For thousands of years those in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and liberation have practiced the art of meditation. But skeptics have always argued that there was no point to the practice and that it’s a waste of time. However, modern science has now proven that meditation has numerous benefits for both the body and the mind. In this article we’re going to take a look at the scientifically proven benefits of meditation; how it helps with anxiety and depression, trauma, nervous system regulation and enhanced brain function. But first:
What is Meditation?
Meditation is essentially the practice of mindfulness and need not be attached to any spiritual or religious practice to be effective. Mindfulness is simply the act of sitting in silence, relaxed and peaceful, while observing one’s own thoughts without becoming involved in them.
Stress Reduction, Healthy Organs and Positive Feelings
Stress can come from anywhere. Mild amounts for short periods can be good for you as it speeds up your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. But when you’re constantly under stress, your body produces too much of the stress hormone, cortisol. Overexposure to this hormone can affect the function of your brain, immune system and other organs and chronic stress can contribute to headaches, anxiety, depression, heart disease and even premature death.
A research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2014 shows how meditation has been found to be helpful for relieving anxiety, pain and depression. For depression, meditation was about as effective as antidepressants.
In addition to this, meditation is also thought to regulate the sympathetic nervous system, which is what increases heart rate, breathing and blood pressure during times of stress. Each organ in the body is also linked to the nervous system and thus decreasing stress contributes to the good functioning of organs as well. Meditation may also help your creativity and intuition.
Reduce Inflammation & Stimulate Helpful Genes
According to the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, relaxation can up regulate (increase a cellular response to a molecular stimulus) helpful genes and down regulate (make less responsive) genes responsible for inflammation. Although research is still in progress, it has been shown that meditation can reduce inflammation, thus having a positive effect on chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes, IBS, auto-immune conditions and such. Meditation can thus promote overall good health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of disease.
A Faster, Better You
Sara Lazar, leader of a study linking meditation to changes in the brain and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, says, “Our data suggests that meditation practices can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and wellbeing.”
Grey matter in those who meditate appears to change positively and correspond with improvements to emotional stability, behaviour, anxiety, risk of depression & insomnia and increased compassion. Even patients who have undergone trauma see benefits.
The benefits of meditation extend to business too as described by this article in The Harvard Business Review, which discusses a study of employees at the healthcare company Aetna who participated in a corporate mindfulness program. Participants enjoyed a 28% reduction in stress, 20% better sleep and 19% less pain, as well as an increase in worker productivity worth an estimated US$3,000 per employee per year.
How Can You Start?
All you need is yourself and a place to sit comfortably. According to research, just 15 to 20 minutes of meditation every day can give you all the feel-good benefits. If 15 to 20 minutes sounds like too much, don’t worry! You can start slowly. Try with just a couple of minutes and build up from there. It’s like any exercise, the more you do it the better you will become at it. The most important thing is that you try and that you consistently do a little bit every day. With all the science backing it up, isn’t it worth devoting a few minutes each day doing something that’ll let you become the best you can be?