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Meditation has been the subject of many discussions or even controversies. Is it good? Should I do it? Is it useless? The following article contains valuable information about meditation and the multiple benefits of engaging in a meditation practice. There are actually many more surprising benefits of meditation than you ever suspected!
Busy Lives and Busy Minds
Many of us are bombarded with information every day. It can be challenging to know where to put our focus and so we might multi-task or begin to worry about how to get everything done, how to attend to social media, train for our sport and still have time at the end of the day to unwind.
In this chaos, it is easy to forget that our mind needs its own training and exercise and one way to do this is through having a meditation practice. But the practice has so many more benefits than helping our racing mind.
Benefits of Meditation
1. Changing Certain Regions of the Brain
Meditation has important beneficial effects on our minds, but also on our brains. The structure of the brain can be changed by practicing meditation, as a study conducted by a Harvard team in 2011 demonstrated. They had people go through a stress reduction procedure based on mindfulness for eight weeks. Upon their analysis, researchers concluded that the hippocampus region of the brain, along with other key areas for learning, memory and emotion regulation, had increased their cortical thickness. Furthermore, they found that the number of brain cells from the amygdala had decreased thus reducing emotions related to fear, stress, and anxiety. This is probably one of the most important benefits of meditation since it can directly produce all the other benefits of meditation presented below.
2. Reducing Anxiety
The most effective practice in reducing anxiety is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The program was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness from the University of Massachusetts. The course lasts only eight weeks, but the effects last for years because mindfulness meditation works on the regions of the brain related to self-regulation thoughts. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that this practice helps with social anxiety as well, since it changed areas of the brain involved in relief and attention to social anxiety.
3. Preserving the Brain
Our bodies age and so do our brains. As researchers involved in a UCLA study recently showed, people who have been practicing meditation for a long time have better-preserved brains than the ones who did not. This was proven by the amount of grey matter found in the brain, which was bigger in the case of the people who have been meditating for about twenty years. Florian Kurth, the author of the study, stated that the researchers expected to find very small effects in certain regions associated with the practice of meditation. However, they also discovered that the effect was spread throughout the entire brain, making it one of the most valuable benefits of meditation regarding degenerative disease prevention.
4. Reducing Wandering Thoughts
This state of having difficulty with paying attention is usually linked to worrying, ruminating and generally being unhappy. The network responsible for the wandering mind is called the default mode network (DMN). Have you ever had the experience of going from one worry to the next and then wandering to a new topic and then a few minutes later not knowing how you thought about a particular topic? DMN automatically activates when we are not focusing on something in particular and we wander mentally. Researchers have found that meditation is the perfect method for a more peaceful mind because it helps quiet the DMN.
5. Improving Attention and Concentration
You do not need to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to experience difficulties when trying to concentrate. As the results of recent studies have proven, people who meditate have improved attention. One explanation was described above as a meditation practice can decrease wandering mind. In addition, it also helps to improve the focus and the memory. It seems meditation has been associated with improved cognitive skills after just a couple of weeks of meditation.
6. Increasing Self-Awareness
Meditation can be of great help in detaching from negative thoughts or even violence. A resident of District of Columbia named Zaccai Free decided to start meditating and this helped him identify his anger thought and better manage his actions related to the thoughts. He described meditation as being helpful as a tool for calming himself and clearing his mind of the negative thoughts. Free explained that it made him come to peace with himself.
7. Improving Immunity and Cardiovascular Health
Blood pressure drops when individuals are more relaxed. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study in 2008 which showed that patients with high blood pressure who began to meditate could decrease and actually discontinue taking medications. Furthermore, it seems mediation strengthens the immunity of the body. Cardio-wise, this is really the most significant perk of all the benefits of meditation.
8. Increasing Acceptance
There are many situations in life that are difficult but we must find a means to handle the stress and find ways to cope. For example, people who are diagnosed with severe health problems may struggle with a diagnosis or lifestyle changes. Meditation may be a tool to assist one with learning to cope with the changes and the accompanying stress. One person once said to me why would I accept this injury? I encouraged her to not get mad at the word but instead to have the perspective that acceptance in this context is more about managing it and being honest that it exists rather than avoiding or being mad she had this and someone else did not.
9. Increasing Happiness
Happiness is a state we strive to increase. It has also been shown in different research studies that meditation increases the brain signals in the left area of the pre-frontal cortex, where positive emotions reside while decreasing them in the right side with negative emotions. This might be the best reason of all to develop a meditation practice.
Where to Begin
Various studies have shown that even though you might not believe in the power and the benefits of meditation, it is still worth a try, especially if you find yourself having problems managing anxiety or difficulty with focus. It might just allow you time to set aside to BE and integrate your day, in addition to gaining some of the benefits described above. Sometimes it is easier to start a practice by taking a class or doing yoga that has a component of meditation. But there are also some good tools on the internet you may want to consider, including a guided body scan or progressive muscle relaxation, that can offer a beginning point into a meditation practice.