It is said that Budha achieved enlightenment during meditation under the Bodhi tree. This relaxation method has been a world-popular thing and is even taught in world-class corporations. The precise number of meditators is unknown. However, it is thought to be between 200 and 500 million. But what are the reasons that have caused this technique to be so famous? We will be looking at all of this in the following article.
What is Meditation?
The term “meditation” describes various techniques for achieving mental and physical tranquility and improving health. Meditation, as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, is a mind-body practice that aims to induce a state of deep relaxation and calm, which in turn aids in the management of stress, pain, and other health issues, and, ultimately leads to better overall health and quality of life.
It has been practiced for thousands of years to cultivate a deeper understanding of the here and now.
How does It work?
Similar to how scientists have previously looked at gauging creativity in the brain, new technology like fMRI scans have allowed researchers to gain a more in-depth understanding of what happens in our brains during meditation. (1)
We can shape our brains through neuroplasticity, a nervous system’s ability to restructure itself in response to external or internal input. It is not the number of brain cells that are important for a healthy brain to function, but the number of connections between them that benefits us the most. You see improvements in that area when you put in the time and effort. Repeatedly doing an activity strengthens the neural connections, developing the related brain regions.
Although studies are still in their infancy, preliminary findings suggest that regular practice can increase grey matter density in the hippocampus and other frontal regions of the brain and in the anterior insula and cortical thickness. (1) (2) (3)
Mental Benefits On Health.
There is growing evidence that regular meditation can positively affect health and well-being, ultimately leading to an enhanced quality of life.
1. Fosters Emotional Health & well-being. It has been scientifically proven that meditating is a great way to boost self-esteem and respect. When we meditate, we get insight into our mental state and become mindful of the thoughts that underpin our present feelings and behaviors.
For instance, mindfulness alleviates depressive symptoms in a study involving more than 3,500 adults. In another review of 18 studies, researchers found that those who participated in meditation therapy had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the control group.
Medical professionals have found that patients who meditate have a higher level of self-awareness. Several therapists recommend meditation as a means of assisting their patients throughout treatment.
2. Reduces Stress & Anxiety. Have you ever felt like the whole world was pressing down on you? We may all benefit greatly from learning to meditate to manage stress and anxiety.
Stress has many negative effects, including an increase in cortisol levels. Brain scans show that regular meditators had lower cortisol levels, which may account for their increased resilience and heightened sensitivity.
Clinical Psychology Review published research showing that mindfulness-based interventions, including meditation, can positively affect mental health, particularly in the area of stress. It slows racing thoughts and, regulates breathing, soothes the nervous system to reduce anxiety. That is why a study indicated that those with anxiety who meditated regularly for three years enjoyed long-term mental health advantages.
According to the results of another 8-week study, a type known as mindful meditation mitigated the inflammatory response brought on by stress. In another study, 27% less irritation was reported after 10 days of meditating regularly.
3. Boost Empathy & Positivity.
A little lonely and cut off from your friends and family? Try meditating with empathy.
Regularly meditating can stimulate new neural connections in regions of the brain that control more positive states of mind, such as compassion and kindness. We become more sociable and affable due to the meditative trance condition it produces.
Another study indicated that participants who used a meditative technique had fewer negative thoughts after viewing negative images than a control group.
4. Enhances Memory & Focus.
Although meditation is most commonly practiced to reduce emotional strain, it also enhances neural connectivity inside the brain. One study proved that meditators’ brains generated more grey matter which is essential for healthy emotions and mental function. The same study proved that 30-minute meditation led to an increase in grey matter development.
There’s some evidence that meditating can change the brain’s activity in ways that reduce daydreaming, anxiety, and inattention. When we meditate, we naturally develop a heightened sense of self-awareness and enter a level of consciousness known as “flow.” Eight weeks of mindful mindfulness practice has been shown to improve focus and attention. Subjects who meditated frequently outperformed individuals who had never meditated on a visual task, and their attention span was significantly longer.
It can also help people with dementia remember things better and help those with typical age-related memory decline. Caregivers of people with dementia may also find it helpful for stress management and coping.
5. More Creativity.
Leiden University in the Netherlands researched the effects of meditation on creativity. When tested on a creativity challenge, those who regularly engaged in focused-attention meditation showed no discernible improvement over the control group. However, those who practiced open-monitoring meditation showed improved results on a challenge that required them to generate original thoughts.
