There is no single but several multi-faceted reasons why people are drawn to meditation. Some may be recovering from trauma, attempting to find some peace in their lives, or wanting to manage anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
It may also be a tool for dealing with a physical illness, one that causes significant depression, pain, and dissatisfaction.
Regardless of why you have decided to include meditation in your routine and habits, there is plenty of scientific evidence in favor of its benefits.
The Mental Aspect- Happiness
Sustaining a good mood with all the daily stressors and problems can be quite a task. Experts say that meditating even for ten minutes a day can make a huge difference.
A study (2003, American Psychosomatic Society) carried out using the concept of mindfulness meditation found exceedingly positive results. The researchers used specialized tests to detect and measure brain activity before and after mindful meditation sessions. The sessions lasted 8 weeks and the tests were carried out periodically.
The 25 participants, when compared with the control group of 16 (that weren’t put through the program), displayed increased activity in the left side of their brains.
Their immune function appeared boosted and they seemed happier, calmer and more at peace.
An Aid For Depression
A well-known clinical study (2004, Journal of Cognitive Therapy and Research) published findings that meditation can alter cognitive processes that contribute to depression.
A 2-month course on meditation induced a new-found ability in the participants, making them more accepting of the past. They were also found to be less likely to bring it up in a negative context or dwell on it unnecessarily.
A Means To Curb Anxiety
A 2018 student study that employed an hour of daily meditation on extremely stressed out students found it immensely useful as an aid for anxiety.
A reduced heart rate and overall levels of panic and stress were reported by the students, who then felt more in control of their tasks and lives.
The session required them to be very aware of their body and associative aches and pains. They were also taught to zero-in on the parts of their body that were experiencing the most pressure and muscle constriction.
Another study in 2004 (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine) attempted to establish a link between types of meditation and their application for various mental illnesses.
Considerable evidence in a meta-analysis was found to support the premise that both meditation and yoga were very effective in dealing with anxiety, stress and mood disorders. Other disorders that were not strictly psychotic were also grouped under the same findings.
A randomized trial in 2005 (one that has participants assigned randomly) showed that meditation sessions carried out for health care professionals significantly lessened stress. Individuals in this particular line of work experience dangerous levels of stress on account of being responsible for the lives of others.
The trial found that they were more efficient and energetic at their job as a result of the prescribed daily meditation.
Another study in 2017 (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience) in which stress-ridden and anxious participants were booked in a yoga and meditation retreat had compelling evidence in favor of the practice.
All participants reported improvement in key indicators of stress levels in the brain such as HPA and BDNF (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal and brain-derived neurotrophic factor respectively).
The retreat offered sessions of both yoga and meditation with a special healthy and nutritious diet and lasted for 3 months.
Attending A Retreat
Therapists have time and again reiterated the benefits of attending a meditation retreat particularly a silent one as it can reduce stress and depression. Undergoing such a retreat particularly in an exotic location like Peru can have a life-changing outcome.
Inflammation which is thought to be connected to most modern day illnesses and disorders is targeted by meditation which is why it has applications for treatment across the board.
There is research supporting an improved immune function (essentially a preventative mechanism against disease in the first place).
A study in 2008 showed that regular meditation routines positively affected stress levels so that the body was less vulnerable to disease. Furthermore, it strengthened the nervous system and reset hormonal imbalances which are a preventative tonic for future disease and tumors.
While meditation is instrumental for fighting emotional pain and accepting that which we cannot change, it has lesser known implications for bodily pain as well.
A study in 2011 identified bodily pain as a sensory dysfunction (the only reason why some people feel the same level of pain more than others aka pain threshold).
Meditation was found to have an impact on three contributors of extreme bodily pain namely cognitive causes, external stimuli, and perceptions of the senses.
18 people were involved in the compulsory meditation sessions and they experienced less pain upon application of heat. MRIs and other brain tests supported these findings.
A study in January 2013 showed lowered levels of inflammation in the nervous system upon the application of a meditation regime to the chosen cases.
The study went on for 8 weeks and nearly all participants showed a positive response with respect to inflammation without any accompanying treatment or medication.
A study carried out in the same year applied the same concept to people in the workplace that suffered from various illnesses which they managed through medication.
Most were found to suffer from joint pain and were candidates for heart disease in the near future. Intense meditation sessions were conducted during their office hours (in the way of a break from work). Most workplace members that took part displayed an improved health profile with regard to inflammation.
Biological Changes And Development
Meditation does not stop at mental benefits and preventative measures; research has shown it can potentially change the grey matter in the brain.
Not only has research shown that meditation practices can drastically change higher levels of mental functioning, but they can also change the size of the right frontal cortex. These were the findings of a 2011 study, in which growth was detected in the hippocampus and thalamus. Both parts of the brain deal with emotions, processing, memory, and intelligence.
The study also showed how meditation was helpful for mental patients who routinely battled suicidal thoughts or mood instability. These structural changes in the brain mean they can lead more active lives with regulated neuron production and hormone secretion.
Meditation and Cortical Thickness
An earlier study in 2005 had similar findings as 20 participants were made to go through certain meditation routines called ‘insight meditation experiences’. They were tested with MRIs after a 1-week retreat in which 10 hours or more of daily meditation was practiced.
The tests showed that the cerebral cortex had thickened which is normally associated with sensory perceptions (hearing, sight, taste, and touch). The cortical thickening resulted in better emotional processing abilities in the participants.
While meditation has been practiced in a multitude of contexts for thousands of years, it has a very practical application for today’s times.
Most of us are overworked, unfocused, unhappy and unfulfilled. Social media is a key contributor but it is also our outlook on life.
Meditation undertaken in any small capacity (even ten minutes a day or an hour with an expert) can revolutionize the way we view everything.