For thousands of years, people have practiced meditation for spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. But from a scientific perspective, how does meditation affect our body?
It all starts in the brain! During meditation, brain scans see increased activity in regions directly rated to decreased depression and anxiety levels and increased pain tolerance. An area of the brain called the default mode network is mainly activated when our brain is at rest or not focused on the outside world. Research has found that this is associated with improved memory, focus, self-awareness, and goal-setting.
Reasons why meditation is good for your mental health
Clinical research has shown that meditation is good for the body and mind. It is one way to manage in a constantly demanding world and focus on our well-being.
1) Better focus and concentration
Mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the present moment, which improves your concentration on other daily chores. A 2011 Harvard Medical School study that looked at the impact of mindfulness meditation on the brain discovered a link between mindfulness and processing new information.
The researchers compared the brains of 17 participants in an eight-week meditation program before and after the program. Brain scans revealed an increase in gray matter in the regions of the brain in charge of memory, emotion control, and learning.
2) Regulate negative emotions
According to a study, meditation can aid in managing negative emotions like fear and wrath. Meditation may assist people in managing their anger, according to a small study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. In addition, results were seen after just one meditation session.
Fifteen participants who were new to meditation and 12 experienced practitioners were investigated for the study. Reliving instances that made them angry were requested of the participants. While individuals with experience in the practice did not have much of a physical response to the exercise, those who had never meditated before had an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
Those who had never meditated before participated in the second phase of the study, which lasted 20 minutes. They had substantially fewer physical reactions than they did in the initial phase of the experiment when asked to relive the anger-inducing experience.
3) Cognitive functions
As people get older, they frequently lose some of their cognitive flexibility and short-term memory. However, even in those with Alzheimer's disease, mindfulness may be able to decrease cognitive deterioration.
In a 2016 study, participants with Alzheimer's disease underwent two years of cognitive testing along with either mindfulness meditation, cognitive stimulation therapy, relaxation training, or no treatment. While no therapy, cognitive stimulation, and relaxation training appeared to be moderately beneficial, the mindfulness training group showed far more pronounced gains in cognitive scores.
4) Fosters kindness
Mindfulness can promote compassion for both oneself and other people. It increases the brain's ability to recognize other people's emotions, encourages altruistic behavior, and lessens implicit prejudice, which causes damaging stereotypes to persist.
You might imagine a loved one in your mind and wish them happiness to begin a meditation. Then, you may extend that love to others in your life and yourself.
5) Relationship satisfaction
According to several studies, a person's ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction by influencing one's capacity to handle relationship stress well and one's ability to communicate one's feelings to a partner effectively.
According to empirical data, mindfulness buffers individuals from the emotionally taxing effects of relationship conflict, is positively correlated with one's capacity for social expression in various contexts and predicts relationship satisfaction.
6) Halts the flight or fight response
Humans evolved the fight-or-flight reaction, also known as the stress response, thousands of years ago to help them survive severe, life-threatening conditions. It impacts the autonomic nerve system, which regulates uncontrollable bodily processes like breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.
A fight or flight response is slowed down by meditation and is occasionally wholly avoided. In meditation, you pause, concentrate and recenter your thoughts. When the mind wanders, you just bring it back to the breath. This keeps our minds from "snowballing" into worst-case scenarios, which can negatively affect our mental and physical health.
7) Drop the idea of 'perfection'
Another method of meditation that decreases stress is by encouraging radical acceptance. The founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, advocated for radical acceptance as a beneficial stress-reduction technique for meditation. In essence, the concept is that you can understand that you cannot alter reality by fully accepting everything occurring at any one time (the good, the bad, and the ugly). In turn, you can unwind into reality and prevent pain and misery.
The best type of meditation for radical acceptance is mindfulness meditation. This is because acceptance of reality is at the heart of mindfulness. It entails watching, observing, and taking note of the environment without attempting to alter it. You are merely taking stock and accepting life as it is when you practice mindfulness.
Meditation is not a substitute for other medical advice or a healthy lifestyle. Still, much like hitting a gym can help you grow muscles and increase your overall health, it seems that meditation may be a way of working out your brain with extra health benefits.
Janvi is a counselor with a master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.