Sitting down to meditate is a kind of self-care, albeit the benefits may not be immediately apparent. Scientific studies have confirmed a wide range of positive effects of regular meditation practice. Many individuals take up meditation as a means of dealing with pressure, lowering stress levels, and developing inner calm. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental, physical, and emotional health, but its advantages are sometimes oversimplified. If you're interested in learning more about the potential health advantages of meditation, keep reading.
The good effects of meditation on mental health, such as heightened awareness, clarity, compassion, and serenity, are probably well-known. One of the frequent benefits of meditation is enhanced concentration. Studies have shown that even one meditation session may reduce mind wandering by 22%, and that after four weeks of use, attention can improve by 14%.
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Still, the mental advantages of meditation go much further. Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered that general meditation programs helped relieve psychological symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and discomfort associated to stress.
What's more: Another study found that after 30 days of meditation, participants demonstrated an 11% improvement in their mental toughness. In addition, after meditating for only 10 days, participants reported a 7.5% boost in overall happiness. Taking time out on a daily basis, even if it's just a minute, to relax, breathe deeply, and rejuvenate can have enormous benefits for one's health.
The Physiological Benefits of Meditation
Understanding the devastation that prolonged stress can do on the body is key to grasping the full extent of meditation's physical benefits.
When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing a flood of chemicals (such as adrenaline and cortisol) that can have deleterious effects. Too much cortisol can raise blood sugar levels, weaken the immune system, and constrict blood vessels, while too much epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. Consistent stress can impair immunity, energy, and sleep by raising blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
The parasympathetic nervous system is activated when the body and mind are at rest, which can be achieved through meditation or other approaches, and this results in the cessation of the production of stress hormones. Studies show that habitual meditators are better able to handle stress because they have conditioned their bodies to rest whenever they want. The stress hormone cortisol was shown to be significantly reduced in those who utilized meditation programs from the University of California, Davis.
What is stress management so crucial? Because of the reductions in blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption, you'll feel more refreshed during the day and have a more robust immune system and a more restful night's sleep. Moreover, lowering stress levels is essential for improving the physical manifestations of a wide variety of diseases.
Consider inflammation, which has been related to such devastating conditions as stroke, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. A Harvard study found that in addition to suppressing genes involved in the inflammatory response, meditation also increases genes involved in maintaining DNA's integrity.
Emotional advantages of meditation
The mind is the organ of the body most amenable to the effects of meditation. It's true that when we meditate and train ourselves to see intense emotions for what they are—temporary states—we improve our ability to deal with them. One of meditation's greatest benefits is that it may really transform our brains, rewiring them to produce more pleasant ideas and feelings. This is how the process goes down.
By reducing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (the "me center"), meditation might alleviate unpleasant emotions like worry and tension. On the other hand, it strengthens preexisting connections between neurons in the brain that are important for behaviors like concentration and sound judgment.
Furthermore, studies have shown that regular meditation practice increases the thickness of the cortices, which are responsible for learning and memory, as well as gray matter, which is important for emotional control, planning, and problem solving. When we meditate, on the other hand, the amygdala, a brain region that controls our stress, fear, and anxiety responses, actually shrinks.
Brain rewiring is a proven benefit of meditation. One study found that after three weeks of meditation, participants showed a 57% decrease in hostility and responsiveness to negative feedback
It works the opposite way, too: studies revealed that utilizing meditations improved pleasant emotions by 16% and compassion by 21%. Of course, it seems logical that meditation may alter our emotions so strongly - when we learn to be less in our mind and more aware of the current moment, we’re better able to detach ourselves from bad ideas and feelings, and feel better in the moment.