Part of living a healthy, balanced life is being able to have a strong mind-body connection, and one of the of the best ways to achieve this is through meditation. Beyond just taking time out to relax and reset, meditation provides a massive list of proven health benefits that can affect and improve almost every aspect of your day-to-day life.
Meditation is defined as sustained mindful attention to internal and external sensory stimuli, that can create what many of us know to be as ‘mindfulness’. When practiced as part of your daily regime, Meditation can unlock the cerebral cortex to enhance brain function, improve sensory capacity and even bolster immune function.
In this article, we will give you an insight on what to expect when you incorporate a meditation practice into your everyday life and the long-term benefits that have been backed by medical research.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation is a form of mental exercise. Just like your body can be strengthened at the gym or through a yoga practice, you also need to exercise your mind to help it perform at its best. Meditation is a means to this exercise, assisting you to take control of your mental state and switch off the fight or flight mode. Exercising this practice can increase emotional well-being, increase mental strength and focus, increase cognitive skills and maintain a healthier body by improving the immune system and energy levels.
One of the best benefits of meditation, is the increased brain function that improves your focus, attention and ability to work under stress. A recent study conducted at five middle schools across Belgium, involving about 400 students (13-20 years old), concluded that “students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.”
Another study led by Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (folding of the cortex) than people who do not meditate. The more gyrification ‘folds’, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories and improving attention. The study found that the more years a person practiced meditation positively correlated to a higher degree of ‘folding’ and therefore greater levels of brain function.
By practicing meditation on a regular basis, you can also reap the benefits of improved creativity, whilst long-term practice can increase the grey-matter density associated with learning, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
If you thought this long list of benefits was enough to take up the practice – we haven’t even started on how practicing meditation can benefit your body.
Body and Health
It’s easy for many to self-medicate and/or take the prescribed prescription from doctors, but what most fail to do more often than not is evaluate whether the pain or cause of our suffering could be our own doing – or better yet, fixed by our own means. Many people are aware of the associated benefits meditation can have on the brain, but did you know the benefits it can have on your body?
We know that meditation can help improve your energy and sleep patterns, but what you might not know is that it can improve your resilience to disease. A study from Harvard Medical School denoted that yoga and meditation significantly improved mitochondrial energy production, consumption, tolerance to stress and immunity in the system. This study was also backed up at the UW-Madison Waisman Centre, noting its participants that practiced mindful meditation had reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
The onset of more serious illnesses such as heart disease and stroke can also be stopped in its tracks not by medication but by meditation. In a study published in late 2012, a group of 200 high-risk individuals were studied taking on a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or a Transcendental Meditation class.
Over 5 years, researchers found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death. They noted that meditation “significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors.”
Although it is still important to see your GP for the regular check-up, there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate meditation as part of your health plan for your everyday life. With millions of practitioners and scientists confirming their findings: meditation might be the magic element you need to lead a happy, healthy and longer life!
Tell us in the comments below what benefits you’ve received from meditation.