The Scientific Power Of Meditation
Meditation is an incredibly beneficial practice. Here are some facts about the way meditation changes your brain.
First of all, there’s something important to clarify. Meditation is like exercise in the sense that it doesn’t mean one thing.
Exercise has strength training, yoga, basketball, running. Meditation likewise has vipassana, Samatha, transcendental, koans and much more.
Today I’m focusing on mindfulness meditation which some would call Vipassana or Samatha. I am speaking about this one as it is the most common as a secular practice and is also what is most researched.
Mindfulness meditation entails focusing on a mixture of your breathing and detachment from your thoughts in order to enter “the present moment” as it’s known.
Stress reduction is the most commonly cited benefit.
Stress, both mental and physical causes the body to react by excreting cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone, produces in the adrenal cortex within the adrenal gland.
Excess cortisol promotes depression, anxiety, fatigue and is positively correlated with increased chances of obesity. High cortisol actually increases adipose fat tissue which is specifically found in the abdomen and upper back.
A systematic review and meta-analysis looked at psychological stress and well-being based on meditation programs.
Specifically, this was to determine how efficient meditation is on improving depression, mood, eating, sleep, pain and weight.
Based on the review and analysis of randomised trials, 47 trials and over 3000 participants meditation programs were concluded to reduce negative dimensions of stress.
Recently there has been a lot of information about meditation and physical well-being, specifically the immune system.
A systematic review of randomised controlled trials examined various immune system functions.
Five to be specific, which were:
Circulating inflammatory proteins
Immune cell count
Immune cell ageing
The findings suggest possible effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological ageing.
However, more works need to be done.
Grey matter atrophy
A study from UCLA found that long-term meditation had a noticeable effect on grey matter atrophy.
Participants who have been meditation for an average of tweets years had more grey matter volume in their brain. People with age still lost grey matter, but it’s not as much as those who don’t practice meditation.
In addition to this find, a Harvard study in 2011 found that mindfulness meditation really does change the structure of the brain, as with every action and behaviour we partake in.
An eight-week mindfulness practice increased cortisol thickness in:
The hippocampus (learning, memory)
Areas of emotional regulation
Decreased size of the amygdala
Focus and verbal reasoning
A recent study showed us that meditation increases verbal reasoning over the course of a few weeks because of the effects of meditation on people’s focus and memory. Most likely attributed to the hippocampus (as we previously said this increased in grey matter in the Harvard study.
Anecdotally I find if I take a break from meditation and start again — within three days I feel sharper — it’s very noticeable too.
I think meditation becomes particularly important today as we are increasingly distracted by phones.