Physical Benefits On Health.
In addition to the mental, emotional, and cognitive benefits, meditating regularly may also improve your physical health. Since the positive effects of meditation on one’s body are sometimes overshadowed by the practice’s more well-publicized psychological and spiritual advantages, many are mentioned below.
6. Reduces Pain.
There’s some evidence that meditating regularly can help you manage pain more effectively.
A recent study by the University of Montreal discovered that regular meditation enhances tolerance to physical pain. Buddhist masters and 13 random subjects were all exposed to extreme body heat for the same period. The Zen masters reported far less pain than the other individuals. Another meta-analysis involving 3,500 participants found that meditation reduces pain.
It has also been shown to assist those suffering from lung and breast cancer cope with symptoms, including pain, anxiety, low self-esteem, and fatigue. In addition, meditating helped those with chronic pain lower their discomfort by as much as 42 %, leading to enhanced quality of life metrics, including sleep, disposition, and physical activity.
In another research, active meditators reported 32% less pain intensity and 33% less pain unpleasantness compared to those who weren’t meditating.
7. Reduces IBS Symptoms.
Although the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are poorly understood, a stress reaction contributes, and practicing a relaxation response may help.
Including meditation in your treatment plan for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can have positive effects, and it helps your body absorb and use nutrients better. Research on women with severe IBS symptoms indicated that daily mindful meditation for two months greatly reduced symptoms.
8. Good For the Heart.
Heart health is one of the most important health benefits of meditation.
12 research with nearly 1000 people found that mindfulness lowered blood pressure. This worked better for older, higher-blood-pressure individuals. When combined with other healthy lifestyle behaviors, including a nutritious diet and regular exercise, meditation may effectively lower high blood pressure.
9. Improves Sleep.
A good night’s sleep is within reach, thanks to meditation, and it comes without the risk of dependency associated with prescription sleep aids.
Scientific evidence shows that it can help people get to sleep and have better quality sleep. (1) (2) Particularly beneficial for those with chronic insomnia and older adults, mindfulness meditation, has enhanced sleep quality and decreased daytime disturbance.
There are many other methods to support a night of good sleep. Check those tips in this article.
10. Postpartum Depression. The benefits of meditating in pre and postpartum are found to be comparable to those of antidepressant medications. Women who recently gave birth are sensitive to postpartum depression and have benefited substantially from yoga and meditation, according to a study. In another study, mindfulness training during pregnancy has been shown to lessen the likelihood of developing postpartum depression by approximately 90% in the first 18 months after giving birth.
11. Helps With Addiction.
The amazing side effect of meditating is that it may be used to break even the most ingrained habits. People with drug use disorders might benefit from meditation’s capacity to promote a sense of serenity, present and reduced stress to better handle triggers or perhaps avoid relapse.
- When practiced regularly, it has been linked to improved mental health, including a reduced need to use substances to cope with negative emotions or stress.
- As per another research, mindfulness can be especially useful for quitting smoking. The researchers think meditation might help with both addiction treatment and prevention.
- A 2017 review of mindfulness-based relapse prevention reviewed 9 research pieces that proved that it reduced alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- It can reduce food cravings as well. A meta-analysis of 14 research indicated that practicing mindfulness reduced emotional and binge eating in individuals.
12. Calms Inflammation.
Numerous research on meditation and similar practices (yoga, self-hypnosis, systematic styled forms of relaxation, etc.) have shown anti-inflammatory benefits and a slowing of inflammation-like immunological activities.
The benefits of meditating can range from minor to dramatic, depending on the style of meditation practiced. However, your life will be drastically improved if you make any of these a regular habit. Learn about each one of them in this spin-off article here.
Meditation & Anti-Aging.
After one’s “child brain” matured, it was long thought that all that lay ahead was a slow decline. As we now know, the habits we cultivate over time have a tangible effect on our brains. Moreover, it appears that the same mechanisms that allow our brains to learn new languages or sports can also assist us in learning to meditate.
Meditation, when practiced frequently over several years, may reduce the progression of age-related brain atrophy.
Who should meditate?
Given the breadth of its benefits, meditation is something everyone can stand to incorporate into their lives. But it can be especially beneficial for people with,
- People suffering from chronic stress. It has been found that people suffering from chronic stress can ave benefit from meditating on a larger scale.
