|Year : 2018 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 1-2
Meditation – The next step in evolution
Sparsha Psychiatric Clinic, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India
|Date of Web Publication||26-Jun-2018|
Dr. Vijayalakshmi Pernenkil
Sparsha Psychiatric Clinic, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Pernenkil V. Meditation – The next step in evolution. Arch Ment Health 2018;19:1-2
Untreated mental disorders account for 13% of the global burden of disease. “Current predictions indicate that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disease burden globally.” How do we tackle such a scenario?
The rational part of the brain is the functioning of intact prefrontal cortex (PFC). The emotion filled part of us is mostly the functioning of a tiny almond-shaped body in our brain called the amygdala. This organ stores emotional memory. A well-developed PFC – which only humans are endowed with – in addition to executive and a host of other functions – regulates emotions. There are certain situations when the amygdala hijacks the brain and hinders the normal functioning of the PFC. Dr. Daniel Goleman in his thought-provoking book “Emotional intelligence” calls the act of amygdala as emotional hijacking. It is a fact that our senses relay to the thalamus which in turn sends a small bundle of neurons to the amygdala and a longer bundle to the neocortex which in turn relays to the amygdala. Therefore, the neocortex usually regulates emotional expression. The shorter pathway allows the amygdala to receive some direct input from the senses and to start a response even before they are fully registered by the neocortex. This is the basis of the emotional hijacking. Amygdala being a repository for emotional memory scans the experience comparing what is happening now with what happened in the past. Its method of comparison is associative. When one key element of a present situation is similar to the past, it can call it a match, thus over generalizing situations and flooding our system with overwhelming emotions not regulated by the PFC. The PFC is an efficient manager of emotions. It dampens the signals for activation sent out by the amygdala and other limbic structures.
The strengthening of PFC is possible through meditation. Meditation increases the cerebral blood flow more to the left medial PFC and also the insula. The increased cerebral blood flow to the left PFC is associated with positive emotions such as happiness and flexible behavior that is not automatic. This is due to more of parasympathetic activity when compared to sympathetic nervous system activity. Increased blood flow to the insula is associated with appropriate emotional regulation. The blood flow to the parietal cortex is decreased. Parietal cortex is associated with spatial processing; therefore, the sense of space is gradually lost.
Meditation causes neuroplasticity (number of connections between neurons increase). There is increased gray matter concentration in the posterior cingulate cortex, temporoparietal junction, hippocampus, brainstem, and cerebellum. It was also found that the cortex in meditators was thicker than nonmeditators and similar to the cortex of nonmeditators 20 years younger. The PFC and insula were thicker in meditators, and the region in the brain most associated with emotional reactivity and fear – amygdala – had decreased gray matter density. This accounts for the feeling of peace as there is no fear.
Meditation was found to increase the activity of the neocortex and decrease the activity of the limbic system of which the amygdala is a part, thus reducing its hold on our response. Meditation training was also found to reduce right amygdala activity during negative emotion processing.
Meditation has already demonstrated innumerable benefits for physical health, and now, the latest research is able to show the evidence of its positive impact on mental health. This probably is the next step in the evolution of Homo sapiens.
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