Meditation is a spiritual art that has been practiced for thousands of years by those who are aware of the positive effect it has on the body, mind, and spirit. Originating in eastern civilizations, this method of stress-reduction and relaxation is now very popular in the western hemisphere as well as people become educated on the benefits of meditation. Simple to learn, one does not require any special equipment to meditate and it can be done pretty much anywhere quiet and peaceful.
There are different ways to meditate, but the most effective method is the traditional approach known as mindfulness or focused attention meditation. The key is to keep the mind focused on one single thought for as long as possible, whether it be the sound of one’s own inhalation and exhalation or a chosen word, known as a “mantra”. This takes discipline and practice, and it is essential to prevent the mind from wandering if one is to reap the many benefits that meditating can produce.
Buddhist monks spend several hours every day meditating and they possess a deep understanding of the inner strength and insight it yields. This is how the monks effectively “recharge” their minds and keep their thinking on the right track. Scientists who have conducted studies in recent years have examined the MRIs of people who meditate regularly, which has revealed that there is greater folding of the cerebral cortex in these individuals, which is believed to increase the efficacy of the brain and its ability to form memories, make decisions, stay focused, and process information.
Other beneficial changes to the brain have also been associated with meditation. Another study has uncovered a connection between the density of gray matter in the brain stem and the act of meditating, those who follow this practice on a long-term basis have been found demonstrate evidence of having thicker brain stems which has been linked to improved cognition, emotional state, and immunity, and also a healthier respiratory and heart rate. Increase in the size of the frontal lobe and hippocampus has been noted as well which is believed to positively influence one’s emotional stability. Learning to meditate is also understood to help people have some natural protection from age-related cognitive decline, depression, and anxiety.
The activity of the brain also appears to be positively affected when someone meditates. Researchers have found there to be a correlation between meditating and a decrease in default mode network connectivity and activity which can be the cause of such conditions as ADHD, anxiety, and the development of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. It also boosts electrical brain activity that is responsible for improved attention span and the ability to remain focused for longer periods of time. If people spend just twenty minutes every day, that should be sufficient to hone the focusing ability of the mind and reduce stress.
One type of meditation, known as Zen, the preferred method practiced by Buddhist monks, has been linked to a thickening of the areas of the brain which regulate pain, thus producing a higher tolerance or pain threshold. Many people who meditate find that they no longer need to rely on painkillers as much as they did before. The reduction in stress is generally attributed to lowered levels of the hormone cortisol. One can also increase empathy felt towards others by regularly practicing a particular type of focused attention meditation with feelings of compassion and love being the focus thoughts.
Making meditation a part of one’s daily routine can help make him or her a more productive person overall. It boosts the effectiveness of their working memory which is responsible for such important processes as decision-making, complex thought, and keeping emotions in check. A general feeling of happiness has also been reported by many subjects who meditate regularly. People struggling with depression, chronic illnesses with pain, and even the hormonal mood swings of the teen years can all benefit from this activity as it elevates the electrical activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is its “feel-good” center.
Women who are going through the unpleasant physical sensations associated with the hormonal changes of menopause can benefit from meditation too. It will help draw the focus away from the body, and has been proven to reduce the number of hot flashes and night sweats experienced. This presents a safe, non-drug approach to making this stage in life more comfortable for many women. There are also notable benefits for the cardiovascular system obtained through meditating. Blood pressure is lowered, respiration and circulation improved, and one type of meditation in particular, transcendental, has been found to actually lower the incidence of stroke and heart attack by fifty percent.