Meditation Benefits For The Brain & Developmental Disabilities

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Meditation is a powerhouse practice for anyone to add to their daily life. But just how beneficial is meditation, especially for those with a developmental disability?

Meditation benefits for the brain include improved focus, decreased stress, and more. People with developmental disabilities can experience high levels of stress as they engage with people who think differently from them. Stress and frustration can affect their ability to self-regulate, leading to challenging behaviors. Therefore, meditation can help individuals live happier, healthier lives.

Does Meditation Really Work?

Meditation benefits you physically, emotionally & neurologically. When you meditate, you build new neural connections that promote calmness and focus, which can result in: 

  • Less anxiety and depression 
  • Rapid memory recall
  • Improvements in attention & concentration
  • Reduced stress levels
  • More creativity
  • Better ability to process emotions

Meditation also has an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to enhanced connectivity between brain regions and preserving the aging brain.

Meditation and Disabilities

Though there is definitely room for more research on the subject, several studies have shown that meditation may help individuals with autism spectrum disorder experience less stress and develop healthier patterns of behavior

 6 young adults with autism reported less anxiety, improved sleep, better emotional regulation, and improved concentration after implementing transcendental meditation twice per month in a study published by Cogent Psychology. 

Another study shows that meditation also has benefits for parents of children with autism and intellectual disabilities. Parents who participated in the mindfulness meditation program reported much lower levels of stress. They were also able to provide better behavioral support to their children, resulting in fewer incidents of aggressive or disruptive behavior.

6 Benefits Of Meditation for the Brain

Now that we’ve covered some general benefits of meditation and its effect on disabilities, let’s talk about what actually happens in the brain when we meditate. Here are a few effects regular meditation can have on your brain:

1. Brain Function

Meditation increases whole brain function by synchronizing the right and left hemispheres of the brain while increasing balance and amplitude in alpha, theta, and delta brain wave patterns.

2. Cognition

Meditation improves cognitive function, mindfulness, and the ability to sustain focus by increasing grey matter, brain volume, and cerebral blood flow.

3. Stress Reduction

Meditation decreases stress and anxiety by down-regulating cortisol and adrenaline, creating a state of deep relaxation in which our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, and metabolism are decreased.

4. Focus

Meditation improves focus by causing an increase in cortical thickness in regions of the brain responsible for attention.

5. Mood

Meditation increases dopamine and serotonin levels by stimulating regions of the brain that are associated with happiness and positivity.

6. Gyrification

MRI scans have shown that meditation increases gyrification, or cortical folding, which allows the brain to process information faster.

In a recent study, neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that people who practiced meditation had more grey matter in the part of the brain linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. While most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of grey matter as those half their age. 

Participants in the study averaged about 27 minutes of the habit a day, but other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 minutes a day.

Breathing Benefits For the Brain

If you’re not ready to try meditation just yet, deep breathing exercises can also benefit your brain by enhancing your attention to detail and promoting the growth of new neural connections. One study found that deep breathing after learning a new motor skill can help you retain the skill over time. 

Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Belly Breathing Exercise

Belly breathing is a time-tested instant relaxant. When you breathe through your belly, your body gets more oxygen. It sends a signal to your brain that there’s no danger, you don’t have to fight or flee, and your brain can relax. 

You can practice belly breathing by first lying flat on your back. Stretch your legs, spread them a little, and let your feet drop outward. Your arms are alongside your body with your palms up. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing while breathing through your nose. Put your hand on the spot that goes up as you breathe in. If it’s your chest, try to guide your breath toward your belly. After a while, put your hands on your belly and “send” your breath to your hands. 

Mindfulness Breathing Exercise

  1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position or lie down.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Center yourself on your breath — just observe its natural rhythm without making an effort to adjust it.
  4. Focus on the rise and fall of your chest, the sensation in your nostrils, and the sound the breath makes in your throat.
  5. If you’re feeling agitated, you can also count breaths to help calm yourself down. Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. 
  6. Then return to your normal breath and continue to observe.

Getting Started with Meditation

Our cognitive and behavioral experts here at A Cognitive Connection are so passionate about the benefits of meditation for the brain that we’ve created a free two-week email course to help you get started. You’ll learn more about the benefits of meditation, different types of meditation, and simple instructions for getting started. Sign up below to start your practice!

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