Chances are you’ve heard plenty of people extol the benefits of meditation; how it improved their creativity, boosted energy levels and reduced stress. Some may even claim it’s the reason for their success. But do you believe it could work for you?
Studies have shown that meditation can offer a variety of different psychological benefits, including help with stress, addiction, anxiety, depression and cognitive function, among others. There is also plenty of research that suggests meditation can have physiological benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and stress hormone levels. While all of this may be true, you may be wondering how it all works? How would something as simple as sitting still and being mindful have so many positive effects on the mind and body?
How meditation changes the brain
Based on our response to stimuli, the neurons and cells in our brain are constantly forming new connections and disrupting old ones. This process is something that researchers call “experience-based neuroplasticity. When the neural circuits of the brain are impacted, it can change our response to situations while changing the physical structure of our brains. Some areas may be come thinner while others become less dense,
The public interest in meditation and the brain has sparked so much research that many neuroscientists have begun to specialize in this realm of study. In fact, so much research has been done that scientists are seeking funding for more in-depth research. Here is what some of their research has revealed so far.
Meditation makes the brain more “plastic.” When the cells and neurons in the brain make new connections based on stimuli, they must disrupt the old ones, thereby affecting the neural circuits of the brain. This process, known as “neuroplasticity,” not only affects how we respond to situations, it also changes the physical structure of our brains, making some areas thicker and other areas less dense.
For several decades, researchers believed that the brain stopped changing after adulthood, but new studies have shown that experience meditators have higher levels of gamma-wave activity, which continues long after their meditation sessions end. As a result, they tend not to get stuck on a particular stimulus and they can more nimbly control their thoughts and reactions.
Meditation increases gray matter. Much has been written about this topic since a 2005 study revealed that men and women who meditate for 40 minutes per day had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators. Not only does this improve their decision making ability, attentiveness and memory, it also means their brains are aging at a slower rate.
Meditation can be better than sleep. In another study conducted in 2006, college students were asked to either meditate, sleep or watch television. Then they were tested on their mental alertness. The meditators performed better than the sleepers and TV waters by 10 percent.
Meditation can be better than blood pressure medicine. In 2008, a doctor as Massachusetts General Hospital asked patients suffering from hypertension to test a meditation-based relaxation regimen for three months. These patients were already taking a blood-pressure medication. At the end of the study, 4 out of every 6 patients showed significant drops in their blood pressure and they were able to reduce some of their medication.
Meditation has better pain relieving properties than morphine. Earlier this year, a study by Wake Forest University found that meditation reduced pain intensity by a surprising 40 percent and pain-unpleasantness by 57 percent. These results were beat out morphine and other prescription pain-relievers, which typically reduces pain by only 25 percent.
As impressive as these studies have been, scientists have only just begun to study the positive effects of meditation. The more they learn, the more likely it is that meditation will be adopted by the mainstream medical establishment.