Science is accepting Meditation as a tool to manage Body and Mind health.
Let me clarify that there are a large variety of meditations, from walking meditation to sound meditation to guided or focused meditation.
Many people believe that meditation is just sitting cross-legged and repeating “OM” for 15-20 minutes. But it’s not. Meditation for me is not a religion; rather it is a practice of becoming mindful of ones thoughts and feelings.
When I talk about a meditation practice with my clients, I usually get replies like: “I don’t know how to do meditation,” “I can not sit still,” “I don’t have time for meditation”
My observation of human mentality is that people will make time for what they want to do. But trust me once you start experiencing the benefits of meditation, it just might become what you really want to do.
BUT how can something as simple as A2B (Attention to Breath) or single object, emotion, mantra or a word makes you feel better and produces such dramatic results?
Here’s what the growing body of Science based evidence is telling us about meditation and how it makes you feel better. Read on…
1. Meditation has anti-depressant effects
Meditation reduces multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress and depression. A review study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, looked at the efficiency of meditation programs in improving psychological stress-related outcomes (depression, anxiety, quality of life and pain).
Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that meditation has moderate effect in reducing psychological stress and depression (with effect size of 0.3). Keep in mind that the effect size of anti-depressants is also 0.3, which means meditation is as effective as antidepressants (sounds pretty good!)
Meditation may not be the magic bullet to treat depression, in fact no treatment is, but it indeed is one of the tools to look for.
2. Meditation Reduces activity of the Brain’s “Me Center”
Neuroscientist have documented in the recent years that meditation can affect brain activity. A study conducted at Yale University, found that Mindfulness Meditation decreases activity in the brains “Me center” or the Default Mode Network (DMN) – the brain network that is linked to mind wandering or self-referential thoughts.
These undesirable brain functions are responsible for being less happy, lapses of attention, ruminating, worrying about past and future and disorders like anxiety and ADHD.
Several studies have shown that Meditation by dialing DMN down help meditators in snapping back out of mind-wandering thoughts.
3. Meditation enhance emotional regulation in persons with anxiety and social anxiety disorder
A lot of people start meditating for its benefit in stress and anxiety reduction and there’s a lot of scientific evidence to support this. As mentioned earlier, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a new sub-genre of meditation that aims to reduce person’s anxiety level.
Science bases studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing anxiety even year after the initial 8-week meditation practice. (General Hospital Psychiatry Journal)
In contrast to focusing on one’s breath only, mindfulness meditation attenuates anxiety through mechanisms involved in the regulation of those self referential (me centred) thought processes. (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2014).
Not only general anxiety, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce emotional reactivity in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD). A Stanford university team found that MBSR decreases negative emotions and social anxiety symptom severity and increases attention regulation of negative self-beliefs.
4. Meditation can improve self-control capacity and help with addiction.
Resting state brain scans have showed that mediation practice can increase activity in the self-control regions of the brain (anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex), which makes meditation effective in recovering from various types of addiction.
Other forms of mindfulness mediation like mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness based relapse prevention (MBRP) can help in treating different forms of addiction.
In a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2011, Mindfulness Meditation training was compared with the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking program. The study found out that people practicing Mediation were more likely to quit smoking, than those receiving conventional treatment.
5. Just four days of Meditation training can accentuate pain by 21%
One of the most interesting studies published in Journal of Neuroscience, 2016 shows that mindfulness meditation can help you feel better by accentuating pain through novel mechanisms that do not require endogenous opiates.
Zeidan, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showed that meditation activates higher order brain regions associated with emotional regulation. The process supports cognitive control of pain while tamping down activity in brain region called thalamus- which transmits painful stimuli form the body.
“This is just yet another study finding that you don’t have to be a monk to reap the benefits of meditation,” Zeidan says. “With only 80 minutes of practice, we’re seeing dramatic reductions in pain.”
6. Meditation has Neuro protective attributes
Science agrees Meditation helps in preserving brain aging and can diminish age-related degeneration of gray matter.
A study from UCLA found that long term meditators had more grey matter volume in the brain than non-meditators as they aged.
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said researcher Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
The integrity of gray matter, which plays a major role in preventing cognitive decline, certainly appears to benefit. Studies have also linked meditation to larger gray matter in hippocampus and frontal regions of the brain – the areas responsible for positive emotions, emotional stability and heightened focus during day-to-day activities.
7. Meditation may lead to Volume changes in many brain areas
In past decade, a large body of research has shown that meditation leads to physical changes in the brain.
Sara lazar, in a study published in psychiatry research in 2011, found that mindfulness meditation could change the structure of key areas of the brain. In the study, 8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) increases cortical thickness in brain area called hippocampus- responsible for governing learning and memory.
Meditation also seems to reduce brain cell volume in amygdala- a brain area responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
8. Meditation improves attention, memory and concentration
Given that the ability to stay on the task without distraction improves performance in a wide variety of contexts, training one’s ability to focus on task should result in a similarly broad enhancement of performance.
Not surprisingly, one of the key benefits of meditation is that it improves attention, memory and concentration. In a randomized controlled investigation, published in Psychological Science, researchers found that just 2-week of mindfulness training course helped in improving focus and memory during verbal reasoning section of the GRE.
Along with improving GRE reading, comprehension scores and working memory capacity, science concluded meditation also reduces occurrence of distracting thoughts and mind wandering among participants.
9. Meditation increases productivity in the high-performance situations.
In 2011, researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that daily meditation practice (for about 5-15 minutes) could transfer frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what neuroscientists call positive emotional states — states with better emotional regulation that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.
But effect of mindfulness goes beyond improving emotion regulation. It can also help with multitasking and high performance situations.
In a 2012 study, researchers from the University of Washington, set participants up in a real-world multitasking situation. They were engaged in several activities that required various forms of input in a typical office setting, which they had to accomplish in 20 minutes.
Some of the participants received mindfulness training, while others didn’t. “The only participants to show improvement, “as reported by researchers “were those who had received mindfulness training.”