Mediation targets an area of the brain called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. [Image: GreenFlame09 | Flickr]

Any yoga or meditation teacher will say that the purpose of meditation is to quet the mind and let go of the immeassurable amounts of thoughts that go through one’s head at any given moment. But what really happens to the brain during meditation? Nicole Gravagna, an author and neuroscientist, explained on the question and answer site, Quora.

Gravagna took a biological approach when she responded to the question, “Why would you suggest I meditate?” posted on Jan. 8.

She explained that all types of meditation target an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This part of the brain is where all thought, physical sensation, and emotional data intersect to give you a wider picture of the world.

According to Gravagna, people with weak ACC’s only get half a view of the world around them. They will either live more strongly in their emotions or more strongly within logic. But people with strong ACC’s get the big picture and have a balance of reason and passion, so to speak. 

Strong ACC people, also tend to have higher thresholds for pain, and report general happiness, positivity, and focus, and a greater sense of the ability for people to choose their own paths in life.

Meditation, is a practice that helps to strengthen the ACC because different types of meditation will involve overlapping two of the three “data types” that intersect in the ACC.

Gravagna posted that activities which strengthen the ACC generally involve not speaking. Meditation techniques like sitting on a chair and feeling or thinking about its sensation on the back involves physical sensation and thought, while the more advance technique of feeling the sensation of breath also involves the intersect of those two data types.

A non-meditation technique that Gravagna described to strengthen the ACC involves watching a scary movie and being mindful of the emotions that arise while watching along with the physical sensations that go with them. This makes the ACC process the data types of emotion and sensation.

A regular practice of meditation will help strengthen the ACC and lead to a more positive outlook on life. 

“It doesn’t take long. Do exercises like this three days a week for as little as three minutes and you’ll notice that your experience of the world gets richer and less stressful. It’s your ACC that’s developing in response. Keep it up! Just like your biceps, your ACC needs regular exercise to stay strong,” she said.


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