For those who are interested in the healing effects of meditation, there’s been plenty of research over the past several decades that attests to the validity of many a meditator’s anecdotal evidence. If you think you’re too busy to meditate, chances are you should start. Studies suggest that people with jam-packed schedules and intimidating to-do lists stand to benefit most from mindfulness meditation. Time and again, researchers are finding that people who meditate experience lower levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and tension, and that meditation can also be a supportive practice for those who have experienced trauma.
It’s believed that meditation has been around for 5,000 years, originating in India. According to the latest research and oral history, the yogic tradition of meditation can be traced back to Shiva, a great spiritual master who systematized both yoga and tantra about 7000 years ago.
Meditation Brings Focused Attention
As to the power of focused attention, author and teacher Sandra Anderson states that it gives us a key to our inner life and offers the potential for mastery over the mind (which is, of course, the goal of yoga). She likens a life lived on autopilot to doors within a mansion that are never opened. “To be able to find a way to see what’s present in those unused rooms, and to be nonjudgmental about it, that’s a huge part of what this gives you. To be able to do that means you’re living from a bigger part of your psyche, and that expansiveness gives you a groundedness and a capacity to entertain things that you couldn’t otherwise.
Both experienced and new meditators alike found their creativity improved in a small study conducted in 2015 at Leiden University. Creativity is comprised of both divergent thinking — coming up with innovative ideas — and convergent thinking — being able to see the connections between different concepts. All meditators in the study showed bolstered divergent thinking, while the more experienced meditators had an advantage over the novices when it came to insightful convergent thinking.
The primary benefit of meditation is that it helps create balance between our inner world (the quiet, interior experience) and our busy, noisy exterior world.
As a tool of balance, meditation also helps us access our subtler levels of consciousness. Most human beings only experience the denser dimensions of their physical bodies, emotions and minds. However, all the great mystics, and now even our modern science, tell us that we are more than just our dense dimensions of body, mind and emotions. In fact, beyond these three dense dimensions are the subtle dimensions where we experience progressively more truthful states of being.
Meditation Helps Gain Perspective.
When we have a thought, be it about what we’re going to eat for dinner or the conversation we had with a friend the night before, we almost immediately begin to consider it within the context of other aspects of our lives. This is useful in many ways, but sometimes it can put us on a path towards obsessive thought, especially for people prone to anxiety or depression. Decentering, one of the aims of mindful meditation and a goal of some treatments for depression, involves getting to a state of mind from which you can observe your thoughts and feelings as temporary, objective events.
In one study of people with severe depression, gains in decentering ability were linked with a reduced rate of relapse and better outcomes in terms of life satisfaction and overall feelings of well-being.
Regular meditation decreases anxiety by weakening the connection between two parts of the brain: the amygdala, which is responsible for the bodily sensation of fear, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for processing information about the self, sometimes referred to as the “Me Center.” In non-meditators, the neural pathways between these two areas of the brain are quite strong, causing us to over-react to fear triggers and worry that things are more serious or dangerous than they truly are.
Meditation Health Benefits
Richard Randolph, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, looked into this idea for a long-term study that compared people who had been meditating for years with complete newbies. He found that when he tried to startle two groups of people — one that was meditating and one that was not — with a sudden interruption like a loud noise, the meditators were far less perturbed than the people who weren’t meditating, regardless of whether they were new or experienced at the practice.
Meditation has also been associated with a longer life span, better quality of life, fewer hospitalizations, and reduced health-care costs. It has also shown promise as an adjunct therapy in relieving mild depression, insomnia, tension headache, irritable bowel syndrome, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), as well as in controlling substance abuse.
Meditation has been found to be particularly helpful for the heart. Meditators have been found to have improved blood circulation, as well as a lowered heart rate, which places less demands on the heart. A 1999 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that people who practiced transcendental meditation (TM) had lower levels of lipid peroxide than those who didn’t. Lipid peroxide can contribute to atherosclerosis and other chronic diseases associated with aging. A 1999 study published in the same journal showed that people who practiced TM had lower blood pressure immediately after meditating than did the control group.
Any meditation is a positive experience. No matter the technique used or the tradition followed, if you are meditating you are bringing balance into your life through emphasis on the interior polarity of yourself.
However, traditional meditation methods and techniques are not as effective in these times because of the increasingly chaotic nature of our dense population and technology-based modern world. It is therefore not surprising that modern science has created technology-based solutions to assist us.
There are many reasons why people meditate. For some it is part of a spiritual journey and has to do with expansion of awareness and how they perceive and experience life. Some simply want to relax, and this benefit of meditation is self-evident. Other people are interested in the benefits of meditation for health and general well-being.