Meditate: “to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster)

Meditation is on the rise in America, and when you look at the benefits it is easy to see why. With all kinds of positive side effects, from enhanced immunity and improved mood to decreased stress, depression, and pain, this sort of “strength training” for the mind seems too good to be true. Yet the proof is right there in the science.

And the science in itself is fascinating. For a very rough overview, it is helpful to understand two specific parts of the brain, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that deals with higher level thinking, such as awareness, concentration, decision making, and more rational problem-solving processes. On the other hand, the amygdala, a.k.a. the “fight or flight” response center, is fear-based, emotionally unstable, and extremely reactive. With meditation, we can actually begin to thicken and strengthen the prefrontal cortex while simultaneously shrinking the amygdala, resulting in more thoughtful and balanced responses to stress outweighing perhaps more primal and fearful responses.

The mind is just naturally wired to be constantly active and alert to danger. But through consistent practice and this restructuring of the brain, we can begin to tap into more and more of these physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Like anything else, consistency is key, and practice makes progress. But there’s no better time to start than now.