People have practiced meditation for spiritual, emotional and physical well-being for thousands of years, but from a scientific viewpoint, how does meditation affect the body exactly? Does it do something really?
Everything starts in the brain. In regions specifically associated with reduced anxiety and depression, along with improved pain tolerance, brain scans see increased activity during meditation. In particular, when one’s mind is at rest and not focused on the outside world, the default mode network is enabled and has been found to enhance memory, self-awareness and goal-setting, and wanting to be more compassionate towards your friends and family.
When scientists contrasted Buddhist monks’ brains with new meditators, the area of the brain associated with empathy was found to be much more pronounced in the monks. It also alters the brainwaves, literally, and we can test these frequencies. Meditators have higher alpha wave levels, which have been shown to alleviate negative mood, tension, depression, and rage sensations. And if that wasn’t enough, it even affects our brain form and size physically.
Studies found that gray matter was more dense in areas associated with learning, memory consolidation, and emotion control after eight weeks of a mediation program, and yet the amygdala, which deals with blood pressure tension and anxiety, had reduced gray matter.
Not only can we see reduced blood pressure when we look at the whole body, but it may also increase your heart rate variability, and although this can sound negative, it actually plays a vital role in distributing oxygen and carbon dioxide efficiently in the body.
Meditators were able to generate a greater number of antibodies and had improved immune function in a study where both meditators and non-meditators were given the flu virus.
If we go a little deeper, at the cellular level, we can also see improvements. The chromosomes have protective protein complexes called telomeres, which help minimize DNA damage and lower cell death, and many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer have been related to a shortened telomere length.
Amazingly, their bodies showed substantial improvements in telomere length after cancer survivors ended a meditation program. It’s believed that psychological intervention has a direct effect on the enzyme telomerase, especially decreasing stress, which has been shown to counteract shortening by adding DNA to the shrinking telomeres.
Meditation is not of course, a substitution for other medical advice or a healthier lifestyle. We don’t want you to adopt this thought that it’s going to cure cancer, but it seems that meditation can be a way to work out your brain for extra health benefits, just as hitting the gym will grow your muscles and enhance your overall health. And since you all control your brain, well why don’t you all relax and say Ohm every once in a while?