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  • Chloe Jay

8 Reasons to meditate - backed up by science

Updated: May 8, 2023

Meditation is often seen as one of these unattainable art forms that people give up on almost always too soon because the results aren't instant.


And on the other side of the coin, meditation is grossly misunderstood. It doesn't have to involve orange robes, the lotus position and ‘OHM’ chanting (unless you want it to). It’s surprisingly more accessible than we think.


If you fall under one of these groups or are interested in why meditation is always a good idea, here are 8 reasons, backed up by genuine research, as to why we should definitely practise meditation:


1. Meditation reduces stress and anxiety


In recent years there has been what can only be described as a pandemic of stress and anxiety. Data by WHO revealed that during Covid, the global prevalence of anxiety had increased by a massive 25%.


And then add into the mix the rapid pace of life, higher-than-ever expectations, social media dependency, the impending doom of climate change… you catch my drift. There’s no wonder that so many of us are feeling the effects of stress and anxiety.


With what was once a shameful thing to admit, suffering from mental health issues or irregular mood is progressively becoming more socially accepted. After all, cognitive disorders are simply our brain’s networks becoming slightly distorted; the brain’s neurotransmitters don't work as efficiently as usual, and so the connection between brain cells becomes slower.


This in turn can result in a lower than average production of our ‘happy hormones’, serotonin; the mood stabiliser and dopamine; the reward chemical.


What many find through the regular practice of meditation and mindfulness is that the overwhelming feelings that accompany stress and anxiety are reduced.


In short, meditation can ‘take the edge off’, dulling stress and anxiety.

And there’s research to support this.


There is evidence for increased brain serotonin during meditation. Serotonin is important in regulating mood, as shown by the antidepressant effect of the antidepressants known as ‘specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ or SSRIs, resulting in increased serotonin activity in the brain. In addition to elevating mood, serotonin can stimulate increased production of acetylcholine, involved in memory mechanisms and attention.

Another study that involved 3,515 participants targeted various mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia with meditation practices. They found moderate evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation.



2. Meditation regulates emotions


Feeling emotionally unpredictable can be difficult, especially if you, yourself are unsure of which emotion is going to pop up next. When our emotions are irregular, they can get in the way of everyday life and searching for the reason as to why our emotions are ‘off’ only adds to the frustration of it all. Sometimes, all we need is to get back in sync with ourselves using mediation.


When we practise meditation, the function of the brain begins to alter. The act of meditation manipulates the brain to slow down. We go from hundreds of thoughts per minute to moments where we concentrate on the singular, for example, the breath or the sound of a guided meditation. You can imagine that when practised regularly, how this soothes the mind and resets your emotions.


A study by Ramel suggests that practising mindfulness and meditation “leads to decreases in ruminative thinking”, helping to regulate emotions.

Let’s break this down.


If we consider the idea that the majority of our emotions stem from our thoughts (an idea suggested by David R Hawkins, author of Letting Go), then the reduction of ruminative thinking can in turn, only reduce negative emotions.


So, in short, regular meditation and mindfulness practices help us reduce negative thinking and regulate our emotions.


3. Meditation grants us perspective


The act of meditation; the sitting quietly in a peaceful state as we observe the breath, waving along any thoughts without frustration, and bringing awareness back to the present, can help us gain perspective.


When we focus on the now rather than worrying about what is going to happen and what has already happened, we are able to take a step back from life and see it from a clearer, less warped lens.


Often when we are living in the past and future rather than the now, thoughts run like a marathon and we can get caught up in our emotions. Situations can often seem worse than they are or we cannot see a situation for what it actually is.


These moments of witnessing the here and now help us detach from any blurriness, view things pragmatically and often gift us that, “a weight has been lifted” feeling.


Meditation and mindfulness can also help us separate the mind from the Self. It’s important to remember that you are not your mind or the thoughts it so often produces. The Self is you, your soul, the essence of your human experience.


When we don’t recognise that we are not our thoughts, all too often it causes upset, confusion and frustration. The mind is a wonderful thing but without awareness we suffer, we become its prisoner, bound by fear.


Meditation gives us the liberation to identify between the two. It’s as if, when we focus on the present, we mute the mind somewhat, giving the Self the capacity to shine true. And the more we practise, the more space we give to the Self, we drop the ego and become more connected to ourselves. It’s beautiful.


4. It’s relaxing!


What happens to the body when we meditate? As we slow down the breath, both the heart rate and blood pressure reduce. Longer exhalations signal to the nervous system that it’s safe to relax.


A meta-analysis of 12 studies enrolling nearly 1000 participants found that meditation helped reduce blood pressure.

Regular meditation helps to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the “fight-or-flight” response that increases alertness in stressful situations.


Maybe this is why those that practise meditation regularly experience a ‘high’. This is the type of tranquillity and inner peace that we can access by focusing within.


I like to think of the mind like water. Before meditation it is the ocean; angry, treacherous and unpredictable, crashing against rocks and causing devastation. After regular meditation, it is a peaceful lake; it soothes the mind, leaving us in a state of stillness, calmness, and serenity. It’s a proper remedy.


5. Meditation encourages focus and creativity


Many creatives are most productive following the act of mindfulness and meditation. Think about actors and writers who submerge themselves in nature and mindfulness practices when preparing for a role or looking for inspiration.


A study by Lazer suggested that meditation is associated with increased cortical thickness. What does this mean? The thicker your brain is (contrary to the saying, ‘thick headed’), the more intelligent you could be. A thicker cortical is also associated with memory. So get meditating, people.


Mediation is a free, easy brain elixir - and it can have a positive influence on your life within days: “Our findings suggest that 4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention” says neuroscientist and professor, Zeidan.

6. Meditation reduces pain


Is there nothing meditation can’t do?


A variety of research suggests that when a consistent mindful or meditative practice is introduced into daily life, pain can be controlled.


Of course, the ritual of sitting and meditating itself cannot physically reduce pain but it can have an effect on how we perceive pain.


One study that included participants who suffered from chronic pain concluded that after mindfulness meditation, there were small decreases in pain compared with those who did not take part in mindfulness meditation.

Another study revealed that “mindfulness meditation produced demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways.”


7. Meditation promotes good sleep


So many of us struggle with our sleep. Whether it's a problem drifting off, that feeling of not being able to ‘switch off’ or straight-up insomnia.


Why is this? There can be a myriad of reasons why but a major one includes the mind and not being able to quieten it.


Have you ever tried to drift off and catch yourself planning tomorrow’s dinner or stewing over that weird comment your boss made two weeks ago? I think we can all relate. What’s happening here is, we are not regulating our thoughts properly throughout the day so why would the mind act differently when it’s time to hit the hay?


When we meditate we make space for the here and now, telling the brain, “this is where to focus your attention - not on random past and future thoughts.” This is a form of training for the mind that when practised frequently, regulates thoughts when it’s time to switch off.


One study focused on those who suffered from insomnia - an eight-week study whