The Benefits of Meditation

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For some folks in the Western hemisphere, meditation is seen as a sort of “new-age hippie” fad, something that you do right before you eat granola and hug a spotted owl. However, Eastern civilizations have known about the power of meditation and used it to control the mind and expand consciousness. Today, Western thinking is finally catching up, and there is an increasing awareness of what meditation is and its many benefits to the human body and soul. Let’s take a look at some of the ways scientists have found meditation is good for you.

01
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Reduce Stress, Change Your Brain

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We’re all busy people–we have jobs, school, families, bills to pay, and plenty of other obligations. Add that into our fast-paced non-stop techie world, and it’s a recipe for high levels of stress. The more stress we experience, the harder it is to relax. A Harvard University study found that people who practiced meditative mindfulness not only had lower stress levels, they also develop more volume in four different regions of the brain. Sara Lazar, PhD, told the Washington Post:


“We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
3.  The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.”

In addition, Lazar’s study found that the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with stress and anxiety, shrank in the participants who practiced meditation.

02
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Boost Your Immune System

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People who meditate regularly tend to be healthier, physically, because their immune systems are stronger. In the study Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation, researchers evaluated two groups of participants. One group engaged in a structured, eight-week mindfulness meditation program, and the other did not. At the end of the program, all participants were given a flu vaccine. The people who practiced meditation for eight weeks showed a significant increase in antibodies to the vaccine, while those who had not meditated did not experience this. The study concluded that meditation can indeed change brain functions and the immune system, and recommended further research.

03
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Reduce Pain

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Believe it or not, people who meditate experience lower levels of pain than those who don’t. A study published in 2011 looked at the MRI results of patients who were, with their consent, exposed to different types of pain stimuli. Patients who had participated in a meditation training program responded differently to pain; they had a higher tolerance for pain stimuli, and were more relaxed when responding to pain. Ultimately, the researchers concluded:


“Because meditation likely alters pain by enhancing cognitive control and reframing the contextual evaluation of nociceptive information, the constellation of interactions between expectations, emotions, and cognitive appraisals intrinsic to the construction of the sensory experience can be regulated by the meta-cognitive ability to non-judgmentally sustain focus on the present moment.”
04
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Boost Your Self Control

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In 2013, Stanford University researchers conducted a study on compassion cultivation training, or CCT, and how it impacted participants. After a nine-week CCT program, which included mediations derived from Tibetan Buddhist practice, they discovered that participants were:


"openly expressing concern, warm-heartedness, and a genuine wish to see suffering alleviated in others. This study found an increase in mindfulness; other studies have found that mindfulness meditation training may enhance higher order cognitive capacities such as emotion regulation."

In other words, the more compassionate and mindful you are towards others, the less likely you are to fly off the handle when someone upsets you.

05
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Decrease Depression

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Although many people take anti-depressants, and should continue to do so, there are some who are finding that meditation helps with depression. A sample group of participants with various mood disorders was studied before and after mindfulness meditation training, and researchers found that such practice “primarily leads to decreases in ruminative thinking, even after controlling for reductions in affective symptoms and dysfunctional beliefs.”

06
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Become a Better Multi-Tasker

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Ever feel like you can't get everything done? Meditation might help you with that. A study on the effects of meditation on productivity and multitasking showed that "attention-training through meditation improves aspects of multitasking behavior." The study asked participants to do an eight-week session of either mindfulness meditation or body relaxation training. They were then given a series of tasks to complete. Researchers found that mindfulness improved not only how well people paid attention, but also their memory capabilities, and the speed at which they finished their tasks. 

07
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Be More Creative

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Our neocortex is the part of our brain that drives creativity and insight. In a 2012 report, a research team from the Netherlands concluded that:


"focused-attention (FA) meditation and open-monitoring (OM) meditation exert specific effect on creativity. First, OM meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated. Second, FA meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem. We suggest that the enhancement of positive mood induced by meditating has boosted the effect in the first case and counteracted in the second case."