What are the 10 benefits of meditation on the brain
For a long time meditation was ignored by western culture, however, the popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover the benefits of practicing it. Meditation is were a person trains their attention and awareness on a thought or object. There are many types of meditation and mindfulness meditation seems to be one of the best when it comes to benefiting your brain and this is what we will be going over now.
Meditation to reduce stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons why people try meditation and there’s good reason for it. When it comes to stress, many people try to avoid it and act as if it’s not there as a defense mechanism, however, stress can come from anywhere. Financial problems, family relations, Forgeting to lock the door and many more things can all contribute to stress and with most of them, they’re unavoidable.
By meditating, you can significantly reduce the amount of stress in your life, all whilst breaking out of your comfort zone and being placed under high amounts of pressure. So, how is this so effective? Well, when going to a job interview or choosing what outfit to wear for your date, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which in high amounts is responsible for many of the negative effects associated with stress.
For example, a 2010 research paper shows that meditation, specifically mindfulness based practices, helped college students build resilience to life stressors such as choosing a career, forming social relationships and gaining independence from family.
If you have a new challenge to get through or you feel as though the whole world is against you, you may be struggling with stress and to combat this you could try implementing a mindfulness-based practice into your daily routine.
Meditation can build your self-esteem
Believe it or not, self confidence is something that most people struggle with on a day-to-day basis. In a world that prioritizes likes over liking and a “cancel culture” that could ruin your future, it can be really difficult to develop and maintain a lasting and positive self-image. Meditation can help you build a mindset that won’t crumble the next time you face some adversity or when something doesn’t go your way.
Mindfulness meditation is a very simple concept and can be done by anyone! To practice mindfulness, all that you need to do is bring your awareness to the present moment, you can think about what’s going on around you, your thoughts and your feelings, your body and most commonly, your breath. Mindfulness helps you stay calm, present, aware and it can also reduce your feelings of anxiety as well as helping you think clearly and rationally which we will discuss later. The aims of a mindfulness practice are to get you in touch with your senses and emotions, to be present in the moment and give you a deeper understanding of yourself.
One study measured the electrical activity in a part of the brain previously associated with positivity, In both nonmeditators and people on an 8-week mindfulness program. The people who meditated had higher activity in the areas related to positivity and optimism.
Whilst mindfulness meditation does help build self-esteem, many studies suggest that it’s even more effective in stopping your self-esteem from dropping. When you experience criticism or social rejection, you can begin to have negative thoughts which can quickly break down the self esteem you worked so hard to build up. By engaging in a mindfulness practice regularly, you can control these emotions before they get out of hand.
Meditation for battling depression
Although the positive approach is a fairly new form of psychology, many of the main concepts and therapies roots lay in ancient traditions and religious practices, take meditation for example, this has long been part of a Buddhist lifestyle and now has been adopted by the western culture for treating depression.
Not only can meditation reduce the combination of chemicals inside your brain that causes depression, it can also offer a more stable mindset by decreasing the chances of engaging in negative behaviors and bad habits. One behavior that is common amongst people who suffer with depression is brooding, which is when you show deep thought about negative emotions such as sadness, anger and worry and can’t seem to let it go.
Research on the comparison between meditation, or more specifically mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and anti-depressant drugs is ever growing however some studies suggest that mindfulness is more effective when preventing relapses in depression.
This suggests that mindfulness may be a safe and effective way in combating mental illnesses such as depression, as an alternative or accessory of traditional methods.
Meditation to increase your attention span
Your mind is like a muscle that you need to exercise regularly and although you might think sitting down and breathing isn’t exercise, I’m sure your brain would disagree. Think about it, your mind is constantly wandering, you’ve got jobs to do, “did I lock the door?” and all the notifications on your phone that keep popping up making you concentrate on more than one thing at a time.
When it comes to meditating, things get better over time. Although you might get distracted the first few times of meditating, the more that you stretch your attention span, the easier you will find it to not only focus whilst meditating but, in all facets of your life, from your work to actively listening to what your loved ones are saying.
One study found that meditating for a short period of time (4 days) can improve cognition and sustain higher levels of attention, moreover, one review concluded that meditation may reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to poor attention, this is because meditation can alter a collection of neurons known as the default mode network, which is associated with mind wandering when not working correctly.
These studies and others like them, would suggest that meditation can help improve attention, focus and performance, which all contribute to better productivity.
Meditation for sleep
Do you struggle with sleep? That could be, finding it hard to fall asleep, waking up through the night or feeling tired after a long nights rest, well, you may be suffering from insomnia along with nearly half of the rest of the population!
After suffering for a few days or even weeks, most people would think that the best cure for insomnia would be to take some sleeping pills, however, many of them have some negative side effects such as more fatigue! In this case, it seems like meditation is the best medication, as by giving your mind the time to unwind and relax, it can improve your sleep.
A study in 2015 found that meditating can help you fall to sleep faster and once you are asleep, stay asleep for longer, compared to people who don’t meditate.
Here at brain boosted, we see sleep as an essential part of living a better life and that’s why we have so many blog posts on the topic so, whether you are interested in what the best sleeping position is or tips to getting a better night of rest, we’ve got you covered!
Meditation can make you more empathetic
In a world that seems to get more and more disconnected with every new “social” media app created, we are beginning to face a loneliness epidemic that is increasing the rates of depression and suicide every year. Many people can feel alone and begin to resent the world around them.
Meditation seems to help people to build social bonds with others through its practices, presumably because it makes you more compassionate, empathetic, a good listener and someone who invests in the present moment. I’ve got a question for you, have you ever met a nasty Buddhist? No, I didn’t think so!
One study in 2012 researched whether meditation could make people more compassionate, they did this by using 2 types of meditation techniques, love and kindness meditation and compassion meditation. They found that these techniques not only made them more kind and compassionate, but also helped them with social anxiety.
Meditation to help anxiety
We’ve all probably dealt with anxiety in our lives, whether it’s simply butterflies in the stomach or a more serious scenarios like panic attacks. Anxiety is a by product of stress and when it becomes uncontrollable, many people become debilitated by it.
mindfulness meditation seems to be very effective in helping people with anxiety, as you can experience the negative emotions without analyzing, suppressing or ruminating on them, this enables you to be more in control of your thoughts and feelings.
A meta-analysis (compilation of studies) consisting of 2466 participants, found that a multitude of meditational therapies may reduce anxiety levels.
If you are suffering from anxiety, meditation may be a technique that you might find useful.
Meditation can grow your brain
If you are classed as a clever person, you are often referred to as big headed or having a big brain, only to pass it of as a metaphorical saying but, clever people do in fact have larger and more connected brains most of the time.
For many years, research has shown that people who practice meditation regularly, such as a monk, have structural changes in the brain such as a thickness of the cerebral cortex when compared to someone who doesn’t practice meditation often, however, they haven’t been able to clarify whether this was a cause or a correlation meaning, they didn’t know whether the changes came from meditation or not.
This was put to the test in a study of people engaged in an 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts were they found growth of the Grey matter concerned with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. This study also found a decreased amount of Grey matter in the amygdala which is associated with fear and stress. More recently, studies have shown the ability of neurogenesis in the brain.
Meditation to control pain
The amount of pain that you feel, is often based on your perception of it, rather than the actual pain itself. In other words, if you can learn to control your state of mind, you can lessen the amount of pain that you are experiencing at any given time.
In the ancient Buddhist texts, there was something called sallatha sutta: The dart which states “when the uninstructed run of the mill person is touched by a painful feeling, he worries and grieves, laments, weeps and is distraught. It is if the man were pierced by two darts, a physical and mental dart.” It goes on to say “but in the case of a well taught disciple, when he is touched by a painful feeling, he will not be distraught. It is one kind of feeling he experiences, a bodily one, but not a mental feeling. It is as if a man were pierced by the first but not the second dart.” Put simply, if you can control the thought of pain through meditation, you only experience the physical element.”
This might sound farfetched and superhuman like but, an example of this comes from a study that observed participants brain activity whilst experiencing a painful stimulus by a fMRI, some of the participants had a four-day training in meditation and the others did not. The results found that the participants who meditated, had increased activity in areas of the brain known to control pain.
So, if pain is something that you struggle with, trying a guided meditation for pain, might be what is needed.
Meditation for improved memory
Where’s your keys, where’s your phone. No, we’re not singing the song from Britain’s got talent, instead, we’re showing you the common sayings that come from memory loss. Are you really forgetful? Do you struggle to remember your shopping list or where you left something? Don’t worry, there’s no need to panic!
Although it’s not often recognized as one of the main benefits, daily meditation can have a huge effect on the parts of your brain associated with storing and recovering memories. Inside your brain there is a structure called the hippocampus which plays a major role in your cognitive functions such as memory and learning.
To lead on from this, one study found that Vipassana meditation can improve the connectivity of the hippocampus to other brain areas making it work more efficiently. Many other studies have provided evidence to suggest that meditation can improve memory specifically in the elderly.
Life expectancy is ever increasing, however, the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s remains high. By meditating and implementing other health techniques, we could improve the quality of life for the elderly.
The scientific based benefits of meditation are very promising and are ever evolving, however, this should not replace current routines such as diet and exercise, instead, meditation should be implemented alongside a healthy lifestyle for the best results.
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