You can enjoy positive effects from even just one meditation, and the long-term benefits multiply with continued practice.
Recent studies show that meditation not only reduces stress—which would certainly be enough reason to try it—but it actually affects our DNA, protecting the life of our cells and slowing aging. One study showed that just one meditation session can have a positive impact.
Scientists are just beginning to understand how and why meditation works, but its mental, physical and emotional benefits have been appreciated since ancient times. It has been proven to lower stress and to help combat illnesses such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety disorders
- Sleep problems
The greatest benefit comes from a daily practice, and there are many forms of meditation to try. From Mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation to Tai Chi and yoga, it can involve movement or stillness, attention or transcendence.
Meditation is something that helps you turn the volume down internally, and shift away from the stress response toward a parasympathetic response. It may include breathing in a purposeful way, using guided imagery and your imagination or focusing on an object. I often coach patients in meditation techniques to address their particular situation.
The effects can be very powerful.
Here are eight scientifically proven benefits of meditation:
- Stronger immunity. Multiple studies show that meditation improves immunity in a variety of ways, from boosting antibodies to slowing down the production of CD-4 cell counts to stimulating the brain areas that control the immune system.
- Less pain. Meditation can reduce the experience of pain and lower activity in the brain’s pain-processing regions.
- Stronger and faster mental function. Meditation strengthens the connection between brain cells and may lead to increased gyrification (cortical activity linked to the brain’s ability to process information more quickly).
- Brain restructuring. It’s amazing to consider, but meditation can change your brain structure—brain scans of longtime meditators show increased gray matter, which is associated with intelligence, sensory perception, emotional stability and stress response.
- Increased learning ability. Research shows that students who meditate have better test scores, improved attendance rate, increased intelligence and creativity and less stress.
- Emotional stability. It appears that when exposed to stress, long-time meditataors show less activity in the right amygdala—the part of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions.
- Better focus. A University of Washington study conducted by Dr. David Levy showed that those who are trained in meditation experience less negative emotion in multi-tasking tests and can switch tasks less often and more effectively. Meditators also showed improved task-related memory.
- Weight control. It turns out that meditation can actually help reduce belly fat. Increased stress increases certain hormone activity that can lead to weight gain, and study after study shows that meditation can significantly reduce the body’s response to stress as well as increase serotonin, a hormone that influences sleep, mood and appetite.
Meditation, in whatever form we choose, can play an effective and enjoyable role in our health and wellbeing.