Use Your Mind to Change Your Brain
For those of you who are curious as to how meditation changes the brain, this is for you. Although this may be slightly technical, bear with me because it’s really interesting. The brain, and how we are able to mold it, is fascinating and nothing short of amazing. Here are the brain areas you need to know:
- Lateral prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that allows you to look at things from a more rational, logical and balanced perspective. In the book, we call it the Assessment Center. It is involved in modulating emotional responses (originating from the fear center or other parts of the brain), overriding automatic behaviors/habits and decreasing the brain’s tendency to take things personally (by modulating the Me Center of the brain, see below).
- Medial prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences. Many people call this the “Me Center” of the brain because it processes information related to you, including when you are daydreaming, thinking about the future, reflecting on yourself, engaging in social interactions, inferring other people’s state of mind or feeling empathy for others. We call it the Self-Referencing Center.
- Ventromedial medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – involved in processing information related to you and people that you view as similar to you. This is the part of the brain that can cause you to end up taking things too personally, which is why we referred to it as the unhelpful aspect of the Self-Referencing Center in the book. (In reality, this brain area has many important and helpful functions – since we were focusing on overcoming anxiety, depression and habits you want to change, we referred to it as unhelpful because it often causes increases in rumination/worry and exacerbates anxious or depressive thoughts/states/feelings.)
- Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (dmPFC) – involved in processing information related to people who you perceive as being dissimilar from you. This very important part of the brain is involved in feeling empathy (especially for people who we perceive of as not being like us) and maintaining social connections.
- Insula: the part of the brain that monitors bodily sensations and is involved in experiencing “gut-level” feelings. Along with other brain areas, it helps “guide” how strongly you will respond to what you sense in your body (i.e., is this sensation something dangerous or benign?). It is also heavily involved in experiencing/feeling empathy.
- Amygdala: the alarm system of the brain, what most refer to as the “Fear Center.” It's a part of the brain that is responsible for many of our initial emotional responses and reactions, including the “fight-or-flight” response. (Along with the Insula, this is what we referred to as the Uh Oh Center.)
The Brain Without Meditation – Stuck on Me
The Brain on Meditation – I Can See Clearly Now
Daily Practice is Important
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