The mental and health benefits of meditation is a growing list backed by science and research. In Self Improvement With Meditation I touched on my journey with meditation and how meditation can help. With this article I want to highlight the key mental and health benefits. Dive a little deeper, and provide studies and data to support the mental and health benefits of meditation.
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12 areas where you can see the mental and health benefits of meditation:
- Brain Empowerment
- Mental Focus
- Stress Relief
- Reaching Goals
- Feeling Connected
- Mood Enhancement
- Boost Immune System
- Healthy Heart
- Increase Energy
1. Brain Empowerment
Research has demonstrated meditation encourages a sharper state of awareness and attention. In a study at the University of Oregon meditation produced positive changes to the white matter, the nerve fibers that allow different parts of the brain to communicate with one another.
The changes in the brain were spotted quickly. In less than a month of regular meditation myelin levels in the test subjects increased. An increase in myelin levels improve connectivity and allow the different parts of brain to communicate quicker and more efficiently.
The exciting part of this study is how quickly the positive health benefits of meditation happened. Some subjects even showed improvements in attention and problem solving after only five days!
In a separate study by Dr Peter Malinowski, subjects showed a significant improvement in cognitive function with just 10 minutes of meditation a day. To learn more about that study, you can read the article here.
Here is a brief clip from BrainFacts.org discussing meditation and the brain.
2. Mental Focus
Our brain is programmed for survival and keeping us alive. Fortunately, we longer face the physical threats and predators that our ancestors once did. Unfortunately, our brain has not evolved since those times either. Without predators and day to day survival for our brain to focus on, our minds tend to wander and gravitate towards depression, grief, and anxiety.
Studies have shown that meditation can help create better mental focus and attention span. Meditation can create structural changes that can reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to our minds wandering and a short attention span.
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3. Stress Relief
With our current pace of life, stress has become a prevalent issue in our society. Meditation has been looked at as possible remedy to alleviate the burden of stress. A diverse variety of meditation techniques have proven benefits for the mind and body.
After an extensive campaign that featured nearly 50 trials and over 3,500 participants, a positive change in psychological stress was observed. The conclusion of the report you can read here, recommended that clinicians should be knowledgeable and aware of meditation programs. It further states clinicians should be prepared to discuss and recommend a meditation program best suited for the needs of their patient.
4. Reach Goals
Regular meditation has shown to have a tremendous impact in respect to reaching goals. With improved brain empowerment and mental focus, you can better visualize an outcome. Better visualization allows you to be more definite with what you are looking to achieve. Being more specific allows you to create a precise plan of action and the steps required to reach your goal.
5. Feel Connected
Social interaction and developing companionships are fundamental human requirements. Even more, positive health benefits are linked to individuals who feel socially connected.
Studies have demonstrated an ability to produce positive feelings and a sense of connection with complete strangers through meditation. Obvious and implied connections were observed after just minimal time spent meditating.
With regular meditation practice the tension in our body and muscles will leave as our body itself learns to relax. Through meditation we afford our body the comfort to reestablish and realign itself. When our mind is silent and our body relaxed, our spirit has a clear course of direction, free of detours and distractions. This is the balance between mind, body and spirit
Not only can meditation provide a short-term benefit of balance in our lives, but a habitual habit of meditating can produce changes in your brain to provide long term benefits. Studies on Buddhist monks displayed changes in brain activity involving attention, memory, learning, and awareness.
Meditation is an excellent way to exercise focus and improve distress with oneself. Attentiveness, self-control, and release are connected during meditation.
One of the most powerful and most beneficial forms of meditation is called mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is being wholly and attentively present in the current moment. With mindfulness meditation you learn to slow down the thoughts racing through your head. Learning to let go of the negative thoughts and attain a state of calmness in your mind and body.
With total embodiment meditation you can learn to reach and maintain this state at any time. Without the need to find solitude or a quiet place to meditate, I have found an advantage with this method of meditation in everyday life.
8. Mood Enhancement
Stress, anxiety, fear, and depression are not physical things we can see or touch. However, we can feel their effects on our bodies and in our lives. In the short term our heart rate and blood pressure go up and we may have difficulty breathing. In the long term, if we remain in these states it can lead to several severe chronic health issues and even death. Meditation can help relieve these negative feelings by shutting off the distress signals in our brains that trigger these negative emotions.
A study was conducted by BU and Harvard researchers into the effects of meditation on the brain. Using MRI scans, they began noticing after several weeks of meditation they couldn’t detect any electrical signals coming from the amygdalae. The amygdalae, often called our primitive brain is the part of our brain that produces our worries and fears. After just 2 months into the study the distress signals from the brain of the test subjects had gone silent. What was even better news, the amygdalae even physically shrunk!
9. Boost Immune System
Meditation can play a major role in boosting the immune system. Meditation has been shown to increase antibodies which are the identifiers and guardians of the immune system. In fact, the participants of a University of Wisconsin study produced more antibodies from meditation then they did in response to a flu shot.
Further studies have also shown that meditation possibly operates at a genetic level. Meditation was shown to alter genes that can be attributed to causing inflammation. This is a significant finding as inflammation plays a substantial role for many serious illnesses. Cancer, cardiac disease, and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few.
Along with the many mental and health benefits already discussed, meditation can be pivotal for a longer and healthier life. Researchers have found evidence that meditation can even slow cellular aging which can increase life expectancy. Slowing the rate of cellular aging is a direct link to human longevity. In a long term study participants were determined to be 12 years younger versus the general population from a standardized biological aging test.
11. Healthy Heart
Exercise, diet, and at times medications are all great ways to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Researchers are now learning that meditation can also be a valuable part of cardiovascular risk reduction.
One-way meditation can improve heart health is by raising your heart rate variability, or HRV. A high HRV is an indicator of a healthy heart. Meditation can also improve conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and high cortisol levels.
12. Increase Energy
Meditation has been shown to provide countless benefits for improved health. Brain function, the immune system, heart health, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, and depression are just a few of the science-based benefits of regular meditation.
Meditation can also have an impact on energy levels as well. One example would be an increase in HGH. In studies human growth hormone, or HGH increased in test subjects after 4 months of meditation. Human growth hormone plays important roles in almost all tissue growth, metabolism, and regulating body composition.
Meditation Is Exercise For The Mind
When you go to the gym or hit the trails on a run, your mind doesn’t tell your heart or muscles to get stronger. Your body is strengthened by the repetition and process of exercising. Meditation is similar in this regard, it’s an exercise of consciousness. Not by mental manipulation… but like a muscle, through a process of repetition and patience you’ll see the results of meditation.
What Type Of Meditation To Choose?
Meditation is an ancient practice and there are several types, or ways to practice. Mindfulness, spiritual, movement, mantra, & transcendental are the more common you’ll find.
Each form of meditation is unique and won’t fit everyone. Your capabilities and personal mindset will help guide you to the meditation that’s right for you. Explore each meditation and find what’s comfortable for you and inspire yourself to stay consistent.
I personally shift between several forms of meditation. However, as I’ve been growing in my meditation competences, I found myself using total embodiment meditation more often. The convenience it offers for my daily life between work, family, and other activities causes me to gravitate towards this practice. Also, I’m a martial artist, practicing the meditation of the samurai only seems fitting.
If you meditate let us know a little about your form and why you meditate.
Have you seen a change in yourself since you began meditating?
What were the mental and health benefits of meditation you noticed?