As part of our regular series exploring the psychology behind common experiences, Sci&Tech Editor Georgia Brooks explains the neurological benefits of taking up meditation

Written by Georgia Brooks

We’re constantly being informed of the myriad of benefits that meditation can have for your mental health and wellbeing, from university workshops to influencers to politicians. And while some swear by it as a means to enlightenment and others find it mind-numbingly boring (although perhaps the mind numbing part is the point?) what does regular meditation actually do to your brain? 

In the short term, investigations indicate that meditation causes increased blood flow to the brain during the meditative state, which can improve concentration and focus, especially around self-perception and experiences. There is also evidence that meditation can help improve creativity, with subjects undertaking a divergent thinking task (which focuses on free-flowing, spontaneous idea generation) following a 20-minute meditation significantly outperforming those who did not. However, it appears that in general, a one-off meditation won’t make particularly significant changes to brain function, especially as those new to meditation may struggle with achieving the necessary mental state to experience benefits. 

There is also evidence that meditation can help improve creativity

However, in the longer term, the effects of regular meditation on the brain appear to be much more significant. Long- term meditation is associated with an increase in the brain’s ‘white matter’ – the part of the brain that is responsible for relaying sensory information. This could explain why meditation helps people to stay more in the moment, and in tune with their senses and immediate surroundings. Meditation studies have also indicated that practising regularly could increase the grey matter in the brain too – associated with memory, self-regulation and processing. And finally, another study into brain wave function during meditation measured an increase in gamma waves during meditation, for regular meditators – those with increased gamma waves tend to be happier, more relaxed and able to concentrate better. And all of these neurological benefits come with associated bodily benefits too – these can include better sleep, reduced cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increased immunity. 

Long- term meditation is associated with an increase in the brain’s ‘white matter’

So how long do you need to meditate for to experience all of these benefits? Well, the catch is that studies indicate that daily meditation for about 10-15 minutes is required, for eight weeks, to experience significant benefits. However, experts believe that building up from a five-minute meditation a day will help meditators to experience benefits sooner, but building the habit is crucial to improvement. However, with as little as two months of daily meditation, it seems that there’s a huge amount of benefits to be experienced! 

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