Change your brain with mindfulness meditation
Dr Elaine Ryan
Page last reviewed and updated by Dr Elaine Ryan on
11th May 2020
Did you know that we can change the pathways in the brain with mindfulness meditation? Well, yes we can.
Why do we want to?
Living in this fast paced world means that many of us have an anxious brain. Ask yourself these questions?
- Do you find it hard to switch off when you come home?
- Do you find that your mind is racing?
- Do you find it difficult to relax?
- Do you sleep well?
- Are you always working, checking emails?
- Do you feel stressed?
For most of us, if we answer yes to any of these questions, we just assume that’s the way we are. Busy. We do not have to be.
Those of you that meditate probably answered no to most of those questions.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is quite simply, paying attention to what we are doing, with no judgement.
It may sound too simple and you might wonder what use that will be. If you are like most other people, your mind will be full of thoughts. Often, we think that we have control of our own mind. Try the following exercise.
Take five minutes
Sit back and close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Just pay attention to breathing in and out.
That’s all you have to do.
How did you do? You may well have found that you were not able to control your thought processes, or you may have felt irritable or anxious, or felt that you should be doing something else instead.
So what does that tell you? It suggests that when you are trying to pay attention to something, in this case, your breathing, that you find it difficult. Your mind wanders, you want to do something else. Does this happen in situations where you need to keep your mind focused? Maybe in meetings, or work or school. You are there, it looks like you are paying attention to what you are doing, but your mind literally, has a mind of it’s own!
Most of us think that this is normal. It is, but that does not mean that it is helpful. If you found that your mind wandered easily, did you also find that it wandered onto worries, or what you have to do, or what you should be doing? Most of our thought processes are to do with the past or the future (as opposed to what we are doing right now.) If you pay attention to the content of your thought processes, you will probably see that you do not dwell on all the good things that have happened in the past, or how wonderful your future will be. You are more likely to regret things in the past and worry about the future.
What harm does this do?
Have you heard the phrase – neurons that fire together wire together? What this means, in terms of what I am talking about, is, the more you have thoughts about the past and future that cause you to worry or feel stressed, the more likely you are to have them in the future. You shape your brain to be – an anxious brain.
Mindfulness meditation can change the neural pathways. We can teach ourselves to be calm!
We now know that the brain can change and adapt. The way we lead our life, the thoughts we have and the stress we feel, serves to shape our brain. We can get an anxious brain. An anxious brain is always on, ready for something to happen, ready to respond. This is why your thoughts race and it is difficult to relax and sleep. An anxious brain will always have something to hand to worry about it. There is always something that needs doing.
There are very few things in life that need doing right now.
No -one will die, if we do not clean the house right now, or send that email or finish that report, but we act and feel it in our body, as if it is a really urgent thing to do.
Meditate to change the neural pathways
You probably know someone that seems to breeze through life. Nothing seems to phase them. They take everything in their stride. They still get things done, lead a life after work, can relax and sleep like a baby.
You can too.
What we think, the things we do, how busy we feel and how our body responds to all these demands shapes our brain. Slowing it all down with meditation changes not only how we feel, but changes the neural pathways in our brain. It is like acquiring a skill, only with practice, what is really happening, is that we are reshaping our brain.