How Mindfulness/Meditation Changes the Brain and Body
Why should we meditate? Is it really worth the effort to learn something new that we are not sure will help us? There are many kinds of meditation and most of them have been studied scientifically to some degree pointing us to the many reasons why we should meditate. It is also important to note that there must be a good reason why millions of people have been doing meditating for thousands of years.
Meditation does change the brain/mind and body in profound positive ways so there are plenty of reasons as to why we should meditate. Besides the “millions of people for thousands of years” rationale we are seeing more and more that science is applying rigorous standards to studies of meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation. The scientific rigor up until lately has been questionable but recently we are seeing studies that are using randomized, double blind placebo control groups. This approach is considered the gold standard of research and is finally finding it’s way into much of the new meditation/mindfulness research.
An example of this new rigor is demonstrated by “J. David Creswell, who led a study on mindfulness meditation and is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. The results of this rigorous study were that there was more activity, or communication, among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though few were still meditating. “
These results suggest some remarkable reasons why we should be practicing mindfulness meditation. As we discuss the benefits let’s keep in mind the interface between the body and the mind. If the body is affected in a positive way then so is the mind and vice versa.
Brain health. Meditation is affecting the brain in many positive ways including but not limited to memory, longevity and cognitive functioning. Brain neuroplasticity studies are also showing us that meditation can help to re build and mold the way our brains function.
Influencing addictions. We are seeing addictive personalities respond well to meditation. The studies that show a decrease in cortisol and adrenaline suggest that these two stress related pre cursors to addiction are reduced therefore reducing the drive toward addiction.
Lowering blood pressure has been a noticeable benefit of meditation for years and one that happens relatively quickly with steady practice.
Pain reduction. Some of the early studies have demonstrated acute and chronic pain reduction. These studies have been repeated over the years and continue to demonstrate positive results.
Quality sleep. We are a society of sleep deprived people. Most of us don’t get enough sleep and those of us who do don’t get quality sleep. Meditation has shown to increase the quality of our sleep so that less sleep is necessary. Six to eight hours seems to be the sweet spot for sleep.
Attention. We are also a society of people who have an inability to pay attention. ADD and ADHD is rampant in both adults and children and the studies show vast improvement in this area with steady practice of meditation.
Reduction of depression and anxiety. We are seeing impressive reductions in anxiety and depression particularly with mindfulness meditation. People who have experienced this distress for years are responding well to a steady practice of meditation.
Stress reduction. Stress can be considered the hub of the wheel of a lot of issues that we deal with. If you reduce stress you will also be influencing in a positive way a lot of the other issues that we deal with and cause us problems. Meditation reduced stress.
So we see that there are plenty reasons for everyone to practice mindfulness meditation. With a little bit of practice we can begin to see results over a short period of time. The time it takes for the effects of meditation to be felt differs substantially from person to person but I have seen impressive results over a period of two to eight weeks for many.
Find yourself a qualified teacher who can guide you into the correct way to meditate mindfully. The approaches vary to some degree but a good teacher can save you time and effort in putting you on the path to effective meditation.