Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

postheadericon Meditation for the Masses

Meditation’s beneficial attributes are supported by well documented and incontrovertible evidence. And the evidence is overwhelming. But what I’m interested in most about meditation, as I suspect many people are, is how meditation is relevant to daily modern life in concrete practical ways. I’m less interested in why it works or following traditional forms and rituals associated with meditation as I am in showing people that it can be very useful when integrated seamlessly into their daily routine.

Meditation can be hugely helpful to college students. The perception many people have of college students is of young people having the time of their lives and completely carefree. The truth is that college students have a lot on their plates. Students taking college classes, whether getting a B.A. in English on a traditional college campus or pursuing an associate degree in nursing online have to multi-task constantly. Taking a half hour to clear the mind and meditate is often an excellent antidote to a hectic student schedule. Think of it as a traditional study break but with better benefits. This is especially helpful during exam preparation when the brain feels overloaded with too many facts to possibly remember them all. Taking the time to meditate in a quiet place works wonders for the brain’s ability to recall information.

Meditation benefits people who have a problem with anxiety. The root causes of over-anxiety in individuals are often not irrational at all. Anxiety can be a completely natural reaction to the brain’s inability to problem solve. Our brains are sorting and sifting information all the time. Our ability to evolve alongside dangerous animals for millions of years depended on our brain’s highly developed ability to instantly identify danger and act accordingly. When we sleep our brains process information; perhaps as part of the dreaming process which allows us to learn. That’s why people will present you with a situation or problem and then say “why don’t you sleep on it and we’ll talk about it later.” It’s just intuitive that sleep helps us solve problems. Meditation seems to mimic some of the problem solving capacity of sleep. In the same way that meditation study breaks can help students retain information during exam preparation, frequent meditation for anxious individuals may help them identify root cause of anxieties.

Meditation is an especially useful tool for senior citizens. All of the research which shows that brain deterioration can be dramatically slowed by meditation is also supported in peer reviewed studies as well as brain scans. That’s been established. What I’m more interested in is the effect of meditation on physical ability in senior citizens and most importantly the impact on sense of wellbeing. Elderly people who have incorporated meditation into their daily routines have greater physical ability and stamina than those that don’t. That’s easy to measure. It’s hard to say for sure though whether this is a causal relationship or a correlation to other factors. It’s possible, for example, that an older person who has practiced meditation for years has also engaged in other healthy lifestyle choices such as healthy diet and vigorous physical exercise. Wellbeing is an intangible thing. That makes it hard to measure. However, older folks who meditate frequently report experiencing higher levels of wellbeing than those who don’t. Everybody can find an extra half hour for meditation too. And it doesn’t cost anything.

postheadericon Does Meditation Help With Stress?

For many years meditation has been seen as a very good tool for helping control stress. However this was more speculation, based on observations, thoughts and feelings. In more recent times, research and scientific theories seem to back up the notion that meditation can help with stress.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body…Some types of meditation might work by affecting the automatic nervous system.” The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system are two divisions of the autonomic nervous system of the body. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our reaction to stress or fear and is more commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” system. The parasympathetic nervous system is active during times of rest and associated with “rest and digest”. The NIH goes on to say, “It is thought that some types of meditation might work by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.”

One theory, presented by Daniel Goleman & Tara Bennett-Goleman suggests that meditation works because of the relationship between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. In very simple terms, the amygdala is the part of the brain that decides if we should get angry or anxious, and the pre-frontal cortex is the part that makes us stop and think about things.

The prefrontal cortex is very good at analyzing and planning, but it takes a long time to make decisions. The amygdala, on the other hand, is simpler and older in evolutionary terms. It makes rapid judgments about a situation and has a powerful effect on our emotions and behaviour, linked to our survival needs. For example, if a human sees a pretador leaping out at them, the amygdala will trigger a fight or flight response long before the prefrontal cortex responds.

But in making snap judgments, our amygdalas are prone to error, such as seeing danger where there isn’t any. This is particularly true in our modern society where social conflicts are far more common than encounters with predators, and a basically harmless but emotionally charged situation can trigger uncontrollable fear or anger, leading to conflict, anxiety, and stress.

Therefore meditation can not only help us reduce our stress levels in the short term, but it can also improve our brains in order to more effectively deal with stressful situations in the future. Regular practice of meditation can help reduce our stress levels to very manageable levels.

postheadericon Meditation Changes The Brain

Studies done by Yale, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that meditation increases gray matter in the brain and slows down the deterioration of the brain as a part of the natural aging process.

The experiment included 20 individuals with intensive Buddhist ‘insight meditation’ training and 15 who did not meditate. The brain scan revealed that those who meditated had an increased thickness of gray matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for attention and processing sensory input. The study also showed that meditation helps slow down brain deterioration due to aging.

Another study involving the participation of a group of colleges students, who were asked to use a meditation technique called integrative body-mind training, concluded that “meditating may improve the integrity and efficiency of certain connections in the brain” through an increase in their number and robustness. (Science Daily 22 August 2010)

Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University Of Colorado, reported that Zen meditation “rewires the circuitry” of the brain in his book ‘Zen and the Brain’ (1999). This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging, a brain scanning technique that measures blood flow in the brain.

These studies all clearly indicate that meditation is good for the brain, can slow down its aging process, and can even positively influence it in a physical way. That’s why its a very good idea to put aside even just a small amount of time every day to meditate.