways to make their way to the frontal lobe where rewiring occurs - that's how we're all capable of shifting perspectives and of improving mindset and this is why meditation is so popular among corporate giants and football teams. As the rewiring happens, we get into the habit of observing rather than reacting (how many times do you wish you didn't say something? We've all been there!) and of improving our attention span (Dory from Finding Nemo is becoming increasingly relatable to us all).
The proof? A study by Harvard University found that those who meditated had less grey matter in the amygdala (the region of the brain that controls the release of stress hormones) and more grey matter in the hippocampus and cerebellum (contributing to improved coordination, memory and emotional regulation). Other long-term benefits include strengthening of the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes, which are responsible for emotion and attention control, anticipation of events and impulse control.
As humans, we are created to process toxins. Like the liver and kidneys, our brains have the capacity to process difficult experiences and toxic thoughts. And, just as we drink water to help our organs along, maybe meditation (or just being still and breathing for a couple of minutes a day) is all that's needed to help the mind. Something to maybe keep in 'mind'.