Why Our Brain Needs Meditation

“Meditate, ground yourself, breathe deeply,” they said. “How” is the second question. The first is why. Only when you realize and accept the importance of meditation for the brain will you begin to take it seriously.

The Neurophysiology of Awareness

The brain is made up of neurons. There are about 86 billion of them in humans. Each one has several thousand connections with other neuronal cells and transmits electrical impulses. This complex yet compact, ultra-fast computer controls all processes. And it periodically gets overloaded and tired. When it does, it starts saving energy and acting primitively. Alas, these reactions hardly do us any good.

The brain can be roughly divided into 3 systems, each of which was formed at a different time:

  • The reptilian – life support, heart rate, survival.
  • Limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus) – reaction to environment and memory.
  • Cortex – higher-order activities: thinking, learning, creativity.

While the first acts by default and isn’t disabled, the balance of the other two determines our behavior. Emotions and panic are balanced by logic and common sense. The cerebral cortex acts on the same principle as the amygdala, only its “sound” is quieter and slower.

Internal Stress

We no longer live in caves, hunt mammoths or flee from saber-toothed tigers. But the ancient “fight or flight” mechanism works without fail.

Besides, the second problem that prevents us from choosing all reactions is internal stress. It appears when we feel anxiety not from what we see or hear, but from what we think. You can shield yourself from the source of stress when your boss yells or you lose at a casino. But what do you do if you’re frightened by the judgment that you’re bound to fail an exam or stumble at a performance?

Internal anxiety deals with:

  • Self-esteem.
  • Childhood traumas.
  • Limiting beliefs.
  • Social and cultural norms, and so on.

It’s not something objective and external that’s threatening, but it still stimulates the limbic system to feed the stress hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. So dealing with internal stress is much more difficult.

Meditation to Combat Inner Stress

The good news is that the human brain is plastic. In other words, its structure can be influenced. And depending on what you do regularly, that’s how your brain will be. If you make a habit of panicking in response to calls from an unfamiliar number, you increase the amygdala and train the overall sensitivity of the limbic system. But if you try to slow your breathing, observe and contemplate, and be inactive, it strengthens your cortex.

The practice of meditation changes brain structures on a physical and chemical level. MRI scans not only of experienced practitioners, but of beginners as well, prove this. The main condition is regularity.

If you imagine that the brain is a muscle, it becomes clear how to develop it. For example, you want to run a marathon. To do this, you will exercise several times a week and gradually increase the distance. It would be strange to expect that you could run 42 kilometers from scratch. So it’s with mindfulness.


The human brain conventionally has two modes:

  • Active concentration.
  • Default or wandering mind.

The latter is activated when you are not engaged in anything concrete; it’s necessary for resetting and searching for some unresolved issues. It’s when you are “enlightened from on high. But again, it saves energy, and therefore is more likely to activate a primitive response to any stimulus.

Regular meditation practice allows you to be more often in focus and concentration, to be here and now and enjoy the moment, to choose your reactions.

Awareness allows you to have more experiences: food tastes better, emotions are more expressed, memories are brighter, and the overall level of satisfaction and contentment only grows.

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