Meditation has slowly become more popular in the west. Why is that? What are the benefits to Meditation?
Every year, the cases of depression and anxiety continue to rise. In 2020, there has been a major spike following the COVID-19 global pandemic. In recent decades, the western interest in meditation and mindfulness has soared, thereby creating a rise in scientific attention. Between 2013 – 2015, there have been over 216 clinical controlled trials on the effects mindfulness and meditation has on the human body.
Meditation is the process whereby an individual uses a range of different techniques, such as focusing the mind on a specific object, thought, or activity, to bring about a calming state. By doing so, it trains the mind to become silent and aware of its surroundings, rather than having an array of thoughts clouding ones’ awareness.
Scientists have reported numerous benefits; however, these are the 10 most well documented benefits:
1. Decreased Depression & Anxiety:
Meditation trains the mind to cut out all unnecessary thoughts by focusing on the present moment, thereby reducing the amount of anxious and depressed thoughts. In 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine found that ongoing meditation reduced patients’ anxiety and depression, providing evidence that it should be included in a comprehensive mental health plan.
Further research found meditation altered specific brain regions that are linked to depression, such as the prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the amygdala. Patients with depression have been found to have a hyperactive mPFC (responsible for processing ideas about yourself) and the amygdala (responsible for flight or fight). These two systems work hand in hand to cause a spike in cortisol levels, signaling that you are in danger. Research has found prolonged meditation can help reduce the fight or flight response, particularly when it has become over stimulated. According to Dr John W Denninger “When you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate,”.
In addition, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been found to help individuals who struggle with anxiety, by helping calm their minds.
2. Chronic Pain:
Chronic pain affects over 1.5 billion people worldwide and costs the United States approximately $635 billion per year in medical expenses and lost work productivityi
Mindfulness meditation has been repeatedly found to significantly reduce chronic pain symptomsiiiiiiv. In addition, The Journal of Neuroscience released a study in 2015 that found mindfulness meditation to be more effective at reducing chronic pain than a placebo effect.
Incorporating meditation is a FREE way for you to heal your body, instead of spending hundreds of dollars on medication, all in the comfort of your own home.
3. Improves memory:
Multiple studies conducted by neuroscientists have found a clear link between mindfulness meditation practices and enhanced memory. One particular study in Boston found that continuous, regular mediation enhanced the cerebral cortex activation of the participant’s brains. The cortex is responsible for mental processes, such as learning, concentration and memory. When meditating regularly, the blood flow to the brain increases, which strengthens the network of blood vessels in the cerebral cortex, thereby reinforcing memory capacity.
According to a 2011 study cited in the Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, “we have demonstrated that intensive Mindfulness Training can benefit performance in a visual working memory task. After a month of intensive Mindfulness Training, participants are faster and their Reaction Times are less variable”.
Furthermore, it was found regular meditation increases the volume of grey matter in their hippocampus. Thus, protecting the area of the brain responsible for converting short term memory into long term memory.
4. Increased Focus
When you meditate, you are fixating on one particular point (breath, word or object). The aim becomes letting go of thought, while focusing your attention on a specific thing. When done repeatedly, it trains the brain to concentrate intently, without getting distracted.
A 2007 study published by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found regular meditation produces long-term increases in the efficiency of the executive attentional networkvi. Meditation not only changes the brain neural patterns, it also strengthens existing neural connectivity.
5. Increase resilience to stress
Most of us experience stress in some form or another. When this happens, our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is a natural response where your heart rate elevates, your digestion slows down and your body gets ready to either fight or run away. This system is not meant to last long, and takes the body around 20minutes to recover. This is perfectly normal and a great way to become motivated, take action or overcome danger. However, when this stress is experienced for a prolonged period of time, it turns into chronic/bad stress. See more here
Meditation affects the body in the exact opposite way than experienced during stress. When you slow down your breathing, and get into a relaxed, calm state, the body switches to rest and recovery mode. This helps the body begin to repair and damages, increased digestion and minimizes any new damage from the physical effects of stress.
A 2018 study published by Psychology, Health and Medicine found participants who practice meditation frequently altered the way their body reacted to stress. They found to have developed faster recovery times after experiencing a stressful situation and reduced their stress levels in everyday life.
6. Increase Empathy
Empathy is putting yourself in another’s shoes, understanding and feeling their emotions as though it were you. Individuals with increased empathy and compassion display increased happiness, improved medical outcomes, reduced stress, reduced psychopathology, and increased social connectedness.
By practicing regular mindfulness and meditation has shown increased neural activity in the areas that underlie empathy, such as the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and anterior insula. Further research from Mount Sinai Medical Center replicated the studies and found the same outcome. What the Buddhist monks have been practicing for thousands of years is being confirmed by science today.
Mediation is such a powerful tool for so many more reasons. As with anything, it may feel strange or difficult at first, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Similarly, the more you practice, the more you will notice yourself feel happier, more at peace and grateful for this life you have. There is no better time to start than TODAY.