Meditation has become a popular buzz word in recent years. With many claiming that it can change your life and your brain. What is meditation and how does it work? It turns out that meditation is nothing new. In fact, it has been practiced around the world for thousands of years. Some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana), come from the hindi traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BCE. An archaeologist discovered evidence of meditation in wall art dating from approximately 5,000 to 3,500 BCE in the Indus Valley. Throughout the years many of the world’s most popular religions adopted meditation is some form.
Meditation has since become the cornerstone of spirituality around the world. Meditation was first introduced to the west in the early 20th century. During the 1960’s there was an explosion of interest in meditation due largely to popular music groups like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. After the 60’s and 70’s, interest in meditation began to wane. It wasn’t until recently that we have seen a resurgence of interest in meditation like that of the 1960’s. This recent surge of interest in meditation is largely due to the advances that have been made in brain imaging (EEG, fMRI, PET). Now neuro scientists can see how meditation actually changes the brain. These physical changes that are made to the brain can lead to changes in cognition and emotions. We are going to cover 10 amazing benefits from meditating just 20 minutes every day.
1. Increases Happiness
This one might not come as much of a surprise. When most people think of meditation, they think of someone sitting cross legged with a serene smile on their face. This is with good reason. A 2015 study showed that meditation has been shown to increase the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA. The neuro transmitter that is most responsible for happiness is serotonin, often referred to as the “happy” neurotransmitter. Meditation’s serotonin boosting effect works to create a utopian chemical environment for the production of new brain cells, making you happier and healthier.
Furthermore, meditation has been shown to increase our happiness set point. Everyone has a different happiness set point. This set point is each person’s individual level of happiness that they experience throughout the day. Some people have a high happiness set point and others are lower. Even if someone wins the lottery, their happiness will return to their pre-lottery set point in about six months. Fortunately, we can all raise our happiness set points! A study showed that after only eight weeks of meditating for six days a week, participants reported feeling happier. Further tests showed that their happiness set points had indeed increased.
2. Stress Reduction
This is perhaps the most common reason why people start meditating. We live in a very hectic and stressful world. Unfortunately, the speed of life doesn’t show any signs of letting up. In fact, most people would agree that everything seems to be speeding up. This is where meditation can help. Meditation is a very effective stress reliever. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to actually shrink the area of the brain that responds to stress. This little almond shaped known as the amygdala. As a result, people who practice mindfulness meditation become more resilient to stress and less reactive.
Additionally, meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body. A 2013 study showed that mindfulness meditation reduced cortisol blood levels in stressed out medical students. Another study showed that transcendental meditation, a mantra based meditation, was effective at lowering cortisol levels in postmenopausal women.
3. Reduces Depression
We live in an age where depression seems to be at an epidemic level. With the ever increasing pace of life, depression continues to plague people around the world. Many people look to meditation in hopes of finding some relief. Fortunately, meditation has been shown to be effective at relieving depression.
Furthermore, mindfulness meditation allows one to be more present in the moment. This is important because often times when we are depressed it is because we are ruminating. We are stuck thinking of some past event or projecting a worst case scenario in the future. People who ruminate tend to get stuck in negative thought loops which lead to depression. Studies show that meditation has been shown to reduce the frequency of rumination. Mindfulness meditation can actually strengthen the part of the brain that allows one to stay present. This leads to less rumination, less depression and greater wellbeing
4. Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the world, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Fortunately, meditation can offer relief from anxiety disorders. A study led by Jon Kabat Zinn showed that participants who practices mindfulness meditation has dramatically reduced their anxiety and panic disorders. Mindfulness also helped to prevent the reoccurrence of anxiety and panic in the test subjects. This is due in part to the effect meditation has on the fear center of the brain. The amygdala processes fear and emotions. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala leading to a reduction in anxiety and panic disorders.
5. Increases Self Awareness
Self-awareness has become very popular topic, especially in business. Meditation is a very powerful way to increase self-awareness. Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to see ourselves clearly. Mindfulness meditation helps to cultivate the ability to be in the present moment. When we are in the present moment it allows us to become aware of your inner and outer experience.
