Just as exercise builds and tones your body, meditation can sculpt the mind, studies suggest. Ilchi Lee, an expert on meditation and the president of the International Brain Education Association, points out that you may think of your brain as a muscle. In this way, getting in mental workouts could be just as important as finishing those dumbbell reps.
To assess specific meditation benefits, researchers at the University of Wisconsin scanned the brains of Tibetan monks, who are well-known champions of mental fitness. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at UW, zoomed in on the amygdala, the region associated with emotions and emotional memories. What he found here was a connection between meditation and resilience. His work indicated the more you meditate, the quicker your amygdala recovers from stress.
A separate MRI study from Harvard University highlighted that meditation also thickens gray matter, which includes regions of the brain involved in memory, muscle control and sensory perception. Researchers found that meditation beginners who took an eight-week course literally had thicker gray matter associated with self-awareness, while the regions associated with stress shrank.
There are many doors into mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness by concentrating on something, such as your own breath, and bringing your attention back to the point of focus when it begins to wander. Some people choose to hone in on a specific body part, channeling all of their energy into it.
"When you see you are not your thoughts or your emotions, then you have a whole different palette of ways to be," Jon Kabat-Zinn, a clinical mindfulness experct at the Unviersity of Massachusetts, told LiveScience.
Cultivating mindfulness can train the mind to work more efficiently, boost concentration and can break harmful cycles, such as those that accompany depression, in which the mind repeats the same negative thoughts.