How Meditation Affects The Brain: Exploring Neuroscience And Meditation Practice

The brain is the most complex, and arguably the most important, part of the human body, and yet, it is something that most people know very little about. To get a better understanding of how meditation affects the brain, we’ll first want to understand the basics of the brain itself.

What is the Brain?

The brain is a three-pound organ that is the seat of the intellect, the interpreter of the senses, the initiator of body movement, and the controller of our behavior. The brain resides within the cavity of the skull, and is immersed in a protective fluid called Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF).

The Three Parts of the Brain

The brain can be divided into three basic units, all of which work together synergistically: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.

The hindbrain includes the upper part of the spinal cord, the brain stem, and a wrinkled ball of tissue called the cerebellum. The hindbrain controls the body’s vital functions such as digestion, respiration and heart rate. The cerebellum coordinates movement and is involved in learned habitual movements.

The uppermost part of the brainstem is the midbrain, which controls some reflex actions and is part of the circuit involved in the control of eye movements and other voluntary movements.

The forebrain is the largest and most highly developed part of the human brain: it consists primarily of the cerebrum and the structures hidden beneath it. The cerebrum sits at the topmost part of the brain and is the source of intellectual activities. It holds your memories, allows you to plan, enables you to imagine and think and allows you to recognize familiar faces, read books, and solve puzzles.

The cerebrum is structurally composed of an outer layer of gray matter, called the cerebral cortex, and a centrally located white matter.

The Two Halves of the Cerebrum

The cerebrum is split into two halves (hemispheres) by a deep fissure. Despite this split, the two hemispheres of the cerebrum communicate with each other through a thick tract of nerve fibers that lies at the base of this fissure, called the corpus callosum.

Although the two hemispheres appear to be mirror images of each other, they are actually quite different. For instance, the ability to form words seems to lie primarily in the left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere seems to control many abstract reasoning skills.

For reasons that are still not fully understood, nearly all of the signals from the brain to the body and vice-versa cross over on their way to and from the brain—meaning that the left cerebral hemisphere primarily controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere primarily controls the left side. When one side of the brain is damaged, the opposite side of the body is affected. For example, a stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain can leave the right arm and right leg paralyzed.

The Four Lobes of the Brain

Traditionally, each of the hemispheres of the brain have been divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital

Most brain functions rely on many different regions across the entire brain working in conjunction, however, it is also true that each lobe carries out the bulk of certain functions in the brain.

The lobes of the brain are divided by a number of bumps and grooves, known as gyri (bumps) and sulci (groves or fissures). The folding of the brain, and the resulting gyri and sulci, increases its surface area and enables more cerebral cortex matter to fit inside the skull.

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is separated from the parietal lobe by a space called the central sulcus, and from the temporal lobe by the lateral sulcus. The frontal lobe is generally where higher executive functions including emotional regulation, planning, reasoning and problem solving occur.

Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe is behind the frontal lobe, separated by the central sulcus. Areas in the parietal lobe are responsible for integrating sensory information, including touch, temperature, pressure and pain.

Temporal Lobe

Separated from the frontal lobe by the lateral fissure, the temporal lobe also contains regions dedicated to processing sensory information, particularly important for hearing, recognizing language, and forming memories. 

Occipital Lobe

The occipital lobe is the major visual processing center in the brain. The primary visual cortex, also known as V1, receives visual information from the eyes. This information is relayed to several secondary visual processing areas, which interpret depth, distance, location and the identity of seen objects.

Isn’t it fascinating that all of these different areas of the brain are working together, even now as you read these words?

The Inner Brain

Deep within the brain, hidden from view, lie structures that are the gatekeepers between the spinal cord and the cerebral hemispheres. These structures play key roles in our emotional state, modify our perceptions and responses depending on that state, and allow us to initiate movements that are made spontaneously without thinking about them. Just like the lobes in the cerebral hemispheres, the structures of the inner brain are each duplicated in the opposite half of the brain.

The hypothalamus, about the size of a pearl, directs a multitude of important functions. It wakes you up in the morning, gets adrenaline flowing when it is needed, and is an important emotional center that helps to control the molecules that make you feel energized, irritated, or unhappy.

