Meditation & mindfulness aren’t just buzzwords. For thousands of years practitioners have extolled the virture of meditation & today so too does the field of Neuroscience. Scientists have found that the simple act of regularly sitting still, without thought (& that's harder than you think) offers long term health benefits:
Improves brain function (Neuroscientists have found that your brain physically changes)
Reduces anxiety & stress
Increases focus & self control
Reduces ageing (yes … really)
Amps up the immune system
Lowers blood pressure
Improves metabolism, which may help you loose weight
Pain may become less of a problem
Boosts sleep health
Makes you optimistic & process emotions differently
Helps you appreciate life & be happy
Meditation leads you to a healthier, happier, more enjoyable life ... & who doesn’t want that? No more using time or money as an excuse for fulfilling our dreams or finding our voice.
Learn how to meditate with one of our certified Practitioners. With just 10 minutes a day, it will prove to be a real life changer.
Everyone thinks that the purpose of meditation is to handle stress, tune out & escape from it all. While that's partially true the real purpose of meditation is to tune in, not escape from it all - but to get in touch with it all. Not to just de-stress, but to find that peace within, the peace that spiritual traditions talk about that passes all understanding.
So meditation is a way to get in the space between your thoughts. You have a thought here, a thought here & there's little space between every thought.
According to wisdom traditions, this space between the thought is the window, is the corridor, is the vortex to the infinite mind – the mystery that some people call the spirit or God. We don't have to use those terms but it's your core consciousness. The more we learn about this space between thoughts, we find certain things to be true of it:
It's a field of infinite possibilities – infinite possibilities, pure potentiality.
Everything is connected to everything else.
It's a space of infinite creativity, infinite imagination.
It is a place where there is something called the observer effect, or the power of intention, which means intention is very powerful when brought to this space & it orchestrates its own fulfillment – what people call the law of attraction – so those are wonderful qualities of your own spirit.
In meditation we get into this space so we find infinite possibilities, infinite correlation, infinite creativity, infinite imagination & infinite power of intention. That's what meditation is really about.
What is meditation?
There are many different ways to meditate but there are two ways used in particular for scientific research:
You focus on one specific thing; it might be your breath, a sensation in your body or something outside of you then continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.
You pay attention to all of the things happening around you & simply notice everything without reacting.
What happens in your brain when you meditate?
Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate.
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions & self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time & space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.
The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain & stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli & puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.
How meditation affects us
Now that we know what’s going on inside our brains, let’s take a look at the research into the ways it affects our health. It’s in fact very similar to how exercising affects our brains.
Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention & being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular bouts of meditation.
The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have & it turns out this is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways.
What happens without meditation is that there’s a section of our brains that’s sometimes called the Me Center (medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to our experiences & ourselves. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation & fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared & under attack.
When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) & our bodily sensation & fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally. Here’s a good example: when you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious & assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise & fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.
Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands found that people who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.
Research on meditation has shown that empathy & compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. One experiment showed participants images of other people that were either good, bad or neutral in what they called “compassion meditation.” The participants were able to focus their attention & reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.
Part of this comes from activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that processes emotional stimuli. During meditation, this part of the brain normally shows decreased activity, but in this experiment it was exceptionally responsive when participants were shown images of people.
Another study in 2008 found that people who meditated regularly had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures (a part of the brain tied to empathy) when they heard the sounds of people suffering, than those who didn’t meditate.
One of the things meditation has been linked to is improving rapid memory recall. Catherine Kerr, a researcher at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging & the Osher Research Center found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions & increase their productivity more quickly that those that did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain “their superior ability to rapidly remember & incorporate new facts.” This seems to be very similar to the power of being exposed to new situations that will also dramatically improve our memory of things.
Mindful meditation has been shown to help people perform under pressure while feeling less stressed. A 2012 study split a group of human resources managers into three, which one third participating in mindful meditation training, another third taking body relaxation training & the last third given no training at all. A stressful multitasking test was given to all the managers before & after the eight-week experiment. In the final test, the group that had participated in the meditation training reported less stress during the test than both of the other groups.
More grey matter
Meditation has been linked to larger amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus & frontal areas of the brain. More grey matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability & heightened focus during daily life.
Meditation has also been shown to diminish age-related effects on grey matter & reduce the decline of our cognitive functioning.
For those of you who have read this far, https://www.headspace.com/ offers a free trail/introduction to meditation – try it if you're interested.
Note: MojoGuru does not recommend any treatment, therapy or particular provider. We do not recommend that you self-diagnose. If you are suffering from a health condition and before starting a new treatment or therapy, we do recommend that you first consult a GP. More