6 Key Benefits of Meditation for the Mind
From the Latin word for “to think or ponder,” meditation has been a practice developed by a multitude of people and cultures. This state of mindfulness does not belong to one particular religion or civilization; rather it is and has been exercised, in some form or another by almost everyone.
From Buddhist monks, to Hindus, to Islamists, and even Western Christian’s have adopted a form of contemplation reminiscent of this practice.
The best part about meditation is it takes up a small part of your day but yields enormous mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. In recent years, science has looked at this ancient practice, and the findings show
We’ve all had the feeling of nervousness, whether it’s before a test or during a date, but sometimes a few deep breathes and a glass of water just isn’t enough. Luckily, you don’t have to break out into a meditating pose every time you feel anxious about something. Meditating throughout the day, whether in the morning, afternoon, or before bed, can have a lasting impact on the rest of the day.
As sited by the Harvard Health Publications a John Hopkins University study, looking at previous research, found that “mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety and depression.” Therefore, any sort of worry or nervousness throughout the day can be easily tackled with a few moments of meditation during the day.
Stress is largely due to our hormonal imbalances and can be brought on by a number of things. For instance, some studies have shown that people living in cities actually experience more stress than those who live on the countryside. Stress can lead to cardiovascular issues and weight gain so it’s important to avoid being too stressed.
The hormone cortisol is responsible for how stressful your day can be and research by Tonya Jacobs looked into the levels of cortisol in the body and how the time people spend meditating. In a study, participants saw a decrease in their resting cortisol levels after they had been taught to properly and mindfully meditate for three months. There was a direct correlation between the high level of mindfulness and low level of cortisol and stress.
School can be thigh for everyone especially for college students and while studying is your best bet in making sure you get good grades, research has pointed to the possibility that meditation, and mindfulness plays a key role in how students approach tests and studying. One study that was published in the journal of Psychological Science found that active meditation performed better on standardized tests like the GRE.
After being assigned mindfulness training, participants in the study experienced a surge in cognitive ability.
On average students scored 16 percentile points higher when compared to students that had not undergone meditation. This doesn’t mean you should close your books and shut down the computer, but maybe instead of Facebooking you could be meditating because with the added benefit of lower stress and anxiety levels you are likely to do well on your next exam.
4. The Brain… Literally
There is a reason that professional athletes meditate, even those whose livelihood depends on aggression, like boxing and wrestling. Any sport is only partly physical based, at least that’s what Mike Tyson’s trainer would say, “75% mind.” With active meditation and mindfulness, you can physically alter the mechanisms within your brain that will help with your cognitive performance.
Researchers from the University of Oregon looked at statistics from 2010 and found that undergraduate university students who had gone through only two short weeks of meditation showed an increase in the axonal density of the brain or the number of signaling connections.
As the study continued, with a full month of observation more increase in axonal density was noted as well as the protective tissue, myelin. No wonder students perform better in school, the brain is literally getting stronger! Furthermore, meditation can also strengthen the brains ability to cope with emotional pain like stress, depression, and pain.
5. Improved Neuroplasticity
Forbes magazine describes research that points to new neuroscientific findings, showing meditation to be able to literally rewire brain circuits and therefore improve the health of the mind. Furthermore, scientists believe that experience can deeply transform the brain, a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity.”
6. DNA Stability
A Harvard study, (Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways) found that during times of relaxation, when the body’s relaxation response is triggered can have a positive effect on genes, and very quickly.
Meditation, which arguably is the ultimate state of relaxation, was found to dampen the genes that play a key role in inflammation, and to also promote genes linked to DNA stability. All of this equates to longevity and improved brain health.
How to Meditate
Despite what 90’s cartoons have taught us, meditation is not about sitting with your legs crossed and fingers curled up against your feet humming “oommm,” there’s a little more to it than that.
It’s important to be conscious of what is actually happening. Meditation is not a passive part of the day but an active process by which you hope to achieve a state of mindfulness. You don’t necessarily have to be in a weird yoga pose with your eyes shut, painting, writing, or other hobby like art forms can also put you in a state of meditation.
Whatever your style or reasons for meditating, the benefits are well worth it. With just a few minutes of active mindfulness, you can significantly alter your brain structure and cognitive capacities allowing you to better handle stressful situations that may cause anxiety, whether in the context of schoolwork or before an interview. Take a deep breath and relax.
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