- Insomniacs. Meditation is clinically important for treating sleep disorders as it has been proven to help moderately sleep-disordered people minimize insomnia and depression.
- Students. Multiple studies have found that when students commit to practicing regularly (at least once or twice a day), they boost their health, satisfaction, and academic success. (1)(2) (3)
- Drug Abusers. As already mentioned, people addicted to different types of drugs and even foods can find benefits from meditating. Recovering addicts has been shown to benefit from meditating. (1)
Someone new to meditation may feel overwhelmed by the practice. Fortunately, once you’ve mastered the basics, it can be done whenever and wherever you like.
How Much to Mediate And How?
- According to a Pubmed study, the optimal time to meditate daily is 13 minutes.
- Even if you’ve never meditated before, listening to a guided meditation for just 20 minutes can have a positive effect, according to the research.
- Asper another research, undergraduate students who meditated for 10 minutes every day performed better on the Graduate Record Examination
Dr. Andrew Huberman mentions in his recent podcasts that even meditating for 11 minutes gives the desired results and is backed by research.
Does this imply that we should all make time to meditate daily for ten to twelve minutes? Yes, however, it seems that some of the benefits of meditation start to take effect after about 10 minutes. According to the available data, the advantages may begin to take effect after as little as ten minutes of practice. It’s also a length of time that many people can realistically commit to.
- Peaceful Area: Finding a peaceful spot in your home where you won’t be interrupted by any noise is a great first step if you want to start meditating there. Schedule something when it’s most practical for you.
- Stay Empty Stomach: Whether meditating at home or the workplace, it is advised to do it on a somewhat empty stomach. The reason for meditating before a meal is straightforward: you may fall asleep when meditating after eating.
- Keep a Steady Posture: Your body language also plays a role. Try to be as steady as possible while remaining at ease. Sit straight with your spine erect, maintain your shoulders and neck relaxed, and keep your eyes closed during the process.
- Deep Breathing: Because breathing is fundamental, this method is ideal for novices. It involves paying attention to your breathing pattern while inhaling and exhaling, focusing on the sensations and sounds you experience. Take some deep, steady breaths. If you find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to your breathing.
- Time: Start with two or three minutes of this meditative exercise and work up to longer sessions if you like it.
Side Effects of Meditating?
Recent research, which compiles findings from the last 40 years of research on meditation and mindfulness-based therapies, suggests that these practices can also bring about negative effects in about 8% of people, ranging from heightened anxiety, depression, and stress to bizarre experiences like hallucinations.
Another recent 2017 study published in the academic journal PLOS One found some hazards in meditation. Researchers looked into the lives of sixty meditators for their study.
- Changes in Senses: It’s possible that meditation could change your sense of sight, smell, hearing, and taste. Researchers found that many people in their 2017 study experienced visual phenomena such as hallucinations, illusions, and “ghost lights.” Some individuals noted altered perceptions of time and space and heightened sensitivity to light and noise.
- Cause Anxiety: It is widely held that many negative emotions may surface during meditation because of meditation’s propensity to bring back all emotions and memories, including painful ones. Anxiety, fear, and paranoia were also present among the 2017 study participants.
- Feeling of Disassociation: While it’s true that meditation can help you better understand yourself, it can also alter your perspective on others and make it more challenging to form close relationships.
- Can Lead to Lack Of Motivation: A lack of interest in one’s profession, personal life, and other aspects of life may result from the detached lifestyle encouraged by meditation and mindfulness.
- Disturbed Sleep Cycle: Experts say that meditation can boost alertness and focus but that too much of either can cause sleep difficulties, including insomnia.
- Physical Symptoms Aggravation: Meditation is often seen as a technique for the mind and emotions, but there is also evidence that it has tangible benefits for the body. Pain, pressure, involuntary movements, headaches, weariness, weakness, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and fainting were all reported by research participants in 2017.
Even if there are risks associated with practicing meditation regularly, there is no denying that it has aided and healed many people in the past.
Keep in mind that not everyone who meditates may suffer any or all of the negative consequences listed, and there is limited data on the negative effects of meditation.
Scientific research supports the numerous health advantages of meditating. The various studies researchers have done, and published reveal beyond question that meditation routinely helps. A meditator’s body and mind undergo transformations and enhancements. So, why not try a meditation program to rewire your brain and enjoy reaping the benefits?