Anatomy of the Meditative Brain

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Course Overview

Deepen your meditation practice by better understanding what is happening, and why, when you meditate.

The purpose of this course is not to make you a brain scientist or anatomist, but rather to give you knowledge of the functions of the parts of the brain.

In this digital workshop, you will learn about:

  • The benefits of meditation

  • Key physiological changes during meditation

  • The limbic system

  • The importance of myelination

  • Meditation and increased body awareness

  • Meditation and positive emotional responses

This course is very informative especially if you are new to meditation like myself. Makes the practice more effective as you are armed with information. Very well done. Thanks.

— Course Participant

Certificate of completion

3 CEU’s Upon Completion

Self Paced Learning

Course Outline

45min to complete

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Section 1
  • In 1989, Dr. Terri Oswald’s neuroanatomy instructor told her that her brain had been born with all of its cells at birth and they were gradually dying due to pruning, toxins, and stress. Wow, things have changed since then! Through groundbreaking research in the last decade, we now know that the brain’s anatomy and function is far more plastic and resilient than we ever realized. It changes both structurally and functionally based on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. In other words, we have a lot more control of our experience than we realized. In this course, we’re going to study the details...
  • Studies have shown that meditation has a robust effect on heart health and blood pressure, causing blood pressure to drop as much as five points, which resulted in some patients reducing or totally giving up medication. It’s also been shown to be incredibly effective in pain management for conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and tension headaches, all of which are difficult to treat with conventional medication. And further research attests to its positive effects on skin conditions, the immune system, attentive and retentive memory abilities, hot flashes, and more. Listen to Dr. Oswald...
Section 2
  • Inside of us, we have what Dr. Oswald jokingly refers to as “The Tale of Two Nervous Systems,” because our bodies really do respond to the best of times and the worst of times. The sympathetic nervous system, known as our “fight or flight” system, is phenomenal when something dangerous is happening. Its response helps us to get out of harm’s way and, occasionally, save the day. But 75% of people say they experience moderate to severe stress at some point during their day (that’s a lot), and when we’re feeling stress, it’s usually not related to a physical threat, but a perceived mental threat....
  • The stress hormone cortisol naturally fluctuates in a circadian rhythm. It’s higher in the morning, when we start our day, and by bedtime, it’s very low, so we can sleep. That’s a healthy response. When we get upset and overstimulated throughout our day—deadline at work, kids have the flu, or not particularly helpful thoughts creeping in—we have difficulty “turning off” this hyper-response because we don’t have an autonomic system to do it. And the problem gets worse when we experience significant illness. Researchers have discovered that patients with breast and lung cancers who couldn’t calm...
Section 3
  • A flexible brain is a healthy brain. Keeping our bodies and our minds active, and eating healthy fats, is essential to maintaining supple brain structures and cell walls. Swami Rama talked about bounceability in thinking, which he defined as the capacity to adapt to situations. Because the brain changes functionally in response to repetitive thoughts, actions, and experiences, this idea ties into the whole concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists like to say “Cells that fire together wire together” because the more we say, do, or think something, the more robust that pathway becomes in our brain....
  • The limbic system, which lies deep inside the brain between the brain stem (the automated part) and the cortex (the thinking part), facilitates feeling and reacting, as well as spatial orientation and navigation functions. For academic purposes, the limbic system is separated into two arenas, the cortical limbic system and the subcortical limbic system. Neuroscientists still debate which structures are in the cortical and subcortical areas, but for our purposes we will consider the hippocampus and the insula as parts of the cortical section and the amygdala and the olfactory bulbs as part of the...
  • The next layer of the brain, the cortex, allows us to move, to feel sensation, and to see via the optical nerve into the occipital cortex. The frontal part of the cortex, called the frontal lobe, is more developed in humans than it is in any other primate—particularly the prefrontal cortex, or the very tip of the frontal cortex. This is where our executive functioning is housed, and it allows us to have insight, to use our judgment, and to access realizations gained from making mistakes. It also houses our working memory, from which we retrieve facts. All the nerves in the body carry a coating...
Section 4
  • So, what happens in the brain when we meditate? A lot, really. Some of the benefits to be discussed in the next section reflect on findings that demonstrate how meditation helps us to regulate our emotional responses, to increase body awareness, to improve our attention, and to change our self-perception by helping us to understand what "self" really is. Let's check it out!
  • We've learned throughout our evolution that unpleasant things are far more likely to hurt us than pleasant things. Although this sounds like a no-brainer, this one realization has had a tremendous impact on the development of the human brain. Even today, our brains pay far more attention to things known to be physically or emotionally painful than to neutral, or even pleasant, stimuli. The amygdala plays a key role in this response, as do the prefrontal cortex and the cingulate gyrus. Many studies demonstrate that meditation reduces the size of the amygdala (which also helps to reduce our fear...
  • Have you ever noticed that your heart is racing? Or that your stomach seems to be caught in your throat? These are examples of body awareness. It's been discovered by scientists that meditation augments the parietal-temporal junction, which in turn enhances body awareness. The temporal lobe is the area that governs hearing and language, and the parietal lobe facilitates physical feelings of sensation. When these two areas are working together, we become much more aware of ourselves as physical beings. An added bonus: this effect helps us to understand what's happening with another person's body...
  • Meditation has been found to affect the inside areas of the prefrontal cortex and the entire cingulate gyrus, and this leads to greater self-awareness, a more expanded sense of self, a greater connection with other people, and a more global view of problems. At the same time, this also reduces egocentric desires and helps produce a broadening sense of self. Many studies show that the anterior cingulate gyrus, in particular, experiences an increase in blood flow and size after meditation, and this increase is associated with improved attention. The nice part is, you don't have to be an expert meditator...
Section 5
  • The human brain is truly amazing and the more we find out about it, the more remarkable it becomes. Even more exciting news? Meditation alters structures inside the brain for the better. By keeping a regular meditative practice, we can retain our nimble memory capacities. We can become less narcissistic and more empathetic. And we can tamp down on debilitating hypervigilance and begin looking at the big picture instead of sweating the small stuff. All it takes is a little breathing to set the groundwork and we can begin to help ourselves— and reach out and help our loved ones, our neighbors, and...
  • Citations

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Meet Your Teacher

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Theresa Oswald, MD
Dr. Theresa Oswald brings over 25 years of experience working successfully with patients in the field... Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely, you can include this course in your Yoga Alliance training hours, with each hour equivalent to one continuing education credit.
This course is entirely self- paced, allowing you to learn at your convenience.There are no imposed deadlines or time constraints for Course completion.
No prerequisites are required; this course is open to anyone interested in deepening their knowledge and practice.
No, the course is accessible to all individuals interested in enriching their understanding and practice of yoga.Yoga teaching certification is not a prerequisite.

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