Ways Meditation Benefits the Mind and Body
Meditation has been used for generations by people from all walks of life. Meditation benefits the mind, the body, and the spirit, at least that’s what we’re told.
The real question is are these claims real and what specifically do they mean. It’s great to say a particular activity benefits the mind and body, but in what way and how?
Meditation benefits the mind in a variety of ways. From increasing gray matter to increased cognitive function, the practice of meditation has powerful sway over our health.
Although science is still trying to unravel how exactly meditation accomplishes the things that it does, here is what has been proven so far.
- Gray Matter
Just as learning a new language can increase the amount of gray matter in the brain, so does learning and practicing meditation. There are different areas of the brain that are affected by gray matter such as muscle control, hearing, and emotions.
Studies have found that people who meditate increase the gray matter in the area of the brain known to control and regulate emotions as well as the part of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness.
- Cognitive Function
Regular meditation can make a person smarter. While there is still the need to study hard, research shows that when people meditate on a regular basis, they do better on standardized tests.
There is also research to support that meditation throughout life helps to prevent the natural memory loss that happens later in life. This is not to say that meditation will prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's or Dementia but it will stave off the natural cognitive decline that tends to occur towards the later years.
Willpower does not come naturally to all but is something that the brain can be trained to have through the practice of meditation. Through meditation, a person is able to gain better control over their emotional responses including anxiety, which is often the lead culprit in a lack of willpower.
After just a few months of meditation practice, people have seen a significant increase in their ability to set their intentions and call upon the willpower necessary to achieve predetermined goals.
One of the biggest issues new practitioners of meditation experience is a lack of concentration. It is precisely that reason that they should stick with it.
Practicing meditation teaches the mind how to focus and concentrate on the matter or task at hand. After a few weeks of meditation practice, a person will find that they are more comfortable concentrating on one thing for longer periods of time and are less susceptible to having their attention broken by distractions around them.
- Decision Making
Gyrification is the formation of folds on the surface of the brain. Researchers have found that individuals who mediate throughout the course of their life actually have more folds or greater amounts of gyrification that allows them to process information faster.
It also allows them to make decisions faster and increases their attention span. Some studies have even show that these long-term meditators have increased rapid memory recall.
Each of these mental categories clearly spans huge issues that affect millions of people every day. They can even overlap each other and affect our physical and spiritual state as well.
That is why so many people refer to meditation as a holistic approach to self-care. So how does mental care through mediation effect our physical selves?
To say that depression hurts or that it’s all in the mind are not false statements. There are physical symptoms from a negative mental state and there are negative mental states that arise from issues with the physical self.
To understand that these are all connected is a huge step forward in understanding how meditation can help.
So many people live with chronic pain their whole lives and the medical world seems to be at a loss as to how to help them. Meditation is actually a non-medical approach that has been proven to help chronic pain sufferers.
It’s believed that because people who meditate develop a greater ability to regulate and control unpleasant feelings and pain, they are able to control their bodies tendency to recognize and respond to that pain.
It’s almost as if, through meditation, they are able to turn down the intensity of their pain and discomfort just as they are able to not let negative emotions control them. It’s not that they don’t feel it, it’s that they choose how to respond and at what level of intensity to feel.
- Blood Pressure and Heart Risk
When stress levels rise so does blood pressure. All patients with cardiac issues are told to avoid stressful situations and try to stay calm.
Given that stress is a large contributor to high blood pressure, it makes sense that learning how to control and reduce stress would help. Meditation helps people learn to control their emotions and regulate their response to stressors.
This, in turn, decreases blood pressure as well as lowers a person's risk of other cardiovascular events.
- Immune System
A study from Harvard Medical School shows regular meditation practice can improve the immune system through an improvement in mitochondrial energy production and resiliency.
In layman's terms, it increases energy and boosts your immune system's ability to fight off germs.
- Inflammatory Diseases
Inflammatory issues such as asthma, arthritis and even inflammatory bowel disease have been successfully managed through the practice of meditation.
Although meditation is far from a cure, studies show that the meditators ability to control their stress response as well as their breathing and other physical responses have a positive impact on the number of flare-ups they experience over time. Positive impacts can be seen in just a few weeks of meditation.
Physical health is a big contributor to the overall quality of life that someone experiences. In fact, someone who experiences an improved physical state is more likely to experience an improvement in other areas of their life as well.
Just as meditation helps improve brain function which in turn improves physical well being, these components also contribute to a better spiritual state as well.
It’s certainly not a stretch to get from an improved physical and mental state to an improved spiritual state as well. For different people, this can mean different things and may not be as obvious right off the bat as the improvements in pain and an increased ability to remember where they put the car keys.
Just as there is a variety of mental and physical improvements experienced through meditation, there are a variety of spiritual improvements as well.
Through meditation, a person gains the ability to control their personal emotions and regulate how they allow others emotions to affect them. This is often realized through the meditator experiencing a greater capacity for compassion.
Without their own negative thoughts and struggles getting in the way, practitioners are able to experience true love and compassion for another person.
Many people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and physical issues such as chronic pain, tend to withdraw from social situations. Through meditation, they are able to resolve their physical and emotional restraints and are more likely to seek out external relationships.
Mediation offers sufferers an answer to the issues that plague them but also help them find satisfaction within themselves. This boost in confidence and self-esteem makes them better friends and increases others desires to be around them.
- Negative Emotional Responses
Negative emotions can manifest in more ways than just depression or physical discomfort. Negative emotions can also manifest in ways that hurt our spirit.
That can be through emotional eating, rudeness, or other socially unacceptable behaviors. When meditation begins to eliminate these behaviors, practitioners may experience weight loss, a desire to spread kindness or even a complete change in the people they associate with, choosing instead individuals who promote a more positive lifestyle.
- Improved Sleep
A mind at ease will find that rest comes easier. It is easier to settle down at night and stop the flow of thoughts that would otherwise keep sleep at bay. People who get better sleep tend to be happier and more energetic throughout the day.
Meditation benefits an individual's sleeping habits by creating a calm in the mind and slowness and depth of breath that promotes deep sleep. As with all benefits of meditation, improved sleeping habits will also improve the meditators immune system and mental state, allowing them to remain healthy and better manage stress and anxiety.
For decades movies and books have portrayed the person who meditates as someone who lives on the fringe of society. However, as the benefits of meditation become more widely known and backed by science, people are rejecting that stereotype and choosing to make it a daily part of their lives.
Whether it’s done sitting in the car waiting on the kids or in the kitchen before everyone else wakes up, meditation is a private moment that will impact every area of a practitioner’s life.