Like many other indigenous forms of wisdom or knowledge, meditation has been around for thousands of years, helping those who use it regularly, to achieve a better sense of balance and control in their lives. One of the oldest recognized practices in the history of humankind, scientific studies and research are only now beginning to verify its benefits.
While it has many different forms, each with their own nuances, meditation is essentially all about creating and then maintaining an alert, but calm state of consciousness, where the mind is aware while the body is relaxed. The key here is regular practice, ideally at the same time(s) each day, so that it becomes a routine, or a habit. Once you get to that point, the mind becomes a very powerful tool, and the body is better able to kick start its own natural ability to heal.
Since a large part of meditation is about controlling the mind, it’s no surprise that many of the outcomes directly affect our mental state of being in a positive way.
First of all, it increases your brain function. As a result, this leads to:
- increased mental strength and ability to focus
- better memory, better cognitive skills and more creativity
- the development of intuition
- an overall sharper mind that does a better job of processing information, making decisions, solving problems and ignoring distractions.
Recent research from more than 160 different studies shows that meditation actually increases gray matter in the brain in areas related to memory and thought, while also changing the brain in a way that has an overall positive effect on anxiety, stress and depression.
It actually changes the circuitry in the brain through changing the brain waves in the left prefrontal cortex – essentially more gamma brain waves through the brain and more organized information being processed. What’s incredible is that researchers now believe these changes (from meditating) can be permanent, so even a small amount of regular meditation can have quite an impact.
And don’t forget about the increased serotonin production. That’s right, meditating actually can boost your mood, your behavior, and your general level of happiness.
If meditation has all these positive effects on the brain, it’s only a natural extension for those benefits to translate to the physical body. It helps to manage your heart rate and breathing rate, and does so for than 6 months after the training period.
A Harvard Medical School study showed that meditating improves mitochondrial energy production and consumption, which effectively means a boosted immune system and a resiliency to stress.
Other studies have shown that it reduces blood pressure, and helps to decrease the effects of inflammatory disorders and asthma, as well as premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms.
30 minutes a day points to reducing the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s, and a UCLA study points to how meditation can help treat HIV, by stopping the decline of CD4 T-cells in patients.
Finally, more and more research is being conducted on how meditation may have positive effects on the length of telomeres, which affect how cells age – that’s right, it may even increase your life span!
When you combine these benefits along with the fact that you are now regularly getting a better perspective and awareness of who you really are and how you function best, it’s a no-brainer when you start to see your relationships improve as well. Why wouldn’t they? You’re in better physical condition, with a better mental state, and you’re able to see yourself and those around you in a brand new light, and others will be able to see it too and be drawn to it.
Here’s the thing – you don’t need to be a brain function expert or a neuroscientist in order to discover or confirm these positive effects. More importantly, you don’t need to be a yogi, a swami, a shaman, or a monk, or spend as much time as they do meditating, in order for it to have a tremendous impact on your life, or alter it for the better.
If you’re looking for a great teaching on meditation, check out this rare exercise on mindful breathing, led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh:
Here’s to a relaxed, and healthier mind, body and spirit!