What happens when you meditate? You feel a stillness in your wandering mind and calmness in your breathing. Every breath evaporates your stress into thin air. You forget about the chaos in your life. It is just your mind and the body becoming one with your surroundings, as you experience mindfulness like never before. With every passing minute, your mind becomes more aware and more focused. You feel in control of your thoughts. As the profound feeling of peace and repose overwhelm you, you open your eyes to a world that feels new and quieter.
Countless people meditate every day. From the shrines of the East to the city parks of the West, meditation and its tangible benefits help people navigate their lives toward serenity. For monks and hermits, meditation is a gateway to higher consciousness and enlightenment, a path shown by sages and the Buddha. For people living in cities, the practice is like the ‘morning coffee’ they take to awaken themselves. The perceptions and applications may differ. But the fact remains that the prehistoric discipline of meditation has admirers in all corners and alleys of the world. It begs the question: How a routine, as simple as breathing or chanting a mantra, can have such radical effects on one’s mind and body that it has become a lifestyle choice for so many?
Science has the answer. A few years ago, neuroscientists from Harvard conducted a study to understand how the brain reacts to meditation. What they found was nothing less than extraordinary. According to the research, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions, and self-conscious awareness stops working during meditation. It means all the thoughts that flood the mind evaporate within a second. At the same time, the section that reads sensory information begins to shut down as well, making the nervous system less sensitive. A state of silence and stillness fills the mind, as the focus converges on breathing, a thought, or on an external object—as per the type of meditation. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing,” says Sarah Lazar, PhD, senior author of the study.