Meditation is a powerhouse practice for anyone to add to their daily life. But just how beneficial is meditation, especially for those with a traumatic brain injury or a developmental disability?
Meditation benefits you physically, emotionally & neurologically. When you meditate you experience less anxiety and depression as meditation loosens connections to particular neural pathways, meditation can result in brain changes that protect against mental health conditions, rapid memory recall, attention & concentration improves, meditation is linked with felling less stressed, as well as actually lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Meditation is also linked to more creativity and new ideas, and helps you process emotions even when you’re not actively meditating. This practice has an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions and preserving the aging brain.
“A recent review of studies has also shown that mindfulness meditation helps people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder reduce their mental and physical problems. The review showed mindfulness meditation was effective for reducing aggression, both physical and verbal, reducing deviant sexual arousal, and for quitting smoking and losing weight in people with these conditions.”
“Challenging behavior is the most prevalent problem faced by people with these disabilities. It includes aggressive, self-injurious, destructive and disruptive behavior. These behaviors occur in as many as 15% of people with intellectual disabilities. Up to 95% of people with autism spectrum disorder also show some form of challenging behavior.”
The Effects Of Meditation On The Brain
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.
Meditation improves cognitive function, mindfulness and the ability to sustain focus by increasing grey matter, brain volume and cerebral blood flow.
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.
Meditation improves focus by causing in increase in cortical thickness in regions of the brain responsible for attention.
Meditation increases dopamine and serotonin levels by stimulating regions of the brain which are associated with happiness and positivity.
MRI scans have shown that meditation increases gyrification, or cortical folding, which allows the brain to process information faster. The extent of gyrification is highly implicated as being positively related to intelligence.
In a recent study, neuroscience shows that 50-year-olds can have the brains of 25-year-olds if they sit quietly and do nothing for 15 minutes a day.
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.
The results from the study showed in “just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation), the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives), and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated. Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.” (Link to original blog)
Breathing Benefits For the Brain
There is a direct link to breath and the brain. Breathing enhances your attention to detail and improves overall brain health by promoting the growth of new neural connections.
Breathing exercises could help those with ADHD and traumatic brain injuries.
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 towards your belly. After a while put your hands on your belly and “send” your breath to your hands. This exercise can have a relaxing effect quite soon. If you keep practicing this, you can teach yourself belly breathing that you can do it all day without even thinking.
Mindfulness Breathing Exercise
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position or lie down if that’s more comfortable.
- Close your eyes.
- Center yourself on your breath — just observe its natural rhythm without making an effort to adjust it.
- Focus on the rise and fall of your chest, the sensation in your nostrils, and the sound the breath makes in your throat.
- If you’re feeling really irritated or stressed, you can use mindfulness breathing to calm down by counting. Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 2 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. Then return to your normal breath and continue to observe.