How Meditation Works?

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Until recently there was no clear way to explain how meditation works. It was not until 2001 that Daniel & Tara Goleman, well known psychoterapists and expert meditators, suggested that meditation works because of the relationship between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

In order to explain how meditation works they mentioned that the amygdala is the part of the brain that decides if we should get annoyed or anxious. It is associated with feelings of fear and aggression and it has a powerful effect on our emotions and behaviour. It is also linked to survival needs and it makes rapid judgments about a situation.

The prefrontal cortex on the other hand is the part of the brain that makes us stop and think about things. It is also known as the inhibitory centre. It is very good at analyzing and planning, but it takes longer to make decisions.

For example, if a human sees a lion leaping out at him, the amygdala will trigger a fight or flight response long before the prefrontal cortex responds.

But in making rapid judgments, the amygdala is prone to error, such as seeing danger where there is none.

This is particularly true in contemporary society where social conflicts are far more common than encounters with predators. For instance, basically a harmless but emotionally charged situation can trigger uncontrollable fear or anger, leading to conflict, anxiety, and stress.

There is roughly a quarter of a second lapse between the time an event occurs and the time it takes the amygdala to react.

How Meditation Works?


The Golemans suggested then that when an event happens a person who meditates may be able to intervene before a fight or flight response takes over. The meditator can even redirect the event into a more constructive or positive feeling.

This way they explained how meditation works by acting in a more positive way before the amygdala acts.

Another way to explain how meditation works was done through a study at Harvard University in 2006 . In this study it was found that people who meditate grew bigger brains than those who do not meditate.

Sara Lazar, leader of this study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School said that the data obtained in the study suggested that “meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive, emotional processing and well-being”.

She continued saying that “these findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, “the structure of an adult brain can change in response to a repeated practice.”

In her study Lazar concluded that “those most deeply involved in the meditation(practice) showed the greatest changes in brain structure“.

She suggested ” that the differences in brain structure were caused by meditation” rather than the other way around . That is “that differences in brain thickness got them into meditation in the first place.”

This way she explained how meditation works by increasing the brain structure in the area dealing with feelings and decisions.