Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Meditation



Why meditate?

Funnily enough, this is not a question I hear very often.  I get the "why" question about a lot of things, but not about meditation.

I say "funnily enough", as I know the reality is that very few people really seem to practise meditation.  They apparently know why they should, but just never get around to it.

But I am now going to give some good medical reasons anyway.  Don't skip them!  Don't say "I know why I SHOULD meditate" unless you regularly practise meditation.  If you don't regularly practise, then you really need to remind yourself of exactly what you are missing.

According to "Mind", a large and well respected mental health charity, one in four people in the UK will suffer with a mental health problem this year.  Read that again: one in four!  You may not live in the UK, but the statistics are probably very similar in your country.  Probably not publicized, as to far too many people "mental illness" is a dirty word, so the problem tends to be brushed under the carpet.  Just think about it for a second - if you have a spouse and two children then the statistics say it is very likely one of you will have a mental problem in the very near future.  By far the commonest problem is a condition consisting of a mix of anxiety and depression.  Roughly 10% of the population suffer from this.  Over 2.5% will suffer from severe clinical depression.  Around 17% will consider suicide at some point in their life.  Are these statistics surprising and disturbing?  They certainly took me aback!

One of the best answers to this very prevalent problem is to practise meditation.  In January 2014 an assistant professor of medicine at John Hopkins University, Madhav Goyal, published a paper in the American Medical Association's journal of internal medicine, reviewing the results of properly conducted scientific studies on the impact of meditation on anxiety and depression.  Goyal found good evidence that meditation was as effective in countering and controlling anxiety and depression as was a properly administered and controlled drug therapy regime.  He also found that there had been far too little proper research of this kind, and the suggestion was that meditation would most likely be found to be even more effective if anyone bothered to research it more thoroughly!  What an inditement!  But also, what an endorsement of the power of meditation!

Another study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that a meditation program resulted in a significant reduction in anxiety and panic attacks in a group of patients with anxiety and panic disorder.

A study by neuroscientists at Harvard University, headed by Dr Sara Lazar, showed that regular meditation resulted in a significant increase in the grey matter of the brain in areas that controlled memory, learning ability, regulation of emotions, compassion, self-awareness and the ability to put things in perspective - and that these results were obtained after only 8 weeks of meditation.  Please read this sentence again!  Regular meditation even for a fairly short period has been demonstrated in a controlled scientific experiment to increase your ability to learn, to control your enotions, become more self-aware, become less concerned about problems, and even simply to be more compassionate.  Look at that list!  If you are at all interested in self improvement you should certainly be including regular meditation in your various practices.

The more the cerebral cortex of your brain is folded, the better your brain becomes at processing information.  In other words, you make better decisions if your brain is folded more.  Well research by the UCLA Department of Neurology in 2012 showed that people who meditated regularly experienced greater folding of their cerebral cortex.  This means meditation improves your brain in a way that means you can make better decisions.

An article published in 2010 in "Behavioural and Brain Functions" showed that even novice meditators were able to perform tasks significantly better after just a short course of meditation.  The research also showed that there was an apparent reduction in the need for sleep in the group practising meditation for a longer period.  So the evidence suggests you should be able to work more effectively, whatever that work might be, and either sleep less or gain greater benefit from sleeping for the same number of hours.  Do you think this might be beneficial for you?  If so, you need to meditate!

In the Journal of Neuroscience, 6th April 2011, a group of researchers reported on a study which showed meditation significantly reduces the effect of pain.  They measured two factors - pain "unpleasantness" and pain intensity.  The research showed that after just 4 days of meditation, the volunteers showed a reduction of 57% in the "unpleasantness" of a pain sensation, and a 40% reduction in the intensity of the pain.  Apparently this is a greater impact than a normally prescribed dose of morphine would give, but without the potential side effects of severe constipation and even possible addiction if too much morphine is required.

There are many more proven health benefits of meditation, but let me finish with just one more.  A study by scientists at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, showed after a very short period of meditation (three 45 minute sessions every 10 days) the meditators became more creative.  When researching a problem we all have a tendency to follow one train of thought and then miss all the other possiblities which might otherwise have occurred to us.  This is termed "convergent thinking".  The opposite of this, "divergent thinking", allows us to consider lots of different ideas instead of being trapped in just one way of thinking.  What the researchers found was that the meditation exercises promoted divergent rather than convergent thinking.  So if you meditate you are much more likely to come up with different, productive ideas.

I suggest you read this again and again.  Meditation has scientifically proven, medically confirmed benefits.  It changes your brain physically in ways that:

  •   reduce anxiety, depression and other mental health problems
  •   increase your ability to learn
  •   improve your memory
  •   improve your ability to control negative emotions
  •   reduce your worries about problems
  •   improve your abilities to find the right answers to problems
  •   increase your compassion
  •   increase your self-awareness
  •   improve your ability to make the right decisions
  •   improve your ability to complete tasks properly
  •   reduce the intensity and "unpleasantness" of pain
  •   improve creativity


Is this list long enough for you?  I hope so, even though it has only just scratched the surface.  Perhaps now you will be more ready to start meditating properly and regularly so you can gain all these great benefits!

1 comment:

  1. Graham,been doing TM. since 1998 of late March of the given year..
    My instructor,from Oxford,initiated a pure mantra for me only as would any other person would also get their own personal mantra..

    I agree with the above statements,however it has to be done on a daily basis for it is accumalative and then,therefore all the good stuff will no doubt accumalate too

    kindest.

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