What Happens to Your Brain When You Meditate Every Day? (2024)

People who meditate regularly swear by it, but others are often skeptical of it, thinking it’s a little, you know, woo-woo.

But what if we told you that meditation is actually a powerful way to train your brain to be calmer and sharper? That scientific studies have shown that meditating regularly can alter brain shape, size, and function?

“Meditation can actually create structural changes in the brain. It has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain, particularly in areas related to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and perspective,” says Mirela Loftus, MD, PhD, medical director at Newport Healthcare.

Meditation can actually create structural changes in the brain. It has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain, particularly in areas related to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and perspective.

MIRELA LOFTUS, MD, PHD

Based on the amount of scientific evidence supporting meditation, every doctor would be prescribing it if it were a pill, says Gary Soffer, MD, an integrative medicine specialist at Yale Medicine.

Let’s dive in and take a look at what meditating regularly does to your brain.

At a Glance

Meditating regularly changes the brain in several ways. It alters brain waves, increases gray matter, and improves connectivity within the brain. The cherry on top? It also boosts feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.

Together, these changes make us happier, calmer, and sharper. As a result, we're better equipped to handle stress, stay focused on tasks, and experience a greater sense of well-being in our daily lives.

What Meditating Every Day Does to Your Brain

While meditation is an ancient practice, science is still unlocking the full spectrum of its benefits. A surge in research over the past few decades has investigated meditation's effects on both the brain and body.

Electroencephalography (EEG) and structural/functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques have been used to map the brain and study the effects of meditation on the brain.

Meditation has been shown to change many aspects of the brain’s structure and function.

GARY SOFFER, MD

Increases Gray Matter

Meditation increases gray matter in the brain, particularly in areas related to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and perspective, says Dr. Loftus. In fact, imaging studies show that meditation increases the size and volume of the brain, due to increased gray matter concentration.

Strengthens the Prefrontal Cortex

Regular meditation is linked to increased thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with higher-order brain functions such as awareness, concentration, memory, and decision-making, Dr. Loftus explains.

MRI scans have found that in addition to increasing the gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, meditation also improves the neural connectivity and cognitive function in this area.

Improves Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and rewire itself based on new information and experiences. Meditation increases neuroplasticity by improving neural connectivity patterns across different regions of the brain.

By enhancing connectivity between different brain regions, meditation can improve cognitive functions, information processing, and emotional regulation, says Dr. Loftus.

Boosts Dopamine and Serotonin

Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain. Meditation is linked to a larger quantity of positive neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain, says Dr. Soffer.

Apart from regulating functions like sleep, growth, and metabolism, these chemicals play an important role in maintaining our emotional equilibrium, by making us feel positive and happy.

Alters Brain Waves

Meditation not only calms our blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate, it also alters our brain waves. This helps us relax, concentrate, and process information better.

Those who practice meditation regularly often exhibit higher levels of gamma brain waves, which are associated with heightened perception, problem-solving, and consciousness, says Dr. Loftus.

Decreases the Size of the Amygdala

The amygdala, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, tends to shrink in people who meditate regularly, says Dr. Loftus. Research shows that this significantly reduces our stress levels.

Benefits of Meditation

As a result of these changes in the brain, meditation offers us several mental, emotional, and cognitive benefits. In fact, in addition to improving certain mental health conditions, it also benefits our nervous system and immune system, says Dr. Soffer.

Research shows us that meditation can improve:

  • Mood
  • Emotional regulation
  • Self-awareness
  • Attention
  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Spatial abilities
  • Execution function (thinking, planning, decision-making)
  • Conflict resolution
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation
  • Self-compassion
  • Stress
  • Sleep
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Mindful Moment

Need a breather? Take this free3-minute meditation to calm down quickly—or choose from ourguided meditation libraryto find another one that will help you feel your best.

How to Meditate Every Day

The best way to reap the benefits of meditation is to incorporate it into your daily routine and practice it every day. The benefits can be vast if you stick to the practice, says Dr. Soffer.

Here’s how you can make daily meditation a habit:

  • Start small: You can start with just a few minutes every day. Even five minutes of meditation can be helpful. As you get more comfortable with it, you can work your way up to longer sessions.
  • Find a time that works for you: Choose a specific time of day that works best for you, whether it’s first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or before bed. Consistency helps in forming a habit.
  • Pick a quiet spot: Choose a place where you can sit comfortably and won’t be interrupted. It could be a swing on your porch, a cozy chair in your room, or even a quiet corner in your office.
  • Set the ambience: If you like, you can set the ambience for your meditation session by dimming the lights, playing gentle soothing music, and lighting a scented candle.
  • Set an intention: Before you start meditating, set a clear intention or goal for your practice. It could be to reduce stress, increase focus, or simply take a break from your busy day.
  • Use a guided meditation program: If you’re new to meditating and not sure how to go about it, it can be easier to start with a guided meditation program that takes you through the steps. There are several free programs available online—you can choose the one that best fits your needs and your schedule.
  • Focus on your breath: Use your breath to anchor you to the present. If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring your focus back to your breath.
  • Reflect on the practice: After you finish, take a moment to reflect on your session. What did you feel and learn? If you like, you can write down your thoughts in a journal.
  • Be patient with yourself: Building a new habit takes time. Be patient with yourself on this journey. Don’t get frustrated if your mind wanders or if you miss a day. Some days will be easier and others will be harder.

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Sample Meditations to Try

If you want to get started with meditation, these are a few types you can try.

Breath Awareness Meditation

Breath awareness meditation simply involves focusing your attention on your breath. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
  • Taking deep breaths, bring your attention to your breath. Pay attention to the way the air comes in through your nose, fills up your stomach, and goes out again.
  • If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
  • Do this for as long as you like. When you’re done, open your eyes slowly.

Body Scan Meditation

Body scan meditation involves bringing your attention to each part of your body and consciously relaxing it, one at a time. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie down on your back and close your eyes.
  • Bring your attention to your toes, breathing into them and relaxing them. Notice any sensations you feel without trying to change anything.
  • Slowly move your focus to your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, and so on, up to the top of your head.
  • After you finish scanning your entire body, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation involves sending kind thoughts to yourself, your loved ones, and the world around you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Get comfortable, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.
  • Send kindness to yourself. You can repeat silently, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe.”
  • Extend kindness to your loved ones. Think of someone you love and repeat, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.”
  • Expand kindness to others. Gradually extend these wishes to a neutral person, someone you have difficulty with, and finally to all living beings.

Walking Meditation

If you find sitting still difficult and prefer movement, walking meditation may be for you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a quiet space to walk comfortably back and forth.
  • Walk slowly, paying attention to the sensations in your feet as they make contact with the ground.
  • Coordinate your breath with your steps, inhaling and exhaling with each step.
  • Notice any thoughts that come to you, letting them go and returning your focus to walking.
  • Turn around and continue walking mindfully when you reach the end of your space.
  • When you’re done, stand still, take a few deep breaths, and reflect on the experience.

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Key Takeaways

While meditation may seem simple on the surface, its impact on the brain is quite profound. Incorporating it into your daily routine can improve your attention, memory, mood, and stress levels. You can start slowly with just a few minutes a day, working your way up to longer sessions over time. Just do your best to be regular with it!

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What Happens to Your Brain When You Meditate Every Day? (2024)
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