Life is stressful. To get through it, humans do a wide variety of activities, ranging from the healthy (exercise, meditation,) to the…not so much (excessive drinking, smoking.) But does how we cope really matter where it counts, in our brains? Absolutely:
New research by Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and his group at Yale Universityhas found that experienced meditators not only report less mind wandering during meditation, but actually have markedly decreased activity in their [area of the brain that focuses on small worries.] Earlier research had shown that meditators have less activity in regions governing thoughts about the self, like the medial prefrontal cortex: Brewer says that what’s likely going on in experienced meditators is that these “‘me’ centers of the brain are being deactivated.”
Which is utterly amazing. Practiced meditators not only have minds that wander less, they also reset their brains such that when they do wander and start to fret about the small stuff, they reset – automatically.
Compare that to those who use a smoke to cope:
Smoking actually creates a negative feedback loop, where you are linking stress and craving with the oh-so-good act of smoking. So whenever you experience a negative emotion, craving returns and intensifies over time, so that you are actually even less happy than before. A cigarette may quiet the mind temporarily – during the act of smoking – but in between cigarettes is where things get bad, because craving creeps in.
The same thing goes for drinking, and taking other drugs.
What does all of this mean? In a nutshell, it’s nothing we probably didn’t already know, that chemicals mask the problem rather than solve it. But it’s still a fascinating look into how things humans have been doing for centuries (the practice of yoga has been around since at least 3000 B.C.) still functions as the best means to cope today.