Furthermore, mindfulness meditation helps to separate us from our thoughts. It helps us to realize that we are not our thoughts. Just because we have a thought that does not necessarily make it is true. When we can separate ourselves from our thoughts we become aware of what we are thinking and how it is making us feel. Cultivating this kind of self-awareness can help one to not get caught up in negative thoughts and live in the present moment.
6. Increases Concentration
Do you find it difficult to concentrate on any one thing for more than a couple minutes? Well, meditation just might be the answer you’ve been looking for! Meditation has been shown to be very effective in increasing one’s ability to concentrate. A study from the University of North Carolina found that after just four days of meditation training for only 20 minutes per day, student performed better on a test measuring cognitive skills.
For example, on one particularly difficult test which measured sustained attention, participants who meditated scored 10 times better than the non-meditation group. The ability to concentrate is arguably one of the most important cognitive skills for success in business and life. So if you are looking to give your focus a boost, try meditating for 20 minutes a day and witness firsthand how your concentration goes through the roof.
7. Anti-Aging Effects
Almost everyone knows someone suffering with memory issues. In fact, you might suffer with memory loss yourself. Whether it is mild dementia or Alzheimer’s, memory loss has grown to almost epidemic levels. Many think that this is just an unfortunate part of aging. Well, we now know that there are things we can do to prevent or delay the onset of these conditions.
A 2015 study showed that practicing Kirtan Kriya meditation for just 12 minutes a day can improve memory loss in participants suffering with cognitive decline. Not only that, it was also shown to increase telomerase by a whopping 43%! Telomere shortening is involved in all aspects of the aging process on a cellular level. Our Telomere length represents our biological age as opposed to our chronological age. So practicing daily meditation actually makes you biologically younger!
8. May Help With Addiction
Addiction is a crippling disease that ruins the lives of millions of people every year. In fact, 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That is 1 out of every 10 people over the age of 12. Unfortunately, only 11% of addicts ever receive treatment. Addiction is a growing trend around the world.
Fortunately, meditation has been proven to be very effective in the treatment of addiction. A 2006 study showed that when prison inmates, who were addicted to drugs and alcohol, meditated for 90 days they showed a remarkable reduction in their drug and alcohol use. After the 90 days of meditation the prison inmates reported that they drank 87% less alcohol, and used 89% less marijuana! Meditation is a great start for anyone on the path to recovery.
9. Improves Sleep
It’s no surprise that we live in an age of sleep deprivation. From our ever increasing to-do lists and numerous responsibilities, sleep tends to take a back seat to our busy lives. Science has proven that sleep deprivation is detrimental to our health and well-being. Luckily, meditation can help! A 2015 study showed that when forty nine middle age participants were taught and then practiced mindfulness meditation they had less insomnia and fatigue after only six sessions.
The sleep enhancing benefits of meditation come from its ability to reduce stress. We all need sufficient amounts of melatonin to fall and stay asleep. High levels of stress can inhibit melatonin. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and boost melatonin. A study out of Rutgers University showed that melatonin levels for meditation practitioners were increased by an average of 98%
10. Pain Reduction
Living with chronic pain can dramatically reduce ones quality of life. It’s difficult to work and enjoy life if you are always in pain. A large segment of the American population suffers from chronic pain. In fact, 11.2 percent of American adults (25.3 million people) have experienced some form of pain every day for the past three months according to the National Health Institute.
Additionally, they also found that even more people, 17.6 percent of American adults, suffer from “severe levels” of pain. Fortunately, meditation has been shown to be effective in reducing emotional and chronic pain. In fact, a 2015 study found mindfulness meditation reduces emotional pain by 44% and pain intensity by 27%. Mindfulness meditation is able to achieve this by activating the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex. These brain regions are associated with pain and self-control.
BONUS: Meditation May Help With Weight Loss
A study out of North Carolina showed that mindfulness meditation can help with weight loss. They took 80 participants who wanted to lose weight and taught half mindfulness meditation. They mindfulness meditation group lost 7 times more weight than the non-meditators. For more information on meditation and other natural ways to lose weight click here.
Have you tried meditation? What benefits have you experienced?