Depending on who you ask, the word “meditation” can mean many different things. An intellectual might say that meditation is a way to focus the mind for more productive thinking, while a monk might say that meditation is a method that taps into compassion and universal connection. But to a scientist, meditation remains somewhat of a research mystery, other than the evidence that it can benefit both the mind and body. For those of you who are interested in the scientific benefits of meditation, here are a few proven facts.
‘Mindfulness’ meditation is a method that involves maintaining a focused mental state and has shown positive results for pain reduction in patients. According to the National Institutes of Health, the key link between mindfulness meditation and lowering a patient’s pain level is by altering their subjective experience through practice. In other words, meditation can help you lift temporary or chronic pain if you can learn to shift your focus from it.
Anxiety and Depression
Approximately 18 percent of adults today suffer from anxiety, which can also lead to depression, and many would like an alternative solution to medication (as medication can cause harmful side effects). As reported by the General Hospital Psychiatry, anxious and depressed patients described an improvement in their mental state after undergoing 8-weeks of meditation. Those who suffered from panic attacks also noted progress in the severity and frequency of their attacks after sessions of focus and mindful practice. And for patients who continued their meditation strategies, positive recovery in both mood and mental state was reported to have improved.
Meditation Can Make You Smarter
Regular meditation sessions can significantly improve the amount of gray matter (the areas where nerve cells and connections are particularly dense) in your brain through neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change itself in response to its environment. By practicing your focus along with mindful techniques, you can balance out the hemispheric activity in your brain (called “whole brain synchronization”), encourage your brain to produce more positive and focused brainwave activity, improve short and long-term memory, and aid creative thought. In a nutshell, meditation can strengthen your brain in the same way that exercise can strengthen your muscles.
While all of these discoveries are exciting, scientists are continuing to study the act of meditation to develop more effective treatments that can provide a greater quality of life for patients. And when used daily, meditation is also a continuing interest in improving the overall health, mood, and connection in individuals.