Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is more than just a metaphysical, mystical way to get in touch with the universe. Sure, if that’s your aim, you can do that. But there are so many other benefits to practicing meditation. More and more people are finding that a regular meditation practice helps not only their mind, but their body as well. Let’s explore some of the ways meditation can help your life.
- Stress reduction – It’s no secret that we live in a stress inducing world. As the pace of the world around us increases, so has the use of anti-anxiety drugs. But here’s the good news – meditation can help reduce your stress levels without the use of drugs. That’s right, less anxiety with no negative side effects or high price tags. Recent studies have shown that meditation can lead to reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Mindful meditation has also been shown to reduce anxiety and fatigue levels when practiced on a regular basis. It’s believed that it helps the brain regulate emotion, thereby reducing the stress response.
- It helps your immune system – One of the most exciting discoveries regarding meditation is its ability to aid your immune system. Evidence has shown that your immune cells are influenced not only by physical triggers, but emotional ones as well. Your thoughts and beliefs are transmitted to your cells, which then determine your immune response. Meditation influences your immune cells in very important ways:
- A recent study showed that meditation boosted antibodies. After eight weeks of meditation, a group of workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the workers that didn’t meditate.
- Your immune system brain-function regions are stimulated by meditation. When people’s brains were studied during mindfulness meditation, and they showed increased electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right hippocampus, and the right anterior insula, all parts of the brain that control awareness, anxiety, and positive emotions. These areas of your brain are considered the immune system’s “command center”. The immune system functions more efficiently when they are stimulated.
- There was a UCLA study that showed HIV positive patients reduced their CD-4 cell count when they practiced mindful meditation. The CD-4 cells are associated with keeping the virus from replicating.
- Lower blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk – Taking the time to meditate is also good for your heart. Lower stress levels means your body doesn’t release as much adrenaline – a hormone that causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. Less adrenaline in your system is easier on your heart. Over time, this can lead to a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, a recent study found that participants that meditated regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke when compared to a group that only attended a health education class over the same time period.
- Reduce the symptoms of ADHD – Many adults and children deal with ADHD, and many are looking for a way to lessen the symptoms without taking medication. A study conducted in 2008 found that 78% of the participants who practiced mindful meditation reported a reduction in their ADHD symptoms. That is almost 8 out of 10 people – a very significant number. The study lasted 8 weeks and included a weekly meditation class, and daily at-home meditations. They were given CD’s to guide their meditations. Participants were allowed to start with shorter formal meditations due to their concentration challenges, and gradually increase the time as the study progressed. The results were stunning – not only did 78% report a reduction in symptoms, many of them reported that they felt less “attention conflict” than before the study – that is, they didn’t feel as many things pulling at their attention at any one time. Additionally, they felt less depression and anxiety.
- It slows the aging process – This is much more than just an overpriced beauty cream folks. Studies have shown that meditation actually changes the brain’s physiology. Meditators have been shown to have a higher brain cell count that non-meditators. Additionally, other studies showed that meditators have longer telomeres – the caps on chromosomes that indicate biological age (vs. chronological age). That’s not to say that you’ll necessarily live longer, but you might very well add some life to the years that you have – and look healthier and younger in the process.
- Meditation improves memory – Research has shown that meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain, including areas related to attention and memory. One study in particular showed that regular meditation caused the brain’s cerebral cortex to thicken, as the size of the blood vessels increased in the region. Your brain needs regular stimulation and exercise, just like the rest of your body. Meditation strengthens your mind, helping it to “stay in shape”. Keeping your brain active helps prevent things like memory loss. An active brain is a healthy brain.
We’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to all the ways that regular meditation benefits your life and health. Give it a try – start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 15, 20, or even 30 minutes. Your brain and body will thank you for it.