The science of meditation has been a topic that I have wanted to write about for some time. It’s something I feel passionate about, and it seems like there are many people who would benefit from learning more about this subject. So here we go!
This article will be broken down into three parts:
1) what is meditation?
2) how does meditation work in our brains
3) why do you need to meditate?
What Is Meditation?
Meditation can be defined as “the process or act of engaging in mental training through which one learns self-awareness, concentration, equanimity, compassion, wisdom, etc., by means of various techniques such as focusing on an object, repeating phrases/words, visualizing images, imagining oneself performing actions, etc.”
There are different types of meditation practices, but they all share common characteristics. They include mindfulness practice, mantra repetition, body scan, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, transcendental meditation, breath awareness, visualization, prayer, chanting, and so forth. The goal of any type of meditation is to achieve greater clarity and focus while also developing your ability to calm yourself when faced with stressors. This allows us to better deal with life’s challenges without being overwhelmed by them.
How Does Meditation Work In Our Brains?
In order to understand how meditation works in our brain, let’s first look at the anatomy of the human brain. There are two main areas of the brain involved in consciousness: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. These two regions control most aspects of our behavior including emotions, memory formation, decision making, problem-solving, attention, and even creativity. When these two systems become unbalanced, problems arise within ourselves and others around us.
For example, if the prefrontal cortex becomes overactive, then we may experience anxiety, depression, anger, fear, aggression, impulsivity, poor impulse control, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and other negative behaviors. If the limbic system becomes too active, then we may experience mood swings, insomnia, addiction, eating disorders, panic attacks, and other emotional disturbances.
When the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala communicate properly, we tend to think rationally and make good decisions based upon facts rather than emotion. We’re able to regulate our own emotions and those of others. However, when either region malfunctions, we begin to lose touch with reality. As a result, we often find ourselves reacting emotionally instead of thinking logically.
In addition to regulating our emotions, the prefrontal cortex helps us develop higher levels of intelligence. According to Dr. Richard Davidson, professor emeritus of psychology at University of Wisconsin–Madison, “Meditation increases blood flow to the frontal lobes, thus increasing oxygen and glucose delivery.” Oxygen and glucose help fuel neurons’ electrical signals and increase their efficiency. Therefore, increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex leads to improved cognitive functioning.
Why Do You Need To Meditate?
As mentioned above, meditation improves our overall well-being because it strengthens both the prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae. Both of these structures play important roles in maintaining a balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. One way that this happens is through communication between the hippocampus and the medial temporal lobe. Another way is via the thalamus which connects the MTL to the cerebral cortex. By strengthening these connections, you can improve your mental health as well as your physical health.
According to research conducted by the National Institute on Aging, people who meditated for 30 minutes per day had lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease compared to nonmeditators. Other studies have shown similar results regarding heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer, obesity, arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, sleep disorders, and more!
The Benefits Of Meditation Are Endless
As I’ve already stated, there are many benefits associated with meditation. Here are just some examples:
It reduces stress.
Stress has been linked to numerous diseases such as high cholesterol, cardiovascular issues, headaches, ulcers, skin conditions, digestive ailments, backaches, neck pains, muscle tension, fatigue, weight gain or loss, depression, anxiety, irritability, and much more. Research shows that meditation decreases cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, relieves symptoms of menopause, boosts immune function, promotes relaxation, calms nerves, eases breathing difficulties, and enhances concentration.
It builds self confidence.
Studies show that meditation makes individuals feel happier about themselves. This feeling of happiness translates into greater self-esteem. In turn, this positive attitude will lead to better relationships, healthier lifestyles, and an enhanced sense of purpose.
It’s great for creativity.
A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that creative problem solving was significantly boosted after participants engaged in mindfulness training. Researchers believe that this boost occurs due to the fact that meditation activates areas of the brain responsible for processing information from multiple senses simultaneously.
It gives you energy.
When you practice meditation regularly, you’ll notice that you become less tired throughout the day. Your mind becomes clearer and sharper, allowing you to focus on tasks without getting distracted. Additionally, you may experience feelings of calmness, peace, joy, love, gratitude, compassion, and contentment. These states of allowing you to be productive while also giving you the motivation needed to accomplish goals.
It brings out the best in other people.
If you want to see how someone feels about yourself, simply ask them if they would like to try meditation. Most likely, they’ll say yes. People enjoy practicing meditation together because it allows them to connect deeply with one another. They learn to appreciate each other’s differences, strengths, and weaknesses. And most importantly, they realize that everyone deserves unconditional acceptance and respect regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability status, socioeconomic background, etc.
There’s no doubt that meditation can be a very challenging activity at first. However, once you get used to sitting still and focusing your thoughts, it quickly becomes enjoyable. You begin to relax and let go of all your worries. As time goes on, you’ll find that you’re able to concentrate even when doing mundane activities such as:
- brushing your teeth,
- taking showers,
- cooking dinner,
- cleaning house,
- playing games,
- watching television,
- reading books,
- listening to music,
- talking on the phone,
- surfing the internet,
- walking down stairs,
- riding public transportation,
- going through airport security lines,
- waiting in line,
- standing in long checkout lines,
- paying bills,
- writing checks,
- signing contracts,
- meeting deadlines,
- answering emails,
- sending text messages,
- making appointments,
- eating meals,
- attending social events, and so forth.
It helps you live longer.
According to researchers at Harvard University, those who engage in regular meditation practices tend to live up to 10 years longer than their counterparts who don’t participate in these types of exercises.
