Neuroscience of Mindfulness: What Exactly Happens to Your Brain When You Meditate

Kristyna Zapletal
9 min readMay 18, 2017

There are 80 to 100 billion neurons in a human brain, and every single one of them can form thousands of connections with other neurons, leading to a complex network of hundreds of trillions of synapses that enable brain cells to communicate with each other.

Like a computer network built from five hundred trillion transistors, each representing a “bit” of information depending on whether it is “on” or “off.”

Rick Hanson, PhD

Yet, despite the best efforts and findings of modern neuroscience, the true functioning of our mind remains one of the greatest and most fascinating mysteries. We know a lot about how our brain helps us stay alive, communicate, and perceive the world around us. But this knowledge, however brilliant, continues to change at an extraordinary pace and represents only a tip of a gigantic iceberg whose full beauty is hiding well from our sight.

Is it then preposterous to consider that something as trivial as focusing our mind and breathing steadily for a short time every day could have a profound effect on our well-being? Is it in our power at all to make changes to our own brain?

Let me illustrate. A year ago, I was suffering from persistent cough for a couple of weeks. No other symptoms whatsoever, just the pain in my chest, getting worse day by day. I’m not a smoker. I exercise often, I do my best to eat healthy, I fast, and I put a great emphasis on my spiritual growth. So when I tried to figure out what was wrong with me, I realized that I couldn’t really remember the last time when I had meditated.

The same evening, I sat outside in the fresh air and breathed slowly for 10 minutes while reviving happy, gratifying memories in my mind, which is what usually works for me to attain cardiac and physiological coherence as described by the psychiatrist and neuroscientist David Servan-Schreiber in his book The Instinct to Heal:

“In a study published by the American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Watkins and researchers from the HeartMath Institute have…