Meditation is a practice that has been life changing for myself and many others. The practice can reconstruct negative thought processes in one’s head, as well as calm the internal chatter that tends to follow people’s minds in day to day life. With a practice that is centuries old I began to wonder exactly how meditation works and how helpful it really is. In this article I will attempt to answer that.
Meditation is a mind and body practice. This means that meditation addresses the interactions between one’s brain, body, mind, and behavior. The goal is to calm one’s mind so that their body brain and behavior will reflect serenity and peace. In recent years these practices have greatly increased among Westerners allowing access to more research. Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, symptoms of IBS, ulcerative colitis, and anxiety and depression. It has been proven that meditation greatly impacts our body’s functioning. For example, “In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information.” In 2013 it was found that “ a review of three studies suggests that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.” Another found benefit is that meditation can heavily impact the amygdala, a part of the brain that regulates emotions, meaning it could be very helpful for people with overactive amygdalas, such as patients with PTSD and anxiety (NCCHI).
The “how” as to why meditation works the understood explanation is that meditation deeply relaxes the body and mind. By doing so many ailments are relieved. As to mental struggles, meditation helps by calming one’s mind long enough to instill perspective and acceptance of most matters. Meditation is also safe for most people, making it very accessible. The only risk is involved with people who experience certain psychiatric disorders.
Currently studies are being done regarding meditation for treating teens with widespread pain (like fibromyalgia patients), stress reduction for people with multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and headaches.
Meditation is becoming much more prevalent in Western cultures compared to previous years. And we will only continue to discover the benefits it can provide. I wrote another article on beginner meditation techniques that can help you to start meditating and living a more balanced life (Mayo Clinic, NCCIH).