During these unprecedented times, we have been overwhelmed with news and information that can most definitely take a toll on our mental health. We hear advice such as, take a break from social media, go outside in nature, and meditate. Additionally, there is greater advocacy for therapists, breathing apps, and meditation for good reasons. Meditation is beneficial in protecting your mental health; it also serves other benefits. Check out five benefits of meditating.
1. Reduces Stress Meditating relaxes the mind and body and improves focus. Meditation doesn't magically eliminate our demands, but it does create space in our minds to handle stressors more peacefully. As mentioned, there are many forms of meditation, and many clinical trials have shown that all forms of meditation are beneficial. Take Open Monitoring Meditation, for example. This form of meditation aims to promote awareness of one's thoughts. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found a reduction of grey matter in the brain areas related to stress and anxiety, indicating less sensory activity in those areas (1).
2. Lengthens Attention Span If you are a college student, attend meetings daily, or interact with many people regularly, you know how valuable your attention span is. Depending on your current stressors or if you have had your morning coffee, your attention span could be impacted. However, meditation can help lengthen it. In a study published by Nature Research, 30 participants attended a meditation retreat for three months in Colorado (2). While they were on the retreat, they underwent training that challenged their attention span. They had the task of making a visual distinction between lines on a computer. Lines would flash on the screen, most of the same size, but when a shorter line was shown, the test was that they had to respond. This task lasted for 30 minutes. By the end of the retreat, meditation was shown to improve participants' responses during the line tests. Additionally, those who continued meditating maintained their improved attention span.
3.Reduces Pain We've heard the phrase mind over matter; well, there's evidence that this statement is valid when it comes the pain perception. In some studies, meditation has been shown to improve the perception of pain. For instance, in a small study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, mindful meditation was able to help reduce pain in study participants (3). The 75 participants in the study were separated into four groups - mindfulness meditation, placebo meditation ("sham" meditation), placebo analgesic cream (petroleum jelly), or control. Pain was induced among all participants by heating a probe to the participant's skin to 49 degrees, which most people find painful. With the assistance of pain ratings and brain imaging, researchers were able to assess the participants' pain levels. The results showed that the mindfulness meditation group reported that pain intensity was reduced by 27 percent and was less than the placebo group (3).
4.Improve Sleep Many people have insomnia or find it hard to shut their brains off to fall asleep. This common problem can be addressed with meditation. Many studies have shown how mindfulness meditation can help improve sleep and insomnia. One study compared the sleep patterns of two groups – a group participating in meditation classes and a group participating in sleep education classes. These classes lasted for two hours, once a week for six weeks. At the end of the six weeks, it was concluded that the mindfulness meditation class was more beneficial in promoting sleep than sleep education classes (4). Mindfulness mediation evokes a relaxation response, which is useful in improving sleep. The relaxation response is the direct opposite of the stress response.
5.Boosts Learning Meditation is not just for relaxation and calming effects. It can also improve cognition and boost learning. Scientists state that there are "limitless ways" that meditation improves learning (5). Here are two ways. Meditation improves your focus by activating the Alpha brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are activated when you are calm and relaxed and may also enhance your creativity. Meditation can also activate both the left and right sides of the brain. We often use one side of the brain, the left (mathematical and scientific) or the right side (creative). However, meditation helps these sides to work in balance (5).
Local Tip: Interested in mediation, try yoga! Also, check out our article on YogaShala - a local Nashville yoga studio offering yoga and meditation classes - virtual or in person.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326129862_Open_monitoring_meditation_reduces_the_involvement_of_brain_regions_related_to_memory_function https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100714121737.htm https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2015/11/Mindfulness-Meditation-Trumps-Placebo-in-Pain-Reduction https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726 https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/meditation-will-increase-your-capacity-for-learning/