For someone who has never meditated, this simple practice might seem more like an exercise in relaxation rather than a purposeful attempt at stopping those seemingly incessant thoughts from interfering with your day. Sure, meditation calms you down and relaxes you, but if you stop your analysis there you are sure to miss some of the bigger benefits a meditation practice holds.
Sian Beilock, in this Psychology Today post, explores the difference between these seemingly similar, yet vastly unique practices. According to Beilock, relaxation involves systematically releasing tension to different parts of the body’s muscle groups with the intention of achieving a more calm and relax state. One the other hand, meditation can offer the same results with one added advantage: benefit to the brain. She cites a recent study conducted last year at the University of Oregon.
What the researchers found was that, after only 11 hours of meditation training, there were changes (for the better) in a white matter tract that connects the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures in the brain. The ACC is part of a network of brain regions involved in regulating our emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Simply put, after meditation training, the integrity and efficiency of the connections with the ACC – a major player in our ability to regulate our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions – improved.
Read more from Beilock on the difference between relaxation techniques and meditation here.