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What Mindfulness Does to Your Brain: The Science of Neuroplasticity

Practicing mindfulness consistently can change the way you think, feel, and act—because it can literally change your brain. Here's the science to prove it

By | Maggie Seaver |

Your brain is plastic (no, not like that). The mind’s many intricate networks of neural pathways are continually and automatically adjusting through a phenomenon called neuroplasticity (neuro-, meaning relating to nerves or the nervous system; and plastic, meaning easily shaped or molded). 

“Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to reorganize its connections based on experience,” says Amishi Jha, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Miami and the director of contemplative neuroscience for the UMindfulness initiative. “It’s very much related to something exciting we learned about just a couple of decades ago called neurogenesis, which means that even the adult brain can grow new neurons.”

The brain’s brilliant malleability allows us to acquire new skills, drop bad habits, adapt to novel environments, and even heal from severe trauma and injury. Neuroplasticity is catalyzed by these events, too. Every new experience or challenge, from breaking an ankle to shopping at an unfamiliar grocery store, compels the brain to rearrange its synaptic connections. And the more you do something, the more established—and less new—these connections become. Repetition is the key to rendering a behavior second nature. (That’s how you learned to ride a bike. Now, riding a bike is like, well, riding a bike.)

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