How Meditation Literally Changes Your Brain, Reduces Stress, And Prolongs Life

While meditation is a centuries-old practice, it is only relatively recently that studies have confirmed its positive effects on mental wellness and overall health. Through modern brain imaging and other tests, meditation has now been proven to have several neurological and psychological benefits.

Meditation Slows Brain Aging

In January 2015, a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that people who have been meditating in the long term have more grey matter volume, and thus better preserved brains, than those who don’t meditate.

An earlier study conducted by a research team at Harvard in 2011 also showed that research participants who practiced the prescribed meditation programs for eight weeks developed positive structural changes in their hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning. A reduced brain cell volume was also noted in the amygdala, which indicates a decrease in perceived stress, fear, and anxiety levels.

Meditation is an increasingly popular way to ensure brain health, and engaging in as little as 30 minutes of mindfulness exercises per day is effective enough to make a difference. These studies have opened up the proverbial path for further research as to the potential of meditation and mindfulness techniques in alleviating symptoms of various mental disorders.

Meditation Improves Happiness And Fosters Creativity

Aside from the anatomical changes in the brain, studies also show that meditation contributes towards improved overall psychological well-being. Psychologists from Yale University discovered that meditation helps in reducing activities in – or even deactivating – the default mode network (DMN), or the so-called “Me Center” of the brain. This brain network is responsible for self-referential thinking and is often associated with dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

It is also interesting how meditation, specifically open-monitoring meditation, nurtures creative thinking. In the Netherlands, researchers from the Leiden University have concluded that regular meditation practice has a significant impact on the efficient performance of tasks that require creativity. The study investigated the influence of meditation on both divergent and convergent styles of thinking.

Results of this study show that an open-monitoring meditation technique in which the individual does not focus on any particular concept or object was especially effective in fostering divergent thinking, the process by which new ideas are generated.

Focused Attention methods of meditation in which individuals focused on particular objects or concepts were, conversely, shown to encourage convergent thinking (though statistical significance was lacking), where one possible solution is usually generated for each problem.

This allows for the deduction to be made that meditation not only fosters creativity, but that different forms of meditation can even generate varying types of mental state.

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Meditation Relieves Stress And Symptoms Of Depression

For many centuries, meditation has been known to effectively reduce stress and minimize its effects on the body. In 2012, a study in the University of Washington showed that a group of human resources personnel who were trained in meditation were more efficient at multitasking and in handling stress than those who had relaxation training or those who didn’t have any training at all.

The group trained in meditation also demonstrated improved memory, and although they were observed as spending more time in solving tasks during the study, they took no longer to complete the overall job and focused better by concentrating on one task at a time and aiming for completion before switching to other responsibilities.

A good meditation program also helps in focusing one’s attention inward and promotes a state of deep relaxation. In a study published in the March 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation was considered to be as effective as an antidepressant in managing depression (though it is important to note that this denotes an average and different individuals might respond better to one or the other).

Scientific evidence also shows that it is helpful in improving attention and concentration, relieving pain, and reducing anxiety to such an extent that it can even be used as a complementary or alternative treatment for mental disorders.

Meditation Promotes Longevity

Aside from the several known benefits of meditation for psychological well-being, it is suggested that meditation also slows down the aging process. Naturally, the improved mental and emotional focus that results from a meditative lifestyle will contribute to better health in all aspects of life. The spiritual calm of meditation also achieves several manifestations of longevity and improved quality of life, such as lowered blood pressure and improved immune system.

This study, focusing on the impact of meditation in helping to slow down aging cells, postulates that mindfulness and meditation techniques can help individuals identify potential stressors and cope with them accordingly. Emotions and beliefs that arise from fear and false perceptions are considered as harmful to longevity, to the extent that excessive stress actually breaks down cellular life cycles. By practicing meditation that leads to positive cognitions, a better sense of control and acceptance can be fostered which, in turn, reduce stress levels and ensure the longevity of aging cells.

The long-term effects of meditation on mortality of elderly individuals have been established in a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology. It was indeed shown that meditation and other stress-reduction techniques were as effective as antihypertensive drugs in managing high blood pressure. People who practice mindfulness and manage to translate these principles into everyday life are also thought to have lower levels of hostility, anger and retaliation.

In conclusion, meditation is not simply a form of exercise to help one unwind and achieve a better mood. Rather, meditation represents a healthy technique that holds the potential to slow brain aging, foster creativity, improve levels of happiness and even promote longevity.

Mindfulness techniques and various forms of meditation also offer a complimentary treatment to people with serious mental disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar conditions. Research in the field continues to affirm the existence of meditation as an increasingly vital agent in the creation and maintenance of a healthy mental state.

About Author

Marcus regularly blogs at psysci, a psychology, science blog that examines the latest research and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives.