The amygdala is the part of the brain that houses our “fight or flight” response, feelings of fear, and feelings of anger. When we are under unrelieved, long-term stress, our bodies start producing more cortisol (a stress hormone) which over time can create health challenges for us. We start triggering more amygdala responses and start to find that we are reacting with anger and/or fear to things that normally would not bother us.
Research has shown that regularly practicing meditation and mindfulness (20-30 minutes per day) can actually create physical changes in the brain and chemical changes in the body. It can help to balance our production of cortisol, as well as other hormones, and over time the size of the amygdala begins to decrease while areas in the frontal cortex grow more connections.
The hippocampus is the area of the brain that helps us learn and retain new information (memory), as well as regulating emotions and response control. With regular meditation the hippocampus begins to grow new, stronger connections and increases in size. We begin to experience a sense of inner peace, feelings of positivity, and are able to manage life’s stressors more effectively.
It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds. –Sara Lazar, Neuroscientist
How meditation can change your brain (youtube with Sara Lazar)