Why Meditate? SO Many Reasons!
Posted on: Sep 22, 2016
Here’s an article I wrote for my Doctoral Program. Learn about ALL the many benefits of meditation! Then check out our free downloads in our shop to get your meditation practice ON!
In the past week, I’ve had not one, not two, but three of my friends tell me all about their meditation practice! Also in the past week, I finally decided on my topic for this very research article; meditation. How synchronistic, right? I had only just decided on this topic and started working on this article and searching for research studies and practice-based evidence that meditation works when I met up with said friends. They not only became my evidence, but led me to the very research articles sited here!
In this article, I will introduce you to just a few of the many benefits of meditation, in hopes of inspiring you to start your own meditation practice or strengthen the one you already have.
What if I told you I never asked either of my friends about meditation? Or that these three do not know each other, come from completely different backgrounds, industries and social circles, none of whom I’ve ever discussed meditation with? What I’m trying to say is the probability of this very topic coming up within the same week of me writing this article is pretty slim (especially including the fact that I almost never go out during the week, and yet I was moved to go out three times this particular week).
Do I believe the universe is conspiring with me to write this research article, as Paulo Cohelo would put it in the Alchemist? Yes. Do I believe it’s thanks to my own personal meditation practice of 19 years that I’ve become still enough to receive these messages loud and clear when they do come in, as suggested by books such as The Secret (R. Bryhn, 2006) or the Celestine Prophecy (J. Redfield, 1993)? Yes. Yet, these serendipitous, law-of-attraction experiences are just an added bonus! While I’ve found such experiences to be a natural byproduct of meditation, in this article I’ll be outlining the direct physiological and biochemical benefits of a regular meditation practice.
In 2014 John’s Hopkins did an analysis of 47 of the best existing mediation studies through 2013 on more than 3,500 participants. What they found was remarkable! Dr. Madhav Goyal notes, “Meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.” And while I say this to my clients all the time, they don’t actually believe me until they put meditation into practice and experience the results for themselves. In my clinical practice, I’ve effectively treated anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses through prescribing a daily meditation practice and have watched so many clients discontinue their medication with ease, grace and joy!
Research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. In a 2009 research study using brain imaging, a regular meditation practice has been shown to not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity.
Luders et. al. conclude:
Meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior.
The brain changes functionally and structurally all the time, taking in lessons from and responding to the stimulus of daily life. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity. “Neuroplasticity happens wittingly and unwittingly. And most of the time, it happens unwittingly. Most of the time, our brains are constantly being shaped by forces around us of which we are really not aware or dimly aware,” Neuroscientist Richard Davidson (2015) explains why he meditates daily. “The research indicates…we can actually influence the functional and structural changes in our brain.” That is to say, we can determine exactly how our brain changes through the practice of meditation. –
In addition to effectively treating depression and anxiety, as mentioned above, meditation also helps us focus, retain new information, improve memory, and prevent cognitive decline associated with aging. In 2012, UCLA researchers compared MRI scans of meditators and non meditators to find out exactly how and why this works. Turns out, meditation increases brain gyrification. You know those folds in our brain? Their formation (gyrification) actually promotes and enhances neural processing. The more folds, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth. (Wheeler, 2012) Get your meditation on to increase your brain wrinkles and prevent your face wrinkles!
I could go on and on about the many benefits of meditation (improving sleep, digestion, mood, confidence, while decreasing pain, stress, signs of aging) but I’d prefer you experience the results for yourself rather than take my word for it. There are now plenty of meditation groups and organizations offered locally, as well as free guided meditations all over the internet. As of now there are more than 100,000 health apps for smartphones. The mobile market research firm Research2Guidance estimates that mHealth apps, as they’re called, will be a $26 billion industry by 2017 (Z. Schlanger, 2015). One I often recommend is called Headspace. It’s a smart phone app designed like a game. On both our nuurvana.com website and our youtube channel, we have numerous free guided meditations, addressing many topics of interest.
The trick is to keep the practice up! Just like hitting the gym once isn’t going to give you that “beach body,” meditating sporadically isn’t going to offer you the above results. It’s a practice and a training, just like any other. Research suggests meditating for 30-40 minutes daily produces the best results (M. Goyal, 2014).
Additionally, meditation has a cumulative effect. That’s to say, the longer you do it, the greater and more permanent your results. “The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.” (Luders et. al., 2009) It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
If you’re new to the practice, please be patient! Here are my top two recommendations for you:
- Positively reinforce your practice! Whether you just sat for one minute or one hour, once you open your eyes, praise yourself! Even if your mind was busy the entire time (that’ll fade with time), congratulate yourself! I love the Headspace app because it turns meditation into a fun game. First you meditate for a minute each day, then you advance to two minutes, next to three and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you’re meditating for 20 minutes daily and totally proud of yourself for it!
- Make it social! Whether you’re taking a friend to a class, meeting new friends during a mindfulness course or connecting through meditation apps, there’s something really alchemical about practicing with others. The social aspect helps keep you accountable, offers a community to discuss (and reinforce) the practice with, and it makes it more fun and less isolating.
Meditation is the single best thing I’ve ever done for myself! It keeps me peaceful, happy, pain-free and I accredit the ever-increasing amount of ease, grace and flow in my life to it! It may be challenging, annoying, or frustrating at first. You may be fidgeting the entire time, your mind may race, or you may fall asleep. It’s cool! Practice makes permanence. Before all the awesome results come in (inner peace, better sex) the practice will get easier, you’ll start to crave it more (resent it less), and you’ll notice the more subtle effects it has on your day and life. Soon enough, you’ll be at a place where something as daunting as a research article turns into a graceful process where all the content is pretty much provided for you and it feels like life may as well have written the article for you, through you!