Meditation has a long history as a traditional way to reach a sense of peace. Research shows that meditation provides numerous immediate health benefits, as well as many long-term benefits that can even change how a person thinks. In this article, we will explore the various ways meditation can change your body and your brain. In my opinion, meditation is one of the most powerful hacks you can perform to improve your performance in nearly every aspect of life.
Types of Meditation
- Moving Meditation
Scientific Benefits of Meditation
1) Meditation Helps With Anxiety & Depression
Multiple studies have confirmed that meditation reduces the symptoms of anxiety [R].
Meditation is just as effective as medication when it comes to treating depression, pain, and anxiety. What’s more, meditation can offer long-term benefits [R].
It reduces anxiety by allowing the meditator to retain focus on the present moment [R].
The posterior cingulate cortex is related to increased anxiety while the anterior cingulate cortex reduced anxiety. Through MRI scans, it was found that the anterior cingulate cortex is activated during meditative states [R].
Meditation increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri – parts of the brain that are important for regulating empathic response, anxiety, and mood [R].
It only requires brief periods of meditation to enhance mood and minimize distress [R].
Mindfulness meditation is the best form of meditation to reduce distractive and uncontrolled thoughts and behaviors that can lead to depression or anxiety [R].
2) Meditation Enhances Attention
Since meditation requires focused attention, mindful meditation can potentially increase regulation of attention span [R].
To enhance attention span, it is recommended to have meditation training for at least four days [R].
Meditation affects the brain in areas that are important for concentration and cognitive processes. On the other hand, meditation helps in other ways by regulating part of the brain that deals with anxiety, mood, and empathetic responses [R].
Meditation helps to speed up thinking by decreasing the time it takes to associate on stimuli to the next thought [R].
When it comes to experience, people who have meditated for a long time have increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (facilitated memory processing in REM sleep) and the angular cingulate cortex (deals with organized thoughts) [R].
Meditation can help change the plasticity of the brain. It allows more activity in areas of the brain related to attention and focus and redirects attention in parts of the brain related to distracting thoughts [R].
Meditation not only increases attention but helps neural processes take control of the autonomic nervous system, which deals with involuntary processes in the body (i.e digestion, breathing) [R].
3) Meditation Protects the Body from Stress and Disease
Those who meditate, in comparison to those who don’t, have more activity in the left side anterior part of the brain which is indicative of more antibodies, especially in terms of the influenza vaccine (RCT) [R].
4) Meditation Prevents Aging
Research suggests that meditation can help maintain telomeres (protective end of chromosomes) and, as a result, reduce the cognitive stress that causes cellular aging [R].
Intensive meditation increases telomere activity, which indicates less cellular damage and reduction in oxidative damage [R].
Mindful meditation causes increased telomere activity, which promotes health and immune system functioning [R].
In women, loving-kindness meditation increased telomere length. Suggesting that the practice affects a gene that impacts longevity [R].
Meditation slows the reduction of DHEA in the adrenal cortex, which slows down the aging process that is associated with deterioration of DHEA.
5) Meditation Improves Mood
Psychologically speaking, meditation and medication are both effective because they undergo very similar processes. Mindful meditation, like antidepressants, positively impact objective sleep which leads to more pleasant moods [R].
Those who participate in Spiritual forms of meditation, in comparison to secular forms of meditation, have a significant increase in positive moods and a reduction of anxiety [R].
6) Meditation Increases Quality Of Life
Meditation increased the quality of life and improved physical and mental health. It, therefore, helped to positively benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis (Systematic review) [R].
For those with fibromyalgia, meditation does show moderate improvement in symptoms [R].
Meditation helped cancer patients with dealing with the stress that comes with illness [R].
It can activate cortical areas of the brain to relieve symptoms of ADHD and improve focus [R].
Meditation programs showed effective improvement in symptoms and coping mechanism in patients with fibromyalgia [R].
7) Meditation Decreases Blood Pressure
Contemplative meditation causes a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure [R].
For African Americans, transcendental meditation was much more effective at reducing blood pressure than muscle relaxation [R].
