Meditation is often considered a religious or spiritual practice. However, it's also a science-based technique to help you make positive changes in your life. There is increasing evidence that meditation changes your entire state of being, including your brain and state of mind. There are numerous benefits of meditation, especially when you make it a regular part of your life. Let's look at exactly what meditation is and how it changes your brain.
What is Meditation?
There are many concepts and definitions of meditation. Sometimes it's defined as a spiritual practice that requires you to sit in a certain position (such as cross-legged), breathe a certain way, or concentrate on a certain object such as a candle flame. Other types of meditation instruct you to empty your mind. There are also meditation practices that involve mantras, words that are spoken repeatedly to put the mind in a certain state. Transcendental Meditation, a popular form of meditation with proven benefits, is an example of a system that uses mantras.
However, meditation really just means relaxing and focusing your mind away from the everyday events and thoughts that usually occupy it. Some people meditate while walking, sitting, or lying down. There's really no one correct way to meditate. At the same time, there are a few "rules" that you need to keep in mind.
- A relaxed state of mind. You can't meditate while shouting, thinking angry thoughts, or in a state of extreme anxiety. You can meditate to transform your state, though. Relaxing doesn't always mean being stationary as you can get into a meditative state while walking or even doing something strenuous such as running, riding a bike or swimming.
- Awareness of your breathing. While there are many meditation practices that involve different types of breathing, all require you to stay aware of your breathing. Simply by paying attention to your breathing tends to make it deeper and more relaxed.
- Mindfulness. Many people think of meditation as clearing or emptying the mind. It's more accurate, however, to think of it as staying aware of your mind and its contents. This doesn't mean you need to be perfect. It's normal for the mind to wander, even when meditation. The trick is to notice this as much as possible and regain awareness.
How Meditation Affects the Brain
Let's look at some of the ways that meditation can benefit your brain and state of mind.
One of the most important advantages of meditation is that it helps you manage stress, which is associated with many illnesses. Meditation can alleviate stress by lowering your heart rate, slowing down your breathing, and shutting off the "fight or flight" response that your body goes into when it perceives a threat.
Stress is not always bad, of course. In some cases, it can even be beneficial. You need a certain amount of stress to motivate you to take action in certain situations. This includes not only danger but tasks that require intense effort. The problem is, many people hold onto stress way beyond the point where it's beneficial. For example, if you feel tense in traffic, when talking to family members, or going grocery shopping, you could benefit by managing it. Meditation is one of the best tools to help you do this.
Helps Manage ADD and ADHD
There's evidence that consistent meditation can help with focusing on daily tasks and decision-making. By slowing down your thinking, you can more easily concentrate on the task at hand. Meditating can alleviate symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One study found that meditation reduced ADHD symptoms for 78% of participants. Of course, improving your attention span is beneficial even if you haven't been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
In today's distracted world, everyone can use a little help in this area. Improved concentration can be quite valuable for organizations as well as individuals. A study conducted with office workers found that those who practiced mindfulness meditation had a better recollection of tasks they had performed.
All the mental noise that typically runs through our minds can stifle creative thinking and problem-solving. Mediating is an effective way to clear the mind and open it to new possibilities. The Harvard Business Review reports that as little as 10 minutes of meditation can stimulate creativity. As a result, many companies, including Disney, encourage their employees to meditate. This practice doesn't only apply to artists and other "creative types" but anyone who wants to be more creative, innovative, and effective at solving problems.
May Help Prevent Alzheimer's
As you get older, the risk of developing debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer's Disease increases. There is evidence that meditation can reduce the risks of this. One study found that meditation lowered the risk of Alzheimer's and produced a 43% increase in telomerase, a protein that protects the DNA. The study also showed that meditation reduced symptoms of depression and improved sleep quality for participants.
Prevent Brain Shrinkage
Certain changes occur in the brain as we age. In fact, the brain starts to shrink after around the age of 30. A promising study at UCLA found that meditation can slow down the loss of brain matter as people age. As medical science advances and life expectancy increases, it's important to find ways to improve the quality of life as well as longevity. Keeping the brain healthy goes a long way towards helping older adults live normal and fulfilling lives. Meditation can help to keep your brain functioning at optimal capacity at any age.
Have a More Positive Attitude
The kind of thoughts your mind generates has a lot to do with the way you feel about yourself and how you interact with others. Cognitive psychology is based on the premise that changing your thoughts can help you overcome challenges and adopt a more positive mindset. Meditation is another way to help you do this, one that doesn't require extensive therapy.
While any type of meditation can help you get more positive by relieving stress and increasing self-awareness, there are certain techniques specifically designed for this purpose. Loving-Kindness meditation is a type of meditation that is designed to generate positive emotions such as love, forgiveness, gratefulness, and compassion. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of Love-Kindness meditation for helping practitioners feel more positive about themselves as well as others. People have even found relief from stress-related physical symptoms such as migraines and PTSD after practicing this type of meditation.
Meditation Can Transform Your Brain and Your Life
Meditation is a practice that can have a profound effect on your life. It's a tool that helps you gain greater self-awareness and mindfulness while helping you overcome stress, unwanted patterns, and even negative thoughts. Of course, these benefits don't all come at once. Like any worthwhile pursuit, you need to practice it consistently. Don't get fixated on the particulars such as which type of meditation is best. Find a technique that works for you and stick with it. Nor should you worry about doing it perfectly as there's really no such thing. You'll find that as you persist, you'll start to notice a surprising number of positive changes.