So you've decided to meditate regularly. However, you still face the same problem you did in your previous attempts — you don't feel motivated enough. Even without research, you already know that meditation has valuable benefits, but it's still not enough to push you into developing a habit. Perhaps you're not convinced enough that the benefits of meditation are worth the effort. If you want to know the science behind the benefits of meditation, you came to the right place.
In this article, we will discuss the positive impacts of meditation on physical, mental, and emotional health in detail. We will tackle how the science behind meditation works and how exactly it leads to the benefits people boast about. But first, let's understand what meditation is.
What is meditation?
As Wikipedia defines it, meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Simply put, to meditate is to train the mind. However, meditation itself is something you need to train for. You need to learn it, just like any other skill. Meditating will be challenging when you've only started as your mind will often wander off, but that's why you need to practice. Just like training your body, it will take time before you get comfortable and be great at meditating.
There are plenty of techniques to make meditation easier if you're a beginner, but that's a discussion for another day. For now, let's have a closer look at the science behind the benefits of meditation.
Combating stress is one of the primary reasons people meditate, but how does it really reduce stress? A hormone called cortisol causes many of the negative effects of stress, such as the release of cytokines, a type of protein that affects the body's immune and inflammatory response. Normally, cytokines are good for the body, but when constantly released over a long period of time, which is what happens when a person is often under stress, it can result in all sorts of diseases.
According to a study, meditation helps protect the body from the negative impacts of stress by reducing cortisol levels. Another research also shows that meditation improves the symptoms of conditions related to stress, such as fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another popular reason why people take an interest in meditation is to improve their focus. We live in a time where distractions are in abundance, and dedicating all our attention to a task has become difficult. Focusing your attention is a fundamental part of meditation, and as such, it strengthens your attention and lengthens your attention span. A 2018 study found that people who meditated or have experienced meditating had a longer attention span than those who did not.
Psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman says that meditation helps improve focused attention by strengthening the brain's neural circuitry for focus. Most meditation types involve a focus on breathing. When people's minds wander off during meditation, they work to return their focus on breathing, strengthening the said neural circuitry.
If you really want to improve your focus, the best time to start is now. A 2019 study discovered that meditating for 13 minutes a day enhanced people's attention and memory in just eight weeks.
Improves emotional health
Since the pro-inflammatory cytokines that are released in response to stress can also affect mood, it can increase the likelihood of depression. A review of studies shows that meditation can counter this effect by reducing the cortisol levels of individuals.
One study of treatments given to 3,500 adults discovered that mindfulness, a form of meditation, improved symptoms of depression. Furthermore, another review of studies showed that people who took meditation therapies experienced a similar effect.
Meditation is also helpful for other types of depression, such as seasonal affective disorder that is caused by shorter days and a loss of sunlight during winter. Infrared saunas are known to help stimulate the release of the happy chemical serotonin, by imitating the effect of sunlight on the body. Combined with the destressing effect of meditation, saunas may help alleviate the winter blues.
Given that awareness is at the core of meditation, a better awareness of oneself is natural with people who meditate. A study found that 153 adults who used a mindfulness app for two weeks felt less lonely and became more active socially. Moreover, other styles of meditation take a more targeted approach. Self-inquiry, for instance, explicitly aims to help people develop a deeper understanding of themselves through questions such as "Who am I?"
Just as meditation reduces stress, it also lessens anxiety. A meta-analysis participated in by 1,300 adults that meditation may decrease anxiety, with the decrease more significant in those experiencing the highest levels of anxiety. In addition, a study found that people suffering from general anxiety disorder experienced reduced symptoms after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation.
Aside from improving symptoms of anxiety disorders, research conducted in the USA also found that meditating regularly is one way to stop overthinking as it helps individuals be more optimistic about life.
Improves memory and cognition
Studies show that regular meditation may play a role in boosting memory and cognition. It is believed that meditation improves the circulation of blood to the brain, supplying it with more oxygen. This also translates into helping keep your mind young by keeping it as sharp as possible, even in old age.
According to a study in people with age-related memory loss, Kirtan Kriya, a meditation method, improved the patients' performance on neuropsychological tests. Other studies show that several meditation styles help enhance attention and memory in older people.
More importantly, meditation is also capable of improving the memory of dementia patients, albeit partially. A study in Arizona found that after eight weeks of meditating 12 minutes a day, Alzheimer's patients saw an improvement in memory. This finding can mean a lot to the future of treating brain disorders that result in memory loss.
Writer : Myrtle Bautista