In various cultures around the world, different forms of meditation has been used for centuries to help to calm the mind, boost emotional and physical health, and even to deal with chronic pain and other types of health conditions.
Meditation, and the associated practice of mindfulness, have become buzzwords in both lifestyle and professional development and growth discussions. People of all ages, from kids in school to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, are implementing mindfulness and meditation practices for themselves and throughout their organizations.
It is important to understand that mindfulness and meditation are not the same things. In fact, they are different but complementary practices. Mindfulness is the ability to tune into yourself and what is going on in the world around you in the moment. Meditation is the ability to control your concentration and to train your mind. It takes practice and understanding of the process, and there are several meditation styles and disciplines.
The Science Behind Meditation
Research is now able to demonstrate the impact of meditation in a quantitative way. Thanks to technology that effectively maps brain functioning, chemical reactions in the body, and very specific metabolic factors, researchers can show the benefits of meditation for individuals of all ages.
In neuroscience, the study of the brain and nervous system, research shows that meditating on kindness and love for others triggers activity in the part of the brain responsible for good feelings, love, empathy, and compassion. Even after the individual stopped meditating, these areas of the brain remained active, and people reported feeling positive and loving towards those around them.
In addition to changes in our thoughts about others and our place in the world, meditation has been linked to reducing inflammation in the body. As inflammation is a result of stress, reducing the stress levels helps to decrease the damage caused by inflammation. In some smaller studies, an increase in telomerase, the enzyme that is believed to help extend cell life, was found in those who meditated compared to those who did not.
Mindfulness meditation, or focusing on your breath and your body sensations, is linked to increased neural connections, which in turn provides greater communication between the parts of the brain. In small, early studies into this brain change, increased gray matter density in the brain’s frontal regions is related to better attention and cognitive functioning for those who practice meditation regularly.
Meditation is also effective at deactivating the flight, flight, or freeze reactions of the sympathetic nervous system. By slowing down these responses, individuals became less stressed, anxious, and emotionally reactive.
As research continues, the ability to quantify the benefits of mindfulness and meditation continues to grow. Meditation is a gift you can give yourself in just a few short minutes of practice every day.