A clear mind creates the basis for all effective action. The constant, chaotic swirl of thoughts that plagues our baseline consciousness has to be overcome, or at least quieted and set aside to hear one's own desires clearly. Achieving this sort of mental equanimity is the goal of meditation. But, does meditation work, really?
It seems that every corporation is pushing yoga and meditation on its employees in lieu of stress-reducing measures such as hiring more people or raising the wages of existing members. One can easily be cynical about such low-cost solutions to the elevated cortisol levels caused by stress. However, the fact is that many medical benefits are proven to be derived from the practice of meditation.
Does Meditation Work?
Some people are skeptical that something which so closely resembles sitting (an activity in which nearly everyone partakes) can provide so many benefits for the practitioner. However, the fact remains that a meditation practice cultivates a healthful space within the garden of your own mind. It gives you a place of refuge when life gets harrowing. Studies also suggest that repeated practice in meditation results in beneficial changes in brain shape associated with reduced stress, lessened anxiety, and better emotional health overall.
Many articles focus on the benefits of “clearing your mind.” They tout the benefits of removing your consciousness from the patterns of thought you've been stuck cycling through. This is certainly a major benefit of meditation, just as the first step in any prison break is the realization that you are indeed in prison.
However, meditation also allows you to hear the voice of your inner self more clearly. Once all those McDonald's advertisements, Miley Cyrus tunes, and unfinished arguments with your uncles have been allowed to float downstream, you can get in tune with your inner self and your desires. Suddenly, the thoughts bubbling up to the surface of your mind turn from reflections of the outer world into echoes of your true desire.
It has been understood in Eastern mysticism for a long time there is a myriad of benefits of meditation, now, Western medicine is beginning to catch on. More than any other mental practice, meditation can serve to benefit the individual.
Mental clarity, inner peace, and increased focus are a few of the starting benefits of daily meditation. However, they increase as you go further into the thicket of meditative practice. Meditation works by affecting the type of brain waves created inside us. Specifically, it helps us to transition to lower frequencies, activating different parts of the brain.
Lower frequencies in the brain operate with more rest between thoughts, allowing for the meditator to decide which thoughts are worth more contemplation and which are better left alone. Deciding which actions are important will only get easier with increased meditation.
What Are Brain Waves?
There are five types of brain waves for the human mind: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta. While these sound like the names of society houses from your alma mater, they are actually useful terms for understanding the important changes happening in your brain as you meditate.
First, the Gamma state. Imagine this is the hyperactive state of your brain when learning in an almost frenzied state. This is a non-typical state for the brain.
Second, there is the Beta state, hopefully the state you are in now as you read this article. Beta is the state in which associate activity with the prefrontal cortex: analyzing, thinking typically, and planing. The prefrontal cortex is the front part of the brain, the last to be added in our evolutionary history.
Activities associated with this area are typical of humans after the mid-twenties when it finishes developing. If you want to understand what the prefrontal cortex does, simply think of the differences in behavior between an 18-year-old and a 28-year-old.
Third, there is the Alpha state, the almost calm state of mind. Here we feel peaceful, grounded, and centered. The Alpha state is entered easily enough through green bathing, a type of scientifically arrived at meditation.
Green bathing is only slightly more complex than taking a walk in a green environment for around 15 minutes. In other words, there is not a lot of effort on the part of the individual in order to arrive at the slowing Alpha state. Simply, take a walk or do a bit of yoga, and you will achieve this state.
Another way to arrive at the Alpha state of brain waves is a sexual encounter. Any activity that calms the mind will help to lower the frequency of thought. Not to mention that the Alpha state will diffuse your state of awareness, giving you that slow, calm feeling.
Fourth, there is the Theta state, where meditation begins. Here, the shift happens from linguistic to visual. No more planning or mental chatting. Here, the brain begins to feel drowsy, diffuse, whole, with increasing intuition and visualization.
If there is any reason for meditation, the Theta state is a great place to start.
Last, there is the Delta state, a place of deep relaxation, achievable through years of meditation. While many of us may never reach this state, it is a wonderful goal to keep pulling us back to the meditation cushion again and again.
Scientifically Validated Benefits Of Meditation Stress Reduction
Stress is the number one killer in the modern world. Sure, the main causes of death in America is listed as “heart attack,” but ultimately many of these cardiac events are the straw on top of the heap of stress which sits upon the mythical camel's back.
Just because luxurious activities like getting a massage reduces stress, it does not follow that reducing stress is merely a luxury. Elevated cortisol levels lead to inflammation which leads to a whole host of problems of the medical, mental, and social varieties. Stress reduction is a matter of life and death.
Fortunately, a PubMed study involving over 3,500 participants found that a practice of meditation does significantly reduce the individual's level of stress.
Some people see anxiety as a particular form of stress. While stress shares much of the same characteristics of anxiety, anxiety comes with a whole host of symptoms that are more specific.
Anxiety disorders include phobias, paranoid ideation, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and panic attacks. Studies have found that an 8-week meditation program can greatly reduce the symptoms of all these types of anxiety. Even more impressive, when scientists followed up on the same study, they found that many of the former participants had kept up their practice.
So does meditation work for anxiety? It did for those who underwent the 8-week course. A nice benefit of using mediation for anxiety is that it is not relegated to just one style of meditation. A study of over 2000 participants found that many styles of meditation could be used to reduce anxiety in the participants.
Enhance Your Self Awareness
Does meditation work only to avoid negative mental states? No, studies suggest that meditation can be used to enhance aspects of human cognition, not just avoid negative states like anxiety or stress.
One way meditation helps enhance cognition is by expanding one's awareness of their self. This expanded awareness helps to eliminate limiting beliefs and to allow a person to free themselves from self-destructive thought loops.
The benefits in this regard can be surprising. For instance, a study of 40 senior citizens found that meditation leads to reduced feelings of loneliness. Some studies have even demonstrated that moving meditations, such as Tai Chi, to be more effective in raising one's self-esteem than social support counseling.
Enhance Your Attention Span
Perhaps we should have made this point earlier in the article to capture those who have a truly short span of attention and need meditation to help. If you've got a “short little span of attention now” (to quote Paul Simon), the good news is that meditation helps to give you more focus.
If you find yourself struggling to learn a language or constantly putting off doing your taxes due to how mind-numbingly boring it all is, meditation can help.
One study found that after an eight-week mindfulness meditation course, participants had a better ability to reorient and maintain their attention than they did at the beginning of the study.
Another study found that meditation might even be able to rewrite patterns in the brain associated with mind-wandering, worrying, and poor attention. This means that new patterns of focus and insight can be achieved through mediation.
Improve Your Sleep
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, then you should certainly give meditation a try. A study which pitted meditators against a control group found that those who meditated fell asleep sooner and even snoozed longer compared to non-meditators.
Many health problems arise from lack of sleep, and therefore much good can be accomplished by getting better sleep.
How To Meditate
There are as many wonderful ways to meditate as there are grains of sand on the beach. Picking the right one for you may serve a bit more difficult. In time, many more meditations than you originally thought possible will fall into your wheelhouse.
Here's a simple meditation that provides many healthful benefits:
Loving Kindness Meditation
One absolutely beautiful meditation, to begin with, is the loving kindness meditation. Simply begin by asking yourself where kindness or love come from. Each time you think you have reached the end of that train of thought return to your question. Repeat this process until you have meditated for 15 minutes.
This meditation is not about clearing your mind of all thought. Quite the contrary! This meditation is focused on helping you to bring more love, light, and genuine kindness into both your life and the world around you.
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