Meditation is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, but only recently has it gained popularity in the Western world. Meditation is often associated with spirituality, but it can also be a powerful tool for enhancing your physical and mental well-being. I explore the science behind meditation, how it affects your brain and body, and what benefits you can expect from practicing it regularly.
Quick Recap on Meditation
Meditation is a state of awareness that involves focusing your attention on a single object, thought, sensation, or activity, while letting go of any distractions or judgments.
Meditation has been shown to have profound effects on your brain, especially in areas related to attention, memory, emotion regulation, and stress response. Some of the changes that meditation can induce in your brain are:
Increased gray matter: Gray matter is the part of the brain that contains the cell bodies of neurons, which are responsible for processing information and performing cognitive functions. Meditation can increase the gray matter density in regions such as the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning and decision making, and the insula, which is involved in interoception and empathy.
Decreased amygdala activity: The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for generating and regulating emotions, especially negative ones, such as fear, anger, and anxiety. Meditation can reduce the activity and size of the amygdala, which can lead to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and higher levels of emotional stability and resilience.
Enhanced connectivity: Connectivity refers to the communication and coordination between different brain regions. Meditation can enhance the connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, which can improve your ability to regulate your emotions and cope with stressful situations. Meditation can also enhance the connectivity between the default mode network and the executive network, which can improve your ability to switch between different modes of thinking, such as self-referential and goal-oriented.
How does meditation affect your body?
Meditation can also have positive effects on your body, especially in terms of reducing stress and improving health. Some of the benefits that meditation can offer for your body are:
Lower blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. Meditation can lower your blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels and reducing the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Improved immune system: Your immune system is your body’s defense mechanism against infections and diseases. Meditation can improve your immune system by reducing inflammation, which is a common cause of many chronic and autoimmune conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, and diabetes. Meditation can also increase the production of antibodies, which are proteins that fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses.
Reduced Pain: In a study where participants practiced spiritual meditation for 20 minutes daily over two weeks, those in the spiritual meditation group experienced remarkable benefits. Not only did they report lower anxiety levels and a more positive mood, but they also could endure physical pain (tested via a chilly water bath challenge) for nearly twice as long as the other groups.
Enhanced sleep quality: Sleep is essential for your physical and mental health, as it allows your body and brain to rest, repair, and rejuvenate. Meditation can enhance your sleep quality by helping you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and experience deeper and more restorative sleep stages. Meditation can also reduce the frequency and intensity of insomnia, nightmares, and sleep apnea, which are common sleep disorders that can impair your health and well-being.
Real Life Perspective
I can attest to the fact that meditating does help lower blood pressure. I was at the gyno one time and was especially nervous because I was getting an IUD for the first time. Plus, I have chronic high blood pressure anyways that I take medicine for, so it was REALLY high at this particular moment.
They weren’t going to let me drive home because it was too high. The nurse left the room and I immediately turned to meditation to try and lower my blood pressure — and it worked!
My particular trick was picturing golden sunlight flowing into my body starting with my head and filling my body up slowly, almost like smoke would. At the same time, I was taking deep breaths in through my nose, and exhaling even slower out of my mouth.
A few minutes later, the nurse checked my blood pressure and it was much lower. It wasn’t perfect, but just above the normal range so I was allowed to leave finally!
Why should you try meditation?
Meditation is a simple, accessible, and effective way to improve your quality of life. By practicing meditation regularly, you can enjoy the following benefits:
Increased happiness and satisfaction: Meditation can increase your levels of positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, and love, and decrease your levels of negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, and fear. Meditation can also increase your sense of meaning and purpose in life, and enhance your relationships with yourself and others.
Improved focus and productivity:Meditation can improve your attention span, concentration, and memory, which can help you perform better at work, school, or any other task that requires mental effort. Meditation can also boost your creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, which can help you achieve your goals and overcome challenges.
Reduced stress and anxiety: Meditation can help you cope with stress and anxiety, which are common sources of distress and suffering in modern life. Meditation can help you calm your mind and body, and release any tension, worry, or fear that you may be holding on to. Meditation can also help you develop a more positive and optimistic outlook on life, and cultivate a sense of inner peace and harmony.
Enhanced health and wellness: Meditation can help you prevent and manage various physical and mental health conditions, such as hypertension, chronic pain, depression, and addiction. Meditation can also help you improve your lifestyle habits, such as eating, exercising, and sleeping, which can have a significant impact on your health and wellness.
Choose a time and place: Find a time and place that works for you, where you can be comfortable, quiet, and undisturbed. You can meditate in the morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on your preference and schedule. You can meditate in your bedroom, living room, garden, or any other place that makes you feel relaxed and at ease.
Set a duration: Start with a short duration, such as 5 or 10 minutes, and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable and confident. You can use a timer, an app, or a guided meditation to help you keep track of your time. You can also meditate for as long as you feel like, without any pressure or expectation.
Choose a technique: Pick a technique that suits your personality, interest, and goal. You can try different techniques, such as breathing, mantra, mindfulness, visualization, or loving-kindness, and see what works best for you. You can also mix and match different techniques, or create your own, depending on your mood and intention.
Be consistent: The key to meditation is consistency. Try to meditate every day, or at least a few times a week, to experience the full benefits of meditation. Make meditation a part of your daily routine, and treat it as a priority, not an option. You can also find a meditation buddy, a group, or a teacher to support you and motivate you to keep practicing.
Be patient: Meditation is a skill that takes time and practice to master. Don’t expect to achieve perfect results right away, or compare yourself to others. Be patient with yourself, and accept whatever happens in your meditation, without judging or criticizing yourself. Remember that meditation is not a destination, but a journey, and enjoy the process of learning and growing.
Conclusion: Real Science of Meditation
Meditation is a science-backed practice that can benefit your mind, body, and soul. By meditating regularly, you can improve your happiness, focus, health, and more. Meditation is easy to learn, and you can start today with some simple steps.
If you want to know more about the science of meditation, you can check out these resources: