The word “meditation” comes from the Latin words for “to think” and “to heal.” Researchers have found a number of ways that meditation helps to heal stress, anxiety and depression. A simple practice of paying attention to your breath for 30 minutes every day can yield amazing results. What does mindfulness meditation do?
1. Eases Depression. A 2009 study led by Thorsten Barnhofer of the University of Oxford found that patients who suffered from chronic depression who participated in eight weekly classes in mindfulness meditation improved their mental well-being, reducing their symptoms from severe to mild.
2. Adds Brain Matter. A 2005 study led by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that people who meditated daily for eight weeks grew gray matter in the areas of the brain that govern attention, memory, learning, emotional control, compassion, and empathy while reducing the size of the amygdala, which is involved with anxiety, stress and the fight-or-flight response. And, the effects were especially noticeable in older study participants, showing that meditation may help slow the effects of aging on the brain.
3. Increases “Happy” Brain Chemicals. A study published in Brain Research and Cognitive Brain Research in April 2002 (Kjaer, Bertelsen, and colleagues) reported that people who practiced Yoga Nidra meditation had a 65% increase in natural production of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with bliss and the ability to concentrate.
4. Reduces Stress Hormones. When you are under stress, your body produces cortisol. While a little cortisol is helpful to your body, aiding in memory function and blood sugar control, too much of this hormone in your system for too long can lead to depression, anxiety, weight gain, and increased blood pressure. A Rutgers University study discovered that meditators reduce the cortisol in their blood by nearly half.
5. Helps You Sleep. Researchers at Rutgers University found that meditators experienced an increase of 98% in their levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps you get restful sleep and maintain a positive mood.
6. Lowers Blood Pressure. A 2019 study conducted in Barcelona, Spain found that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation classes lowered participants’ blood pressure significantly compared with study members who received only health education during that time. The meditators also reported that they were less depressed after completing the meditation class.
7. Aids Memory Function. In a 2018 study by researchers from Osnabrück University in Germany, half of the participants practiced mindfulness meditation for ten minutes daily, and the other half learned muscle relaxation techniques. After eight weeks, both groups in the study were tested on their ability to concentrate and visually track bouncing balls in a video. The meditators’ score on the video test improved significantly, while the muscle relaxation group did not improve at all.
If you are looking for an easy way to improve your health and be your best self, the science is in. Try meditation. Specifically, take a mindfulness meditation class to help you make this beneficial health habit a routine part of your daily life and to get the most out of your meditation practice. Here’s to a smarter, healthier, happier you meditating!