Meditation is an ancient topic that has recently entered the limelight as an effective practice for mental and physical wellbeing. While the practice itself was not traditionally done for the purpose of wellness, modern science is bringing to light some of the amazing benefits it has on stress levels and the human mind. The benefits of meditation include a combination of both physical and perceptual changes, both of which can certainly provide large contributions toward improving the way we show up in life. Though the list of meditations benefits is actually long, widespread, and very subjective, here is a list of a few of the most commonly discussed benefits of meditation in the western world today.
Stress management is quite likely the most common benefit attributed to meditation, likely because it is so obvious. The act of sitting down to meditate and detach from thoughts of stress, is certainly a relaxing process. It also includes the added benefit of teaching us how to manage stress in our everyday lives better through practice. Learning to calm the nervous system through breath, awareness of our sensations, and intentional relaxation is a powerful skill. Stress management is a skill that we can bring to everything in our life that includes an ounce of stress. Stress is a part of life, and learning how to deal with it effectively makes us powerful, strong, and healthy. Less stress means less disease, less error, etc. The list goes on.
Scientific research has unanimously shown us that meditation strengthens the brain. The physical regions of the brain become changed when we exercise our mind through meditation. Similar to the way our muscles and coordination grow with regular exercise and practice, the brain centers used for creativity, focus, empathy and most other activities can be exercised through meditation. Neurons that fire together wire together, and they become stronger. Regular meditators have been shown to display significantly more dense frontal cortex’ than those of non meditators. Grey matter in regions of the brain attached to each quality listed above is strengthened. This strong cortex also translates to a significant slowing of age related brain decay. Meditation makes the brain strong, resilient and long lasting.
Reduced Depression & Anxiety
Perhaps the benefit that most avid meditators recall drawing them into the practice, meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. A 2014 Johns Hopkins study found that meditation relieved anxiety & depression as good and often more effective than antidepressants. For myself personally, I found relief from a high-level anxiety that once plagued me for over a decade. Since meditating, this anxious voice in my mind has almost entirely disappeared. Whenever it does return for a quick visit, I know how to let it be without attaching to its presence in any way. Meditation helps us change the relationship we have with our thoughts by recognizing that we are not them. Thoughts are now who we are, and we can let them be without clinging and causing anxiety or depression. Meditation is a vessel for this lesson in personal growth and development that has been known to transform people’s mindset.
Enhanced Mental Performance
As a side effect of the brain strengthening that comes through meditation, meditating has an uncanny way of improving our mental performance. Countless research studies have found that daily meditators are able to process more information with less mental energy, leaving them to perform at a higher, more effective level in their work and personal lives. By strengthening the centers of the brain that carry the load of cognition and mental acuity, meditation is an effective lubricant that allows neurons to flow and connect more efficiently. In addition to this benefit, meditation has recently been found to foster neuroplasticity, meaning that the brain and mind can create new connections more easily. This inherently enhanced learning and mental processing in a variety of situations.
Though this benefit may indeed lie on the spiritual side of the meditation spectrum, emotional regulation is a key benefit of regular practice. Meditation teaches us to allow things to be the way that they are, accepting that the universe simply is the way that is it. By dropping an obsessive need for control that often holds us back in life, we are able to more readily control our state of being as well. Meditative practice teaches us that we cannot control the world around us, but we can indeed control the way we show up. Our response to the world is entirely within our control. Not only do we realize this lesson, we are actively practicing doing so each time we sit down to meditate.
Returning to the more scientific side of the argument, meditation has been found to enhance creativity in those who practice it for 10 minutes or more daily. A UCLA study found that regular meditation thickens the corpus callosum, the connector of the brain’s hemispheres. The result of this is enhanced creativity, problem solving and communication. While the left side of the brain is where more analytical type thinking occurs, the right side of the brain is where more creative, communicative type thinking occurs. The brain strengthening that occurs as a result of meditation connects the two hemispheres more effectively than most of us experience otherwise. This results in new and innovative ways of thinking that generate ideas and productivity. Just imagine what your life would be life with a balance of both styles of thinking?
Workplace Wellness Improvements
One of the most modern findings in meditation research is in the workplace. When work teams learn to meditate and do so regularly either at home or at the workplace, employers are finding noticeable improvements in workplace productivity and employee wellbeing. After a year of regular meditation lessons, Google employees have experienced a 19% reduction in workplace stress, resulting in less stress leave and increased productivity. This kind of improvement has the potential to completely revolutionize the way companies function. Less employee stress means better team performance, that is pretty much the bottom line.