9 Rapid Mind-Body Benefits of Meditation
© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc.
Meditation, which originated in ancient religious and spiritual traditions, is now a part of many Americans’ daily lives. Used for physical relaxation, psychological balance, and to improve health and well-being, studies show that varying techniques used during meditation offer very real, very significant benefits.
How does it work?
There are many different types of meditation, but most involve taking a specific posture, such as sitting or lying down, in a quiet location. Your attention is then focused on a mantra, an object, your breathing or even your mind. If your attention wanders, you show no judgment, just gently guide your attention back to your focal point.
For instance, during mindfulness meditation, which Buddhists call vipassana or insight meditation, the purpose is to clear your mind of worry and be in the present moment. You do this by focusing on your breathing, and paying attention to its passage through your body. When thoughts come into your mind, you welcome then and become a passive observer, then direct your mind back to your breathing in a non-judgmental way.
Thinking of Trying Meditation? 9 Reasons Why You Should
The deceptively simple act of meditating prompts changes in your body, including in your autonomic nervous system, which regulates your heartbeat, digestion, breathing and sweating, among other functions. It’s also been shown to prompt beneficial changes in your brain, and it can help everything from stress and anxiety to insomnia and your immune system.
Among the many benefits you can expect from regular meditation are:
Improve Your Ability to Manage Conflicts: After just 11 hours of meditation, University of Oregon students experienced increased brain connectivity in the areas involving the anterior cingulated, which helps regulate your emotions and behavior.
The researchers noted that the brain pathway impacted is known to influence your ability to regulate conflict, emotions and behavior. Further, an underactive anterior cingulated has been linked to a variety of disorders ranging from dementia and ADHD to depression and schizophrenia, so the benefits may be wide-reaching.
Lower Your Levels of Stress Hormones: Researchers have found that meditation lowers levels of stress hormones. In fact, by decreasing the level of one such hormone -- epinephrine -- meditation has been shown to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood and therefore help arteries to remain clear.
Reduction of stress hormones also supports the healthy functioning of your immune system.
This reduction in stress hormones may be explained by the relaxed state that comes about through meditation. Electroencephalograph (EEG) studies of the brain in those who are meditating show that meditation boosts the intensity of alpha waves -- associated with quiet, receptive states -- to levels not seen even during sleep.
This relaxed state combats anxiety, and this is confirmed by research that has found lowered levels of lactic acid in the blood. (High levels of lactic acid are associated with anxiety.)
Decrease Symptoms of Fibromyalgia: A 1998 study in Alternative Therapies showed that meditation helped decrease symptoms such as pain and sleeplessness in patients with fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by muscle pain, fatigue, and mild-to-moderate depression.
Improve Psoriasis: In a study at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, psoriasis patients who listened to a mindfulness meditation audiotape during their ultraviolet light therapy experienced faster healing than those who had the light therapy alone.
Relieve Fear and Increase Feelings of Well-Being: When you meditate your brain activity shifts to different areas of the cortex. Brain waves that are in the right frontal cortex, which is prone to stress, move to the left frontal cortex, which is calmer. Meditation also leads to less activity in the amygdala, which is where your brain processes fear.
Boost Your Attention: Meditators have increased thickness in brain regions involved in memory and attention. They also perform better on tests that measure attention, even after losing a night of sleep. A study on Buddhist monks, who are known for their intense meditation practice, also found that meditating boosted brain waves associated with attention and vigilance.
Protect Your Heart: Meditators have been found to have improved blood circulation, as well as a lowered heart rate, which places less demands on the heart.
A 1998 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine also showed that people who practiced transcendental meditation (TM) had lower levels of lipid peroxide than those who didn't. Lipid peroxide can contribute to atherosclerosis and other chronic diseases associated with aging. A study published in the same journal showed that people who practiced TM had lower blood pressure immediately after meditating than did the control group.
Improve Asthma Symptoms: Study participants who took part in a yoga-based meditation technique experienced a greater reduction in airway hyperresponsiveness, or “twitchiness” in the lungs. Those who meditated also had lower rates of tension and fatigue than those who did not.
Relief from Depression: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which is about 80 percent meditation, may help relieve symptoms in people with depression. In fact, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK approved it for use in people who have had three or more depressive episodes.
“Meditation has also been associated with a longer life span, better quality of life, fewer hospitalizations, and reduced health-care costs. It has also shown promise as an adjunct therapy in relieving mild depression, insomnia, tension headache, irritable bowel syndrome, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), as well as in controlling substance abuse,” writes meditation expert Mary Maddux.
How Can You Get the Benefits of Meditation?
The simplest way is to just give it a try for yourself. You can meditate anytime, anywhere if you have a quiet space and the desire to do so. You can also find meditation courses and groups all over the United States if you’re looking for more guided help.
Even stretching can help you get some preparatory “meditative-like” benefits, helping you clear your mind and body to relax prior to your meditation session.
“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”
"Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all."
-- Timothy 4:15
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences;107(35):15649-52.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Meditation