Meditation: The Basics Backed By Science
We all need a “place”. A place for ourselves to unwind, relax and self reflect. Such a place can be referred to as a sanctuary, an oasis or a hideaway. It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of day to day activities. It’s often hard for people to find the time to relax, slow down and enjoy life. Too many people are often filled with stress, anxiety and constantly running around without taking the time to just be still. Everyone needs an oasis.
“Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” Sr. Francis de Sales
Meditation is a great way to practice self reflection, while also calming the body and lowering stress levels. Meditation can improve mental clarity, focus and emotions. However, how often do we actually take the time to find an oasis spot and meditate? How often do we take time for ourselves?
We are often stumbling across blogs and forums explaining the spiritual reasoning behind why people should meditate. There are many spiritual gratifications an individual can receive from meditation. However, many people like science based facts over spirituality. For instance, people like my fiance need scientific facts to help them understand certain benefits with activities such as meditation and self reflection.
- 1. Brain & Moods
- 2. Mind & Performance
- 3. Body & Health
- 4. Relationships
- 5. Mindfulness For Kids
- 6. Miscellaneous
- 7. Conclusion
In a study conducted at five middle schools in Belgium, involving about 400 students (13 ~ 20 years old), Professor Filip Raes concludes that “students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.”
High-risk pregnant women who participated in a ten-week mindfulness yoga training saw significant reductions in depressive symptoms, according to a University of Michigan Health System pilot feasibility study. The mothers-to-be also showed more intense bonding to their babies in the womb. The findings were published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
Source: Medical News Today
This is also the conclusion of over 20 randomized controlled studies taken from PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane Databases, involving the techniques of Meditation, Meditative Prayer, Yoga, Relaxation Response.
Another research concludes that mindfulness meditation may be effective to treat anxiety to a similar degree as antidepressant drug therapy.
Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Jama Network
A study led by Katherine MacLean of the University of California suggested that during and after meditation training, subjects were more skilled at keeping focus, especially on repetitive and boring tasks.
Another study demonstrated that even with only 20 minutes a day of practice, students were able to improve their performance on tests of cognitive skill, in some cases doing 10 times better than the group that did not meditate. They also performed better on information-processing tasks that were designed to induce deadline stress.
In fact, there is evidence that meditators had a thicker prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula, and also to the effect that meditation might offset the loss of cognitive ability with old age.
Ph.D. psychotherapist Dr. Ron Alexander reports in his book Wise Mind, Open Mindthat the process of controlling the mind, through meditation, increases mental strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
Source: Dr. Ron Alexander
Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and improving attention.
Source: UCLA Newsroom
In a study made with 50 adult ADHD patients, the group that was submitted to MBCT (Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) demonstrated reduced hyperactivity, reduced impulsivity and increased “act-with-awareness” skill, contributing to an overall improvement in inattention symptoms.
Sources: Clinical Neurophysiology Journal, DoctorsOnTM
Research has shown that even after only four sessions of mindfulness meditation training, participants had significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.
A study from Harvard Medical School demonstrates that, after practicing yoga and meditation, the individuals had improved mitochondrial energy production, consumption and resiliency. This improvement develops a higher immunity in the system and resilience to stress.
Sources: Bloomberg, NCBI, American Psychosomatic Medicine Journal, Journal of International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology
Clinical research has demonstrated that the practice of Zen Meditation (also known as “Zazen”) reduces stress and high blood pressure.
Another experiment, this time with a technique called “relaxation response”, yielded similar results, with 2/3 of high blood pressure patients showing significant drops in blood pressure after 3 months of meditation, and, consequently, less need for medication. This is because relaxation results in the formation of nitric oxide, which opens up your blood vessels.
In a research conducted by neuroscientists of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, two groups of people were exposed to different methods of stress control. One of them received mindfulness training, while the other received nutritional education, exercise and music therapy. The study concluded that mindfulness techniques were more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.
Source: Medical News Today
In a study published in the American Psychological Association, subjects that did “even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward novel individuals, on both explicit and implicit levels. These results suggest that this easily implemented technique may help to increase positive social emotions and decrease social isolation”.
Source: American Psychological Association
After being assigned to a 9-week compassion cultivation training (CCT), individuals showed significant improvements in all three domains of compassion – compassion for others, receiving compassion from others, and self-compassion. In a similar situation, the practitioners also experienced decreased level of worry and emotional suppression.
Sources: Stanford School of Medicine (also here), Sage Journals.
MindfulnessInSchools.org presented research evidence for the following benefits for kids:
- reduced depression symptoms
- reduced somatic stress
- reduced hostility and conflicts with peers
- reduced anxiety
- reduced reactivity
- reduced substance use
- increased cognitive retention
- increased self-care
- increased optimism and positive emotions
- increased self-esteem
- increased feelings of happiness and well-being
- improved social skills
- improved sleep
- improved self-awareness
- improved academic performance
Some more interesting facts about meditation:
There are MANY different types of meditation. Science has proven it is good to practice for many different factors.
For now, we will start with just a basic meditation. Below is a self help guide to meditation. I recommend finding a place of your own and practice these principals. Make it a habit and make it apart of your daily ritual. Your mind and your body will thank you.
“In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.”- Mindful Staff ( https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/ )