Although the ancient practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years, it’s only in the last couple of decades that scientific studies have begun to examine its enormous potentia energy in improving our mental and physical health. Meditation is a practice of training the mind with the final goal of being able to focus our attention and redirect thoughts. In turn, mindfulness involves training the brain to recognize negative thought patterns and emotions and counter them by using techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises.
Meditation can become a lifelong learning process, and can help us gain a better understanding of ourselves and of the world around us. Moreover, there are many types of meditation techniques aimed to promote relaxation, reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety, and to cultivate the feelings of calmness and peace. Have you ever wondered how meditation could change your brain and body? Here are just a few of the many scientifically-proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation for our health:
- Meditation reduces anxiety
The effects of meditation in decreasing stress and anxiety have been well-documented. Researchers from John Hopkins University have reviewed close to 19,000 meditation studies and concluded that meditation can be a powerful tool to decrease feelings of anxiety. According to researchers, this effect is only logical, since the feelings of anxiety can be created by unproductive worries and distracting thoughts, whereas meditation helps to recognize and intercept stress- and anxiety-inducing thought patterns. Interestingly, meditation has also been shown to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
- Meditation improves sleep quality
Since the entire practice of meditation is aimed at producing a lasting state of calmness and peacefulness, it is not surprising that it can be of enormous benefit for those looking to improve their quality of sleep. In one recent scientific study, half of the study participants completed a mindfulness training program, in which they learned meditation exercises that helped them focus on “moment by moment experiences, thoughts and emotions.”
The other half of participants completed a sleep education class that was aimed to teach them better sleeping habits. According to the study results, the group of participants who had undergone meditation training reported significantly fewer insomnia symptoms, less fatigue and fewer depression symptoms than the group of participants who had received sleep education classes. In addition, a recent study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has shown that a mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia can be highly effective in reducing insomnia symptoms in individuals suffering from chronic insomnia.
- Meditation reduces depression
A recent study by researchers from Rutgers university has revealed that meditation and aerobic exercise carried out consecutively can significantly reduce depression, negative thoughts and rumination in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Another recent study has shown immense potential in mindfulness-based therapy in treating depression: it showed that individuals with recurrent depression who took part in mindfulness-based group therapy sessions were just as likely to go two years without a depression relapse as the individuals who are taking antidepressant medication.
- Meditation helps to protect the brain during aging
Brain atrophy is the phenomenon of losing brain cells as we get old, and is considered a normal part of the aging process. Here is a horrifying fact: the human brain starts to decrease in volume and weight starting in our mid-twenties. Unfortunately, these structural losses also translate into functional impairments and cognitive decline. However, a new research study measured grey matter volume in long-term meditators and non-meditators aged between 24 and 77 years, and discovered that brains of long-term meditators had significantly more grey matter volume (i.e. more brain cells) than the brains of non-meditators.
Although meditators still demonstrated some brain volume loss during the aging process, this effect was not as pronounced as in the study participants who did not practice meditation. Interestingly, researchers also found that long-term meditation not only protected meditation-specific regions from brain atrophy, but that its protective effects spanned throughout the entire brain.
- Meditation helps to improve concentration and attention
Most of us could certainly benefit from boosting our ability to concentrate for prolonged periods of time. Since meditation and mindfulness techniques are centered on focusing our minds on a single point of reference each time, it’s not surprising that meditation and mindfulness practice can help us improve concentration and increase our attention spans. Neuroscientists have found that regular meditation can increase our cognitive abilities in many domains, including attention, memory, verbal fluency, processing speed and even creativity.
A recent study has revealed that only a few weeks or regular meditation significantly improved students’ scores on the reading comprehension section of the GRE exam, as well as their working memory capacity. Researchers concluded that mindfulness training significantly reduced mind-wandering in individuals who were prone to distraction.
- Meditation helps to decrease blood pressure
Currently, high blood pressure or hypertension affects 1 in 4 American adults and significantly increases the risk of kidney damage, as well as heart disease and stroke. In the recent years, hundreds of scientific studies have examined the effects of meditation on blood pressure and finally, the American Heart Association has released an official statement concluding that a type of meditation called Transcendental Meditation can be effective in decreasing blood pressure in individuals at risk of developing high blood pressure. Specifically, researchers have shown that regular practice of Transcendental Meditation, a technique aimed to maintain a unique state of restful alertness, is very effective in decreasing stress, which is one of the main factors contributing to high blood pressure.
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