Near the hypothalamus lies the thalamus, a major clearinghouse for information going to and from the spinal cord and the cerebrum.

An arching tract of nerve cells leads from the hypothalamus and the thalamus to the hippocampus. This tiny nub acts as a memory indexer—sending memories out to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and retrieving them when necessary.

The basal ganglia (not pictured) are clusters of nerve cells surrounding the thalamus. They are responsible for initiating and integrating movements. Parkinson’s disease, which results in tremors, rigidity, and a stiff, shuffling walk, is a disease of nerve cells that lead into the basal ganglia.

The Default Mode Network (DMN)

You may have heard of the default mode network before, but if you haven’t, this is an extremely relevant topic for meditation practice. The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that are essentially what are responsible for what you sense as the voice in your mind (you know, the voice that says, “I look kind of fat in this shirt” “that was a stupid thing to say” “I’m bored” “what should I have for dinner tonight?”)

The DMN consists of the brain regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and the inferior parietal lobule, all of which are important for our survival. This network is most active when we are awake, when we are thinking about ourselves, remembering the past, imagining the future, or anything that involves not being relaxed and attentive to what’s happening right now.

The DMN is useful because it’s involved in our memory, particularly in the daily memories that play a role in helping us make a model of the world, and predict the future based on past events. The problem is, however, the models we create may not always be true, and sometimes we get stuck in these mental models and it makes it difficult to see anything other than the image our mind has created.

Another common issue, is that people unknowingly identify with the voice in the mind, as well as the models that the DMN has created for themselves, and don’t realize that this is actually a process of the brain, one that is now measurable by magnetic resonance imaging.

Essentially, the DMN is what many people refer to as the ego, or the monkey mind. It is the inner voice inside the mind, the one dialoguing all of our thoughts and creating our mental stories. The constant stream of thoughts that just won’t turn off sometimes.

The DMN is an essential part of the brain, but it is also a great source of psychological stress. The DMN easily leads to a wandering mind and distracts us from being present to life. Instead, we are consumed by thoughts of the past or future, planning, fantasizing, imagining, reflecting, memorizing, regretting and so on.

University of Berkley researcher Matt Killingsworth conducted a study, observing people’s levels of happiness throughout the day. What he found, and what many other research studies have concluded, is that people become less happy when they let their minds wander.

When we let our minds wander, and spend significant amounts of time lost in thought, it leaves at the mercy of whatever our thoughts are—and often many of us have rather fearful, negative, and limiting thoughts.

These thoughts are not actually reality, but are our DMN’s best attempt at interpreting or creating a model for reality. Unfortunately, many of us, mistake the model for the real thing, and become stressed out, anxious, or depressed because of the voice in our heads.

Thankfully, there are times when we are free of that voice. In particular, when we are doing something active, something we enjoy, or something that engages our attention enough to quiet the mind. In these moments, we feel most alive. This is when we are in a state of flow.

The flow-state is essentially a state of presence, or present-moment awareness, and this is what meditation helps us accomplish. Meditation helps us become more present to life, so we can actually be oriented to life from this flow state, rather than being dominated by the DMN and the voice inside our heads.

Meditation’s Effect on the Default Mode Network

Several studies have been done on meditation and its effect on the default mode network. One such study was published in the National Academy of Sciences Journal and states “We investigated brain activity in experienced meditators and matched meditation-naive controls as they performed several different meditations (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness). We found that the main nodes of the default-mode network (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) were relatively deactivated in experienced meditators across all meditation types. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed stronger coupling in experienced meditators between the posterior cingulate, dorsal anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (regions previously implicated in self-monitoring and cognitive control), both at baseline and during meditation. Our findings demonstrate differences in the default-mode network that are consistent with decreased mind-wandering. As such, these provide a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.”

In numerous studies, it has been shown that meditation, in as little as 20 minutes, can significantly reduce activity in the DMN and quiet the voice in the mind, allowing meditators to achieve a state of presence and flow.

For thousands of years meditators and spiritual traditions have talked about the importance of living in the present moment, and the misery that is caused by the mind and its untamed, restless thinking. Now, we have scientific research that can back up these claims, and shows that people do in fact experience less happiness when they are at the mercy of their restless mind, and that they can train the mind to quiet the inner voice, and open awareness to the reality of life in the present moment.