8) Meditation Helps the Heart
Transcendental meditation can reverse heart disease since it reduces blood pressure, neck artery thickness, and heart attacks [R].
Transcendental meditation is effective in treating stress and potentially preventing heart disease, the variability of its effectiveness is questionable. While it is beneficial to use in an underserved area, variations in effectiveness could be a sign of a shortcoming [R].
9) Meditation Prevents Inflammation
Meditation and mindful activities show a potential for treating chronic inflammatory condition since the participation in these activities leads to decreased production of inflammation [R].
In older adults, mindfulness activities lead to the decreased sense of loneliness and decreased inflammation [R].
10) Meditation Helps to Cope With Stress
Those who did compassion meditation had, on average, less stress than the control, suggesting that compassion meditation assists with dealing with stress-induced responses [R].
In a high-stress job, such as one in the health field, techniques that derive from meditation help to not only help with stress but with mental health in the long run [R].
Meditation based practices help college students cope with stress and allow them to be more forgiving [R].
When in the larger scheme of things, group meditation helped students to cope with stressful times and give them a sense of hope [R].
Biologically, meditation affects the subiculum of the hippocampus, which regulates stress [R].
Meditation can be helpful for improving mood and decreasing distress but it’s primarily effective at reducing distracting thoughts [R].
11) Meditation Improves Cognitive Function
With meditation, front parts of the brain get thicker while back parts of the brain become thinner. Since the front of the brain includes things like the prefrontal cortex, meditation may affect the displacement of the neural process since it requires repeated intense focus [R].
Meditation increases the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which makes it less prone to the displacement of age-related thinking (slowing down the process) [R].
Meditation can have protective effects on the brain since it prevents the deterioration of gray matter which appears with aging [R].
12) Meditation Helps Emotional Stability
Those who meditate have a larger right hippocampus. Since these regions are related to emotional control, this implies that meditation enhances emotional stability and regulation [R].
The more years that you meditate, the folding of the brain (cortical gyrification) increases, which helps to integrate cognitive processing [R].
By activating the angular cingulate cortex, meditation helps with emotional processing [R].
13) Meditation Helps to Cope With Pain
Although meditation is not as effective as behavioral therapy for pain, meditation does provide an improvement in coping with pain [R].
The way meditation relieves pain is very similar to normal mechanisms in our body that regulate pain [R].
14) Meditation Increases Melatonin
Advanced meditators have higher levels of serotonin than those who do not meditate. Serotonin also decreased after an hour of meditation, making a drop in serotonin and indicator of rest and relaxation [R].
Meditation increases the melatonin levels in the blood which may be responsible for the many health implications that meditation holds [R].
Meditation helps increased levels of melatonin and, consequently, improves wellbeing [R].
15) Meditation Decreases Mortality
Meditation decreases mortality. An experiment with the elderly indicated that those who had meditated had a greater survival rate [R].
- Increased ACC (Anterior Cingulate Cortex) function which mediates attention [R].
- Increased PFC (Pre-Frontal Cortex) density, resulting in increased executive function [R].
- The increased cortical thickness of the Hippocampus, which helps learning and memory information [R].
- Decreased Amygdala activation of the fight or flight (SNS) system [R].
- Decreased DMN (Default Mode Network) which causes us to seek pleasure [R].
Ways to Improve Your Meditation
I have found that one of the most important factors when trying to meditate is finding a comfortable position in which you are free of pain or discomfort that could distract you.
The ideal meditation position will depend on your own body type. You just need to experiment. Here are some common ones:
Personally, I like to be sitting or kneeling on the floor while meditating, preferably grounded. I have found these tools to be great for ensuring a comfortable and distraction-free meditation session:
- Guided Mindfulness Meditation
- Meditation Cushion
- Meditation Mat – this is great for protecting the ankles from hard floors
- Meditation Stool – great if you can’t do cross-legged
- Meditation Timer – means you don’t have to clock watch
Before I meditation I take the following supplements to increase my tranquility and enhance the positive effects of meditation on the brain: