Meditation and contemplative spiritual practice is nothing new, despite the populist movement happening today. Meditation has been around for thousands of years, with the earliest written accounts found in Hindu texts from 1500 BCE. Further accounts from Buddhism and Taoism have been found, followed by accounts within Christian texts mentioning specific spiritual practices concerned with focusing attention.
Mediation existed throughout the ancient world, and was practiced for reasons above and beyond religious requirements. Even without the solid foundation of scientific study we have today, people around the world recognized the benefits of meditation. One can only assume that people continued to practice meditation throughout the ages because it felt good, and somehow managed to increase their quality of life.
Benefits of Meditation
These days, we are fortunate enough to have significant quantitative data supporting case for daily meditation. A wide body of research now exists which looks into all the ways meditation affects the brain, body and soul. We can now wholeheartedly say, that there is significant and supported evidence proving the benefits of mediation.
1. Manage Depression
Mindfulness meditation begins by focusing on each passing thought and each passing emotion. This practice eventually leads to an ability to manage and balance thoughts and emotions as they appear. In one study, psychologists discovered that after four months of mindfulness meditation therapy, 75% of their patients felt well enough to stop taking antidepressants. They concluded that in many cases, meditation for depression can work better than treatment with pharmaceuticals, especially when looking for long term solutions.
2. Reduce Stress
The ability to find an inner peace during a stressful situation is a characteristic strengthened through the practice of meditation. Research has demonstrated that even short spurts of mediation (30 minutes, three times a week) can yield extremely beneficial results in terms of stress reduction. Participants in one study reported a 40 percent reduction in feelings of anxiety by simply starting a weekly meditation practice. During brain scans of the participants, there was an activation of an area of the brain which controls our anxiety, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
3. Protect the Heart
Unsurprisingly, meditation can also help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death, perhaps through a reduction in overall stressors. A 2012 study found that heart disease patients who practiced Transcendental Meditation were able to reduce their risk of heart attack by 48%. Even the American Heart Association recommends meditation as a way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
4. Build Better Relationships
The effect of mediation on a relationship may be a side effect of meditation’s ability to also affect depression, anger and happiness. In a study examining meditation’s effect on teachers, they became much more compassionate towards and understanding of their students after an intensive meditation program. The program reduced their stress levels, as well as their anger, and allowed them to better regulate emotions. Practitioners seem to approach stressful situations with less hostility and were more easily able to reach a peaceful resolution.
5. Be More Creative
Science suggests that through open-monitoring meditation, the brain is able to become more creative, able to maintain a constant stream of ideas. Open-monitoring meditation is the practice of allowing all thoughts and feelings to freely float through the mind, without trying to direct or restrict the flow. Each thought or feeling is acknowledged, while also allowing it to freely disappear as the next one replaces it. Through this practice, people are better able to brainstorm ideas, and have a more open creative process.
6. Reduce Reliance on Painkillers
Long term meditation practitioners report clearly recognizing even the most minute sensory experiences throughout their body. Due to the initial focus on breath sensation, meditation eventually allows people to filter, balance and manage even tiny bits of sensory information that is being communicated between our body and brain. Research has found that meditators can focus their attention, on very specific sensations, something which the non-practitioner would likely not notice. This translates to better pain management, because people can begin to focus on other sensory information instead of focusing on the area of pain.
7. Get More Done at Work
A simple way to be more productive, is to meditate. At least according to one study which focused on participants’ ability to multitask at work. After undertaking a brief daily meditation, they were able to better remember the tasks they had done, they could multitask better and more generally had better control during emotional situations.
8. Slow Down the Aging Process
Although there is no magic cure for aging, scientists have discovered that through meditation practice, once can slow down aging as seen through measurement of certain biological markers. For example, it is able to slow down brain deterioration, reduce the hardening of the arteries within the heart, and seemingly lengthen the lifespan of cells. The study examined participants who had been practicing daily meditation for over 10 years, in contrast to a control group who had never meditated. At least at a cellular level, meditation seemed to have a surprisingly positive effect on biological markers.