Meditation Changes the Brain

While the quieting down of the inner voice and the reduced activity in the DMN are significant brain changes that occur in meditation, they are not at all the only changes that occur in the brain.

One Harvard study found that when people went through 8 weeks of meditation, critical areas of the brain that associate with awareness, stress, and empathy changed. They grew new grey matter in their cerebral cortex, which connects to attention and emotional integration. The participants in the study all gained more control over their emotions and even impulse control became better.

What Happens in Your Brain When You Meditate

Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicate that our brains are processing information. This decrease can happen in as little as 20-minutes, even if we’ve never tried meditation before.

During meditation,

  • The frontal cortex tends to go offline.
  • Activity in the parietal lobe slows down.
  • The flow of incoming information into the thalamus is reduced significantly.
  • Brainwaves slow down considerably.
  • The default mode network becomes less active.
  • The gray matter of the brain is transformed, allowing for new neural pathways to be formed.

In the image here you can see an MRI scan of how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (as seen on the right).


Our brain develops and adapts throughout our entire lives. This phenomenon, called neuroplasticity, means that gray matter can thicken or shrink, connections between neurons can be improved, new connections can be created, and old connections can be degraded or even terminated.

It was long believed that once your “child brain” was fully developed, the only thing you could anticipate for the future was a gradual decline in intelligence. Now we know that our everyday behaviors literally change our brains, and it appears that the same mechanisms which allow our brains to learn new languages or sports can help us learn how to be happy and to experience more joy in our daily lives.

The brain is truly a fascinating organ, and the more we understand it, the better we can work with it to shape our lives in a positive way. Meditation is a powerful tool for improving your brain’s health and overall functioning.


Give Yourself Time To Sit In Silence

When was the last time you sat down in the discomfort of your silence? When was the last time you fell in love with your spirit? Not the spirit of another, but your own worthy energy. Your heart isn’t just a heart. Your heart is the source connecting you to everything here on earth. 

When you’re disconnected to you, you’re disconnected to everything. It creates a blockage to energy and energy connects us all to all of life. Energy is God. Energy is Love. When you feel this blockage arise and it’s really uncomfortable to sit alone, begin with where you’re at. 

Release judgment against yourself. “I do not judge you for thinking anything that you think.” Feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts. The more time you sit in the discomfort of silence, the more comfortable silence becomes. Silence is always a reliable comfort. 

Your heart is always a reliable comfort. Humans are unreliable. Within you is where you should always begin. We must make the effort to sit alone, because alone is where we discover the depths of us. 

So when life feels lonely, sit alone. Even if it doesn’t feel lonely, sit alone. When sitting alone feels uncomfortable, move if you have to, but then go back. You must learn to rely on what’s within. It must be a practice.

It’s normal to become frustrated. Again, release judgment. You’ll begin to find your rhythm, your stillness, your creativity. Your rhythm will come and go. 

If you feel like inspiration is distant, be patient. Sometimes your brain needs a break. Inspiration will show up when you’re ready. 

Your spirit is always looking out for you and you are a spirit this world needs to experience. May you find patience through your process. Your process is yours to experience. Experience it.

10 Tips For Starting A Daily Meditation Practice That Lasts

Meditation comes with many benefits including boosting mood, increasing energy, and tempering stress. And this practice is truly for everyone—even those of us who think we can’t sit still. All you need is a little instruction on how to train your brain, and before you know it, you’ll be harnessing the power of your mind and improving your life. Here are 10 easy tips to start meditating right now and maintain a daily practice:

  1. Get comfortable.

We tend to make meditation more complicated and challenging than necessary. Take it easy. Start by taking a comfortable seat. If you’re flexible, sit cross-legged on the floor, on a meditation cushion, or blanket—with your knees resting slightly below your hips. If you’re not, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor.

2. Make it a ritual.

Set a clearly designated space for meditation. It can be as simple as a thoughtfully placed candle (candles can also help with dropping into meditation) picture, or crystal. You’ll also want to practice at the same time every day. Start with the same protocol for each meditation.

3. Sit tall.

Posture 101: Sit up nice and tall by straightening your spine. Sit in a chair or against a wall if you need to. Lengthening the spine can help increase your circulation and keep you alert.

4. Start small.

Start where you are. If 10 minutes seems overwhelming, begin with five. After a week, begin to add one minute to your practice each week until you build up to 30 minutes (or more) at a time.

5. Be nice to yourself (really nice!).

As renowned meditation teacher Sally Kempton says, “Meditation is relationship.” Ultimately, it’s all about your relationship to yourself. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Meditation teaches us radical acceptance, compassion, and unconditional love. Be sweet to your convoluted mind. Surrender to exactly who you are and what is happening—right here, right now. And don’t forget to smile!

6. Note your excuses.

Meditation is a practice of self-inquiry. Observe the excuses you tell yourselfI’m too tired, or I don’t have time. Notice how your mind can tend to rationalize when you break your commitment. Just observe and understand without judgment. Then recommit to your practice without making excuses.

7. Find a meditation buddy.

Accountability is the answer to your excuses. Find a buddy to commit to meditating with. Find a friend who is also beginning to meditate, or join a Facebook group or online course. Your struggle is normal…but it will get easier.

8. Practice makes perfect.

As the Ashtanga guru Patthabi Jois says, “Practice. Practice. Practice. All is coming.” Think of meditation as bicep curls for the muscle of your mind. You are training your brain to focus, concentrate, and let go. Over time, with consistency, it will become easier to drop into.

9. Just breathe.

Our mind is addicted to analyzing the past or projecting into the future, but the breath is only in the here and now. Focus on your breath to anchor the mind into the present moment.

10.  Start a meditation journal.

End your practice each day by observing how you feel. What is happening in your body? What is your emotional state? Make note of any changes so they register in your body and conscious mind. The next time you feel resistance to meditation, flip through the notes you made in your journal to remind yourself of its benefits. This will help you stay motivated and committed.

A Meditation To Heal Your Soul

At this moment, as you sit firmly grounded to the Earth, you are also grounded within yourself.

Dedicate this time for yourself and release all external obligations. Your only obligation is to tend to your well-being and to take this time to be fully present.

Take the deepest breath that you have taken all day. Inhale through the nose, and as you exhale out the mouth, allow everything to slide straight off you with an audible sigh.

Let go of your worries, anxiety, friendship problems, relationship quarrels, or work-related tension.

On your next inhale, visualize the walls around you. Their color, where you are situated in the room, and their height. As you exhale, let go of these walls. Allow them to blur into the outside world. Feel yourself open up to endless space.

With every new cycle of breath, allow yourself to detach from your physical surroundings and instead feel the kind of energy pulsating and flowing all around you.

As you begin to focus on the energy outside your body, use your breath to help you focus on the energy that flows within you.

Come to look inwards; be present with yourself. Visualize the kind of energy that flows throughout your body. What does it look like? Does it all have the same color? How bright does it shine?

As you search within yourself, realize that there is untapped energy and power within your soul. You have endless potential within yourself and you are able to overcome any darkness lingering around you.

There is a garden within your soul. Only you are able to tend to it. You decide whether it will flourish or wither away. You can choose which seeds to plant and which weeds have overstayed their welcome.

Let the light into your garden by choosing to be kind to yourself.

Choose love and light.

Choose to love your light.

And with every inhale that you take, visualize the ball of light that is sitting within your heart center growing. Feed more love to that ball of light with every inhale.

And with every exhale, expel any darkness that lingers throughout your body. Release anything that no longer serves you so that your light can shine through every inch of you.

Continue to use your breath to focus on tending to your soul. Stay here until you can feel your inner love and light radiating outwards for the world to be in awe of.

5 Meditation Exercises To Help You Sleep Better

Haven’t you ever wondered why every thought comes crashing down when you’re trying to sleep? You know the drill—almost half of us have been troubled by our mind shifting to overdrive as soon as our head meets the pillow. Experts opine that the mind’s tendency to get tampered with in thoughts is the strongest during the night, especially during bedtime when everything takes a backstage and you’re alone with your thoughts.

Despite sleep being a crucial proponent to our well-being, the want or lack of it is not dealt with gravely by us. Reports state that an average adult requires over 7-9 hours of sleep a day. However, the studies that have been carried out in this field have pointed to the obvious; a majority of the population lacks sleep or have trouble falling asleep. There may be several reasons for the same- ranging from biological forces to lifestyle choices.

