Today’s blog article was written by all-grown-up KAY kid, Whitney James, currently a Freshman at Elon University in North Carolina.
If you are anything like me, meditation seems a little bit like “voodoo”. Sitting completely still and quiet? Clearing your brain of literally everything? Before actually researching it, it all seemed a little bit too out-there and unrealistic, especially for me, a freshman in college. I felt like there were definitely better ways to calm down after my classes or before my exams, but I was willing to give anything a try. My mom, a yoga teacher, has been touting the benefits of a meditation practice since I was born. But, being someone who has to see something to believe it, I looked it up online: “how does meditation work” … just to see if there was actually any science behind it. To my surprise, the proof is there, so I’m much more willing to try it out knowing that there’s science to back it up.
Basically, there are five different categories of brain wavelengths: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta. The goal of meditation is to go from the faster wavelengths (Beta) to slower wavelengths (Alpha, Theta, and Delta). Doing this calms down the mind, creating more time in between thoughts, and therefore, more opportunity to choose which thoughts you decide to listen to.
In more technical terms, by practicing frequent meditation, you and your body actually do get visible positive effects.
- Your ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the bodily sensation/fear centers normally have a very tight connection. Meditation causes this tight connection to loosen, or break down. This is why anxiety decreases the more that you meditate; You no longer immediately assume that a moment of fear or a random body sensation is indicating that something is really wrong or that you are in danger. Meditation allows you to not respond as strongly to random, quick sensations. You gain the time to filter through the inputs and choose an appropriate, less reactive response.
- Frequent meditation practices create a stronger and healthier connection between the Assessment Center (in the brain) and the bodily sensation/fear centers. This allows you to rationally look at bodily sensations or possible dangers without rashly reacting and thinking that something is direly wrong.
- Meditation strengthens the bond between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that deals with our perceptions of people not like us) and the bodily sensation center (which is involved with sympathy and empathy). This enhances your empathy, allows you to more easily put yourself into another person’s shoes, and increases compassion.
But meditating once or infrequently is not helpful in the long run. Through the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain can quickly and easily revert back to its old ways of thinking and acting if meditation practice is not kept up with. The neural pathways you strengthened and weakened will go back to their original state if you don’t continue to meditate. My mom tells her students that they should meditate five minutes a day only on the days they brush their teeth (sneaky, huh?).
To be completely honest, watching some episodes of The Office or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram still seem more enjoyable than sitting down and meditating for fifteen minutes a day. However, now that I know the actual mental and physiological benefits of frequent meditation, I am much more likely to sit down and try it. Again, being a college student is not always a piece of cake, but knowing that my mind and body will benefit from at least trying to meditate is a huge motivator…but don’t tell my mom that she was right (again).