With patience and consistency, the benefits of meditation can change your life, both physically and mentally.
Trying to do too much at once, work, school, and managing high expectations are all things that increase our stress levels every day. Stress kills brain cells, contributes to anxiety and depression, hurts our immune systems, and more. In a world where it seems as though we’re always on the move, we often forget to be still and mindful. Luckily for us, there is an easy way to improve our lives positively, and it can take less than five minutes a day to do. The benefits of meditation can make a dramatic difference in our overall health and well-being.
Meditation is the practice of training your mind to be more present and focused, and it teaches you how to redirect your thoughts. It’s easy to do, doesn’t require any equipment, and anyone can do it. Even better, there are virtually no side-effects or adverse outcomes from it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
It can quite literally change your brain.
It’s hard to imagine how a benefit of meditation could be its ability to change and affect our brain, because well, we can’t see it. However, medical technology, like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalograms (EEG), allows us to take a good look at the brain and how it works.
Studies have found that meditation may affect how some parts of the brain are structured and how it can influence our “Me Center.”
A study conducted in 2011 found that, over eight weeks, meditation was able to change specific brain areas. There was an increase of cortical (outer layer of the cerebrum) thickness in the part of our brain that’s responsible for learning and memory. Additionally, it found that the cell volume in the part of the brain that governs fear, anxiety, and stress – decreased.
Scientists have also found that meditation weakens the neural connection that happens in the “Me Center” (the medial prefrontal cortex) of our brain during upsetting or scary situations. The Me Center is responsible for processing information about ourselves and our experiences. When you feel scared or in danger, this results from strong neural connections between the brain’s fear centers and bodily sensations. When we weaken these neural connections through meditation, it simultaneously allows the part of the brain responsible for reasoning to become stronger. Effectively concluding that one of the benefits of meditation is having a calmer and rational reaction in unpleasant situations.
The benefits of meditation and your mental health
We hear a lot about the mental health benefits of meditation, but is there scientific proof? An article published to JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 summarized findings supporting a positive correlation between meditation and depression, anxiety, and pain. They reviewed over 18,500 studies in which 47 trials confidently suggested that the practice of meditation results in “small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”
In Canada, one in five people will be affected by a mental health illness or problem every year. If you don’t personally deal with or experience mental health issues, you probably know someone who does. Regardless, actively taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Prioritizing your mental health can help you prevent mental burnout, perform your best, and be the best version of yourself. Meditation is an excellent form of self-care that you can practice daily to promote better mental health.
It’s not all in your head; there are physical benefits of meditation too.
While meditating is primarily done in stillness with little to no movement involved, there is an extensive list of physical benefits of meditation that you can reap.
Research has shown that multiple forms of meditation may provide physical benefits such as:
- Reducing the risk of heart diseases and stroke
- Improving mitochondrial energy production, which affects immunity levels and promotes resilience to stress
- Decreasing levels of pro-inflammatory genes that cause inflammatory disorders
- Reducing stress and high blood pressure
- Treating premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms
- Reducing the risks of Alzheimer’s
- Improving blood circulation
- And more
While research is still ongoing, scientists are continuously discovering new links between meditation and physical well-being. There is no guarantee that meditation can completely prevent any illnesses or diseases. However, it’s a great way to reduce risks and promote overall well-being. Even though you may not see the physical benefits of meditation right away, practicing consistently over a long period could help your body in the long-run.
It can give your cognitive performance a boost.
Do you have trouble staying focused? Do you find it hard to work well under pressure? Do you want to enhance your cognitive performance overall? If you answered yes to any of those, meditation could be the answer.
The benefits of meditation allow us to become more present in our day-to-day lives. The ability to control your mind through meditation will enable you to improve your mental strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence. We’ve already touched on how meditation can change your brain. Those changes go hand in hand with cognitive performance improvement.
Practicing meditation long-term can increase grey-matter (which contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies) in certain parts of the brain. These brain regions are responsible for memory, learning, self-awareness, introspection, and compassion. Such an effect can improve your focus, attention, ability to retain information, and rapid memory recall.
Notably, long-term meditators seem to process information faster and have better decision-making skills than people who do not meditate. Scientists believe that this is because there are substantially more significant amounts of gyrification (the process of forming the distinguishing folds of the cerebral cortex) in those who meditate.
Open your mind to mindfulness.
The benefits of meditation extend far beyond the ability to feel present and ‘in the moment.’ Adding in even three to five minutes of meditation every day can make a significant difference in your brain function, performance, attention, and physical well-being. The mind is extremely powerful, and sometimes we may feel a bit out of control. However, the consistent practice of meditation can allow you to harness that power and work towards reaching your full potential every day.
The great news is that there’s no right or wrong time to start incorporating meditation and mindfulness into your life. You can start reaping the benefits and changing your life as early as today, in fact, why not give it a try right now?