Meditation has been relatively slow to gain adoption into the modern medical mainstream, even though historians believe that it has been practiced since 3,000 BC.
But meditation has a tremendous number of health benefits.
Let’s look at a few of those benefits here…
1. Reduced Anxiety
Without a doubt, stress is rampant in the modern lifestyle. While stress itself is not necessarily a bad thing — many scientists and artists have claimed they were most productive and creative in times of high stress — we can nevertheless use meditation to improve how we manage stress. Improperly managed stress leads to anxiety. And anxiety can lead to a host of other issues.
But taking a little time for meditation each day can help calm our synapses and lower cortisol, the stress hormone. The body releases cortisol in response to stress and fear as part of the fight or flight mechanism. The fight or flight mechanism is tied to the amygdala, or “fear center,” portion of the brain. But next time you find yourself in a stressful situation that activates your “fight or flight”, take a little time to close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
2. Decreased Depression
Depression continues to be a major problem, causing people to become socially isolated and cognitively impaired. But meditation helps override the onset of depressive symptoms, like negative thoughts and mental rumination, by training the brain achieve a sustained focus and and return to that focus whenever these symptoms intrude.
Meditation also helps alter certain regions of the brain that are linked to depression. For example, the medial prefrontal cortex is overactive in people who suffer from depression. People have called this region of the brain the “me center” because it’s the area of the brain where people handle information about themselves, including all their thoughts about the past and future. The
3. Lowered Blood Pressure
When a doctor measures your blood pressure, they are measuring the force of blood against the walls of your arteries, which can become elevated due to a variety of issues. Although it’s not exactly clear how meditation impacts blood pressure, some doctors believe that meditation affects that autonomic nervous system, which regulates blood pressure. Meditation works to decrease negative activity in the sympathetic nervous system, such as the narrowing of blood vessels in response to stress. And it works to increase positive activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, such as the widening of those blood vessels.
One study on transcendental meditation showed that the practice decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by about 4.7 and 3.2 mm Hg.
4. Increased Immunity
Meditation can also help us avoid getting sick. One study showed that mediation practice can help boost levels of antibodies, the proteins that the body’s immune system produce in order to detect harmful substances called antigens. Through this study, after undergoing eight weeks of meditation training, 48 biotech workers had substantially higher levels of antibodies than people in the control group who did not meditate.
4. Better Sleep
Mental disturbances often lie at the root of insomnia. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, it’s likely because of all the cognitive rumination taking place while you lie in bed. The mind needs to slow down from its alert beta brainwaves to a deeper delta brainwave level in order to successfully descend into sleep. But meditating just before bed time, or even while your laying in bed, can greatly increase your ability to fall asleep. Meditation not only helps you fall asleep, but it helps you stay asleep.
According to one study that 49 middle aged or older adults, people improve insomnia faster over the course of six weeks through participation in a meditation practice class as apposed to sleep education class.
5. Less Chronic Pain
Mindfulness meditation especially improves chronic pain by bringing attention back to the body. When we place attention on the body, we can gradually work towards dissolving the pain. Really, there are two kinds of pain — primary pain and secondary pain. Primary pain is the actual illness, injury, or damage to the body. Secondary pain is how the mind reacts to primary pain. Meditation works especially to mitigate secondary pain, which can actually be much more disruptive than primary pain.
One way of improving chronic pain through meditation is using the body scan technique. With this technique, you gradually survey each and every part of the body sequentially, identifying and accepting different feelings of pain as they arise.