Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been practiced through the ages by many different cultures in different countries. Daily meditation has been well-documented to reduce stress, tension and anxiety, and cultivate calm, compassion, and self-awareness, but what about its effect on our physical health? There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that there is a direct correlation between daily meditation and improved mental and physical well-being.
A recent article published by the Mayo Clinic says research suggests that regular meditation can help reduce symptoms of certain medical conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, tension headaches and more.
Meditation & Brain Health
Harvard Medical School’s neuroscientist, Dr. Sara Lazar began studying meditation and its benefits after sustaining an injury training for the Boston Marathon. She found yoga to be very beneficial and wanted to know more. She found a vast amount of evidence that pointed to the positive effects of meditation on the body including alleviating depression, anxiety, pain and improving sleep, productivity, and overall quality of life. This led to her own neuroscience research.
In her first study, she compared people who had been meditating regularly for seven to nine years to a control group. She found that those who had been practicing meditation for a long time had increased gray matter in their auditory and sensory cortex, in the sensory regions of the brain, and several other areas. Increases in gray matter were also in the region of the brain linked to the frontal cortex which is associated with decision making and memory.
Most people’s cortexes shrink as they age, but 50-year old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age. Incredible! It would seem that meditation can make your brain younger. It can also cause your brain to grow neurons, contrary to the antiquated theory that once said this was impossible.
To confirm her results, Lazar conducted another study. She enrolled participants, who had never meditated, in an 8-week mindfulness program which included daily meditation. The participants meditated an average of 27 minutes per day for 8 weeks. Lazar subjected them to brain scans both before and after the program.
She found that participants experienced a thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated. The amygdala, the brain’s survival center associated with fear, anxiety, pain, and aggression, shrank.
Meditation & Wellness
Dr. Joe Dispenza and his research team found that in just 4 days of regular meditation at his advanced retreat, the gene for neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) was activated in participants. New research by the universities of Coventry and Radbound, published in the journal, Frontiers in Immunology, suggest that the benefits of daily meditation are far greater than simply calming the mind. Their 18 studies included 846 participants over the course of 11 years. They focused on how regular meditation (including yoga and Tai Chi) influences gene expression by monitoring the changes in protein expression.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body which influence our biological make-up, brain function and immune system. They are responsible for the structure and function of the body. The studies show that a pattern of molecular changes happen as a result of regular meditation which lead to benefits in the mental and physical health of the participants.
Researchers suggest that meditation decreases the production of stress and inflammatory proteins by the DNA, thus reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases and conditions. Put simply, regular meditation causes our brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
In spite of the mounting evidence for benefits of daily meditation, many people find it hard to get started. If you would like to try meditating but don't know where to start, here are a few suggestions for you.
Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit comfortably or lie down on your back before you start your day, and/or before retiring to bed.
Turn on a fan for white noise or listen to white noise through headphones if you anticipate background noise or disturbances.
Set a timer for 15 minutes, close your eyes, and begin to breathe slowly and deeply, 3 counts in 5 counts out. 15 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation is enough to affect an improvement in your health, but you can meditate for longer if you like.
If you notice tension in your body, relax it. If your mind wanders and you notice you’ve stopped counting your breathing, simply start again. You do not need to try to clear your mind or make anything happen.
Allow whatever thoughts arise. Observe them without judgment. Notice any sensations you feel in your body. Observe them without judgment. If you tire of counting your breathing then simply stop counting and let your breathing return to normal.
If you have a tendency to fall asleep then try meditating in a sitting position. If you still fall asleep, do not worry. That will change with time.
If you find this practice too uncomfortable or boring try using a guided meditation and then sit in silence for a few minutes afterwards. Eventually you will learn to take benefit from silent meditation.
Ideally you will feel relaxed, refreshed, and clear-minded when the 15 minutes are up. Don't get discouraged if you do not feel differently or if the relaxed feeling is hard to maintain as you go about your day. This will improve with practice.
Do not despair if at first you don’t notice obvious benefits. Commit to practice daily for at least 2 weeks before evaluating the benefits.
Commit to yourself to try mindfulness meditation if you are experiencing chronic health issues. It costs you nothing and takes as little as 15 minutes a day. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!
Mayo Clinic.”Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress”. 29 April 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/testsprocedures/meditation/indepth/meditation/art-20045858
Dr. Joe Dispenza. “The Positive Effects of Yoga and Meditation at the Molecular Level”. 24 June 2017, https://drjoedispenza.com/blogs/dr-joes-blog/the-positive-effects-of-yoga-and-meditation-at-the-molecular-level
Dr. Joe Dispenza, “New Studies Continuously Point to the Efficacy of Meditation”. 09 May 2019, https://drjoedispenza.com/blogs/dr-joes-blog/new-studies-continuously-point-to-the-efficacy-of-meditation
written by Connie Salgado
Master Footzonologist and Wellness Consultant
Connie healed all her chronic symptoms including frozen shoulder,
back pain, fatigue, brain fog, hypothyroid and more.
She has been helping others to recover their health for over 10 years.
Cedar City, UT