What Is Meditation For Sleep?

It is a known fact that your quality of sleep weighs more than the hours of sleep you manage to squeeze into your schedule. That is probably where the significance of sleep meditation comes to play. Meditation is believed to give you truly restful conditions required for winding off and drifting to a sound sleep.

Meditation before sleep will train us to be more conscious of the present moment and focus less on the other details. These detailed, guided exercises listed below are certain to help out in igniting a natural sleep aid.

Guided Sleep Meditation Exercises

In one way or the other, we’re all constantly racing against time. To-do lists, deadlines, reservations, and anxieties have a bizarre way of showing up when it’s time for sleep. Fortunately, these holistic remedies aid in counteracting your misgiving thoughts.

1. Breathing Exercises

Tweaking up your breaths is believed to have curative effects. Breath work experts recommend taking long, deep nasal breaths. Make sure your breathing is slower for better relaxation. Follow this with three or two counts while breathing out of your nose.

You can even try the 2:1:4:1 breath ratio. This includes taking in your breath for a count of two. Holding it for a count of one. Follow this up by exhaling softly in the count of four. To be finished by holding the breath for a count of one. While performing this breathing exercise, feel free to switch it up according to your needs. The key is to listen to your body; understand what feels best for you. There is no need to push yourself. Always bear in mind that you ought to do what makes you comfortable; do not shy away from experimenting with various combinations until you figure out what works best for you.

2. Body Scan Meditation

This type of meditation is centered on focusing each part of your body to augment awareness of your physical senses. This act is believed to bring about the easing of pain and tension. As you lie comfortably in your bed, make sure you have disconnected from every distraction. You can close your eyes gently and take deeper, more controlled breaths as you focus on the weight of your frame. This can be followed by the softening of your facial features. Continue down your body and pay close attention to how each part of your body responds. This way, you can “switch off” part-by-part.

3. Visualizations

Incorporating visualizations into your meditation exercises could be a powerful way to combat uneasiness and stress. It involves fancying an image or scene which calms you down. It could be practically anything at all—sitting by the ocean, walking in the mountains.

Many experts believe that the effects of visualization closely parallels that of the mental state brought about by hypnosis. It expands your ability to unwind, relieves stress, and helps you focus. If you’re a novice to the mindful meditation space, you can make use of phone apps like Head-space or Calm. You can choose from as quick as a five-minute exercise to longer ones, according to your needs. After you’ve gained considerable momentum with using the app, you may need to consider ditching the app to designate your own mantra. It doesn’t matter what your manta is as long as it qualms your lingering worries.

4. Retracing Your Day

Evaluating your day in length, hour-by-hour, action-by-action, is yet another recommended exercise to divert your mind. Reviewing your day right from the moment you wake up to last-minute before bed is a proven way to set in motion the powering down process. Try to commit to your memory the slightest of details. This exercise is optimal prior to breathing or visualization exercise.

Some experts assert gratitude as a sleep-focused meditation. The focus has to be extended to marking your appreciation for the good things that happened to you in the day. Any act of kindness and love should be cherished and focused upon.

5. Counting

When sleep is your end goal, it’s important to make relaxation your ally. To slow the mind down and liberate you from the recurring patterns of thought, experts suggest counting as a good means. Yes, you heard that right! This involves counting backwards from 10 to one. Then again and again till you fall asleep.

This method is sometimes culturally dubbed as ‘counting sheep’. In largely all depictions, you’re asked to picture a never-ending series of near-identical sheep leaping over a hedge. This activity presumably induces boredom by occupying the mind with something cyclical and metrical, thereby bringing about sleep.

The Bottom Line

Like most techniques, the key to master good sleep through meditative exercise is to stay consistent. Develop a pattern with unvarying efforts and best practices. Do not push yourself to do everything right from the first day. Give it time and slowly work your way into it.

Bear in mind that while meditation can surely perk up the quality of your sleep, it is not a substitute for other good sleep practices. So always carve out other healthy habits in adjacent areas.

Sleep may be an elusive matter for many, even after best efforts. In that case, do not hesitate to get professional help. There’s always help, always hope for things to get better.