Meditation has surged in popularity in recent years and is now championed by therapists, scientists, celebrities and high -performing athletes. As the practice becomes more widely acknowledged as an indispensible tool for life improvement, it can be helpful to understand scientifically why it actually works! Cultivating a better understanding of meditation will enhance our experience and better equip us to communicate the benefits of the practice to others.
Inspired by leading scientists and latest research in the field, below is a compiled summary of the cutting-edge science behind meditation:
- Science has proven that your mind can heal your body. Because all health conditions have some stress component, it is no overstatement to say that virtually every single health problem and disease can be improved with a mind-body approach – Relaxation Revolution’ by Herbert Benson and William Proctor.
- Meditators experience a 30% decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and a significant decrease in cancer mortality. Meditation increases levels of antibodies to the flu vaccine, and the practice was also found to decrease the severity and length of colds – Mark Williams and Danny Penman, National Institute of Health.
‘It’s not about just distracting us from pain and stress;
it literally changes us at the genetic level.’
- Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that the state of calm produced by meditation, yoga and breathing exercises – actually switches on genes that are related to augmenting our immune system, reducing inflammation and fighting a range of conditions from arthritis to high blood pressure to diabetes.
- At Wake Forest University, researchers found that meditation lowers pain intensity.
So with all of these results, it’s no surprise that meditation correlates to reduced yearly medical costs.
Physical changes the brain:
- One study found that meditation can actually increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain and slow the thinning that occurs there as we age, impacting cognitive functions such as sensory and emotional processing.
- A well as improving your ability to concentrate and decision making, growing number of studies has shown that, given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be very effective in helping people recover from addictions.
- When practicing Kundalini Yoga and meditation, your glandular and nervous systems are stimulated, and your capacity for creative potential is heightened. You gain inner vitality to compensate for the adverse effects of stress so you can excel in life.
- Research by at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine in 2010 compared brain function in long-term meditators and non-meditators using SPECT imaging. Twelve long-term meditators who participated had more than fifteen years of practice and meditated for 30-60 minutes daily. In experiments where participants meditated in the scanner itself, researchers found that experienced meditators had significantly higher CBF (Cerebral Blood Flow) levels in the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex and caudate. The frontal lobe in particular is associated with the ability to self-regulate and underlies attention and sustained concentration. These differences in brain function are congruent with the well-documented phenomenon that long-term meditators can better self-regulate, focus and sustain their awareness.
‘The many benefits of meditation, in other words,
are thoroughly backed by science
and can be seen plain as day on a brain scan’
- Researchers at UCLA found that mindfulness and meditation helped lower feelings of loneliness in elderly, reduced levels of post-traumatic stress disorder among military veterans and reduced depression among teens. And it’s not just about reducing negative emotions; it’s also about boosting positive ones such as love, joy, gratitude and amusement.
- Another study led by University of North Carolina found that meditation induced increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self acceptance and positive relations with others.
No longer is meditation seen as some sort of new age escape from the world. It’s increasingly seen for what it is: a practice that helps us be in the world in a way that is more engaged, healthier and less stressful. If you are interested in finding out more about meditation, feel free to explore my previous articles, ‘How to Meditate’ or ‘When to meditate‘.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your practice,
- ”Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons > or = 55 years of Age with Systemic Hypertension,” American Journal of Cardiology 95 (2005): 1060 – 64.
- ”Mindfulness”, 51 Williams and Penman.
- ”Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation,” Psychosomatic medicine: journal of behavioural medicine 65 (2003): 564 – 70.
- ”Meditation or excercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: A randomized trial,” Annals of family medicine 10 (2012); 337 – 46.
- ”Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation,” The journal of neuroscience 31 (2011): 5540 – 48.
- Relaxation responses induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways,” PLoS ONE 8 (2013): e62817.
- ”Changes in physician costs among high-cost transcendental meditation practitioners compared with high-cost nonpracticitioners over 5 years,”. American journal of health promotion 26 (2011); 56 – 60
- ”Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness,” Neuro- report 16 (2005): 1893 – 97.
- ”Yoga Research,” Kundalini research institute (2018): https://kundaliniresearchinstitute.org/?page_id=602
- ”The Neuroimaging of Long-term Changes in Brain Function with Yoga and Meditation,” https://kundaliniresearchinstitute.org/?page_id=710