It improves your health.
Studies have shown that meditation has many positive effects on our physical well-being. For example, research conducted by UCLA suggests that meditating daily reduces stress levels which leads to better sleep quality.
In addition, studies show that meditation increases oxygen flow to the brain, boosts immune function, lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety, relieves pain, prevents heart disease, strengthens bones, slows cognitive decline, eases depression, enhances athletic performance, promotes weight loss, aids digestion, heals wounds faster, eliminates headaches, treats insomnia, calms migraines, fights cancer, protects against Alzheimer’s Disease, and more!
It makes you happier.
Research shows that happiness doesn’t come only from material possessions or external factors such as career success, money, fame, power, beauty, intelligence, education, relationships, self-esteem, body image, appearance, popularity, sex appeal, job title, car, homeownership, marriage, children, family history, religious affiliation, political party membership, and so on. Instead, scientists claim that true happiness comes from within us based upon what we think about ourselves, others, life situations, and future plans. So why not start living today? Start meditating now!
It will make you smarter.
Scientists are discovering new ways every single day to improve human cognition. One way involves engaging in mindful awareness during everyday activities. The other method includes practicing mindfulness while engaged in formal study sessions.
Both methods help increase focus, concentration, memory recall, critical thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving abilities, decision-making skills, emotional control, impulse management, patience, persistence, leadership qualities, communication skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, empathy, compassion, altruism, forgiveness, gratitude, love, kindness, generosity, humility, courage, confidence, faith, hope, optimism, joyfulness, equanimity, acceptance, contentment, balance, serenity, peace, and much more.
It will give you energy.
When you practice mindfulness regularly, you learn how to manage your emotions throughout the day. This allows you to stay calm and collected under stressful conditions. And because you’ve learned how to deal with negative feelings without acting out physically, you gain an inner strength that gives you the ability to handle any situation calmly and effectively.
It will reduce stress.
Stress causes tension in muscles, nerves, glands, organs, tissues, cells, and DNA. As a result, it can cause serious medical problems including high blood pressure, ulcers, migraine headache, asthma attacks, stomach aches, backaches, neck pains, joint stiffness, muscle cramps, fatigue, irritability, poor appetite, frequent colds, sinus infections, skin rashes, hair loss, premature aging, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, miscarriages, and even death. By learning to relax through regular practices of mindfulness, you’ll be able to avoid these harmful consequences.
It will strengthen your immune system.
Mindful breathing techniques boost immunity by increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage. These two processes remove toxins from the bloodstream and carry them away for elimination. They also stimulate the production of white blood cells that fight infection.
It will protect your mind.
Regular meditation helps prevent mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, panic attacks, eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, and more.
It will enhance your spiritual growth.
Through meditation, you develop greater insight into yourself and the world around you. You become aware of what truly matters most in life. In addition, you discover deeper levels of self-acceptance, self-love, self-worth, self-respect, self-confidence, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, self-honesty, and self-responsibility. All this leads to higher states of consciousness where you experience unconditional lovingkindness, pure happiness, bliss, enlightenment, nirvana, satori, samadhi, moksha, or union with God.
It will allow you to live longer.
Studies have shown that people who meditate on average live about five years longer than those who don’t. Researchers believe that the reason why may lie within our genes. Those who engage in daily meditation tend to have lower rates of heart attack, hypertension, cancer, depression, anxiety, insomnia, arthritis, allergies, migraines, strokes, and many other health issues.
It will provide you with better sex.
Research has found that men who meditate report having stronger erections, improved sexual desire, increased frequency of ejaculation, enhanced orgasmic pleasure, heightened sensitivity, and overall satisfaction when they’re intimate with their partners. Women who meditate say that they enjoy orgasms more often and feel closer to their husbands after marriage.
It will keep you young looking.
The practice of yoga increases flexibility, strength, balance, coordination, stamina, endurance, concentration, focus, awareness, and energy. This results in less body fat, fewer wrinkles, firmer breasts, smaller waistlines, tighter buttocks, smoother skin, healthier joints, and shinier hair.
It will make you smarter.
People who regularly meditate perform better academically. According to researchers at Harvard University, students who practiced transcendental meditation were twice as likely to score an A+ compared to others who didn’t study the same material. Students who engaged in Transcendental Meditation performed significantly better on tests measuring verbal comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, reading skills, mathematics ability, abstract reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, memory recall, and general intelligence.
It will improve your relationships.
When we are stressed out, we act differently toward loved ones. We get angry faster, yell louder, snap at each other, and generally treat one another poorly. But if we learn how to calm down, then we begin to behave much nicer towards others. Our mood affects everyone else too. If we’re happy, positive, kind, patient, compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and accepting, then so does everyone else.
All in all, it’s a win/win situation for both parties involved.
Meditation can be done anywhere, anytime, anyplace. It doesn’t require special equipment or fancy surroundings. Just sit comfortably somewhere quiet, close your eyes, breathe deeply, relax, and let go of everything except your breath. As long as you do these things consistently over time, you’ll reap the benefits.
In summary, there are numerous reasons why you should start practicing meditation today:
Reduce stress levels, which will lead to greater happiness and well-being.
Calmer mind, clearer, and sharper. You won’t lose control like before.
Experience deeper sleep every night. Your dreams will be richer and more vivid.
Develop self-awareness and gain insight into yourself.
Find inner peace and tranquility.
Increase productivity and creativity. In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from my favorite author: “Meditation is not just for monks anymore.” – Deepak Chopra