Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and the positive effect it has on people’s lives and well-being has been evident for just as long. However, until recently it could never be proved conclusively that it is truly beneficial. Luckily, with the advent of scientific research, the conviction that it does you good can now be backed up with studies and data.
There are over 3000 studies on the benefits of meditation, and its impact on everything from stress to concentration has been researched. There are far too many findings to explore them all, so here I’ll focus on a few of the key areas in which science has illuminated exactly how meditation can help us.
MRI scans have allowed scientists to measure the physical effects that meditation has on the brain, and their findings have been extraordinarily striking. A study by UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles) found that long-term meditators have better preserved brains than those who do not meditate, with the usual loss of grey matter reduced in older meditators.
Furthermore, an analysis from Harvard University found that rather than just preserving it (which is good enough news in itself), meditation can change the structure of the brain for the better. After eight weeks of practicing meditation, the participants of the study were found to have experienced development in the hippocampus (the area of the brain which governs learning and memory). They also found that the size of the amygdala (the area of the brain which induces fear, anxiety and stress), actually decreased. This tallies well with anecdotal evidence, and the findings of other studies, that meditation reduces stress and improves people’s capacity for learning.
Meditation is primarily achieved through the focusing of a person’s attention, and this has been found to positively affect meditators’ ability to focus and concentrate in other areas of their lives. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, an investigation showed that mindfulness meditation can have a pronounced effect after only two weeks. Here the participants had better test results in concentration, as well as reporting fewer distracting thoughts and exhibiting an improved memory. The conclusion was that meditation is an effective technique for improving cognitive function.
Coping with Negative Emotion.
Studies have shown that meditation can be a great way for people to deal with negative emotion, with people who suffer with anxiety benefiting from an 8 week course in meditation even 3 years after they had completed it. In order to help doctors advise patients using meditation to help with symptoms of stress and depression, another study was undertaken at John Hopkins. This suggested that the practice can have a significant positive impact on those looking to manage these issues.
Furthermore, a study that looked into addiction found that people who have meditation as part of their strategy to quit were many times more likely to give up smoking than those who didn’t. With stress-based illnesses and mental health problems on the rise, it could be that meditation is a key way to help those cope with the symptoms, or even (if schools encourage the habit and people begin meditating while young) stop them from forming.
Meditation is a brilliant habit that helps many people in their day to day lives, and as more studies get released the many benefits of meditation become clearer. Life is becoming increasingly stressful, and finding moments of calm through this practice has been found to be better for us than we could have imagined.
Big thank you to Holly Ashby for guest posting today. This was the final installment in our mini series on meditation. The first two posts can be found here:
I’ve really enjoyed this series and hope you have too xx