Mind-body meditation has a number of different definitions, but they all point to the same idea: living in the present moment. The goal of mindfulness training is to increase your ability to think clearly, to be calm, and to manage stress throughout the day.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our feelings and thoughts without judging them, without believing, for example, that there’s a “wrong” or “right” way to feel or think in a given moment.
Plenty of studies by the modern-day science suggest that meditation is about way more than blissing out. Take a look at some of the possible benefits below.
7 Benefits of mind-body meditation validated by science:
#1 Meditation lowers blood pressure
A study co-directed by Dr. Randy Zusman at Massachusetts General Hospital took patients being treated with typical high blood pressure medication and taught them a technique called the “Relaxation Response.” At the end of the study, more than half experienced a drop in blood pressure, sometimes even resulting in reduced medication. This technique is basically the opposite reaction to the “fight or flight” response. Research has shown that daily practice of the ”Relaxation Response” can help any health problem that is caused or exacerbated by chronic stress such as anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ailments, insomnia, hypertension, and others.
#2 Meditation increases creativity
In a study published in April 2012 by the Leiden University in the Netherlands, researchers looked at the way two types of meditation — open-monitoring (where participants focus on the both the external and internal) and focused attention (for example, focusing on your breath – similar to vipassana meditation) — affected two types of creative thinking (the capacity to generate new ideas and solutions to problems).
The scientists concluded that the participants from the study who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show improved results in the two creativity tasks. Nevertheless, the individuals who practiced open-monitoring meditation did perform better at tasks related to coming up with new ideas. In addition, open-monitoring meditation reduces the degree of top-down control and local competition and, overall, leads to a broader distribution of potential resources.
#3 Brain neuroplasticity
Neuroscientists have discovered that where we direct our attention and focus, not the environmental conditions alone, determines which specific areas we develop and redevelop. According to Sara Lazar, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, observing your breath without self-judgment actually changes the way your brain is wired. In her initial study, Lazar and the team showed that meditation can actually change the size of crucial regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more compassionate, empathetic, and resilient under stress.
#4 Meditation reduces stress
Research from Carnegie Mellon University studied the effects of brief mindfulness meditation practice (25 minutes for three consecutive days) on psychological stress. J. David Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. The participants were given breathing exercises (pranayama) to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math problems in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported lowered stress levels. This established that brief mindfulness meditation practice fosters greater active coping efforts, resulting in reduced psychological stress appraisals and greater cortisol reactivity during social evaluative stressors.
#5 Meditation improves memory
Practising meditation helps build denser grey matter in parts of the brain connected with memory and learning, controlling compassion and emotions. One study, which was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tuscon, Arizona, involved 25 participants over the age of 55. The type of meditation used in this study, known as Kirtan Kriya meditation, focuses on chanting mantras, visualisation of light and hand movements (mudras), and has been used for hundreds of years in India to prevent mental decline in older adults. The results after the 12 weeks? The scientists saw verbal memory improvements in volunteers. Moreover, participants practising meditation and yoga were also less likely to be anxious and depressed and were better able to cope with stress. The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation also recommends the chanting of the sounds Sa, Ta, Na, Ma to improve memory.
#6 Meditation enhances your immune system
A 2003 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that meditation practice can boost antibody levels (proteins produced by the body’s immune system when it detects antigens), in just 8 weeks. Meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus. These brain regions act as a command center for the immune system, so when stimulated (during meditation), they help it function more effectively.
#7 Meditation improves focus
Individuals who regularly practice meditation may improve their mental focus by altering brain function. In a study by the University of Washington, researchers noted that meditation practice helped workers concentrate better, stay energized and experience less negative moods, and remember more of their work details. The subjects from the study also recorded their stress levels and memory performance. Although the meditation practice involved a 2-hour session each week, you could probably see similar benefits (or better) from just a 30 minutes daily meditation.
In a nutshell, meditation impacts your physical, emotional and mental health via “stress reduction pathways” in your brain. By reducing individuals’ experiences of stress, mindfulness meditation may help regulate the physical stress response and ultimately reduce the risk and severity of stress-related diseases.