How to Meditate

What are the benefits of meditation?

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Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, largely because its benefits are so significant. Many of those benefits could be observed and reported but for the most part, until the development of sophisticated equipment to observe activity in the brain or produce sophisticated studies of the cardiovascular, immune and other body systems, they could not be scientifically studied. In recent decades, however, numerous studies at Harvard, Mass General, University of San Diego and elsewhere have produced substantial evidence, especially from longitudinal studies comparing meditators to a control group of non-meditators for the benefits of meditation, both during meditation and afterwards.

One of the best and most universal benefits of meditation is the reduction of stress: heart rate and breathing slow down and muscles relax, all of which make more oxygen available to the brain and causes an immediate feeling of calmness and well-being. During meditation the immune system receives hormonal messages to curb inflammation as well as increase reduction of cells that fight disease.

Meditation increases the production of the hormone serotonin, which can calm down anxiety and stress, particularly in the area of the brain – the amygdale — that produces the fight or flight response. This increased production can also calm the digestive system. Even the simple preparation for meditation can calm anxiety and stress while increasing relaxation and happiness. At the same time meditation is calming areas of the brain, it is stimulating other areas, including the hippocampus, which converts short-term learning to long-term memory and which helps produce more compassion and empathy.

Over time, regular meditation practice can dramatically improve creativity and spirituality. In longitudinal studies comparing people with a longtime, daily meditation practice to non-meditators, controlling for diet, exercise and other factors, the benefits were substantial – and remarkable. Longtime daily meditators showed a significant increase in the gray matter in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and happiness and decreased gray matter in the areas of the brain that produce stress, anxiety and depression.

 

Following is a short list of other scientifically observable findings, which confirm both the short-term and long-term benefits of meditation:

Meditation allows you to think more clearly, objectively and deeply. It puts your mind in a state of “relaxed alertness” or mindfulness, which can increase creativity, tranquility, happiness and optimism.

Meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.

Meditation can improve your immune system by decreasing inflammation and increasing production and strength of killer cells that fight disease and infection. Meditation also increases of production of melatonin, which is vital to sleep, and of course, sleep is vital to the immune system.

Meditation improves cardiovascular health by lowering heart rate (up to 10 percent), lowering blood pressure and strengthening metabolism.

Meditation can reduce the brain’s perception of pain. It can also reduce stress-related headaches, back pain and help people who suffer from fibromylagia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions.

Meditation can improve weight loss and help maintain that weight loss.

Meditation improves attention span, memory and cognitive function. One reason it can improve memory is that during meditation, the brain increases production of dopamine, a hormone that has a positive effect on both memory and information-processing.

Because meditation increases activity in the part of the brain that regulates behavior, it helps control anger, aggression and compulsive behavior.

By helping the brain increase production of melatonin, meditation can help regulate sleep. Ironically, although long-term meditators seem to require less sleep, they sleep more soundly. While meditation cannot substitute for sleep, it is a great benefit for overcoming jet lag, travel fatigue, all-nighters, night-shift adjustments and dealing with the challenges of parenting newborns and young children – and adolescents!

Many athletes use meditation to improve their performance, since meditation helps their brains focus and “get in the zone,” which is especially beneficial for golf, tennis, baseball, basketball and swimming. The simple exercise that prepares a person for MeditationPlus can give an athlete extra stamina and endurance, confidence and concentration.

Meditation can improve relationships and self-esteem. It can help you find clarity, spirituality, emotional balance, mental alertness and physical calmness. Because it stimulates parts of the brain that allow us to feel empathy and love while decreasing activity in the part of the brain that makes us feel separate from others, it is often given credit for creating a “natural high” that causes the feeling of spacelessness and timelessness, especially in long-time meditators or people who meditate for a long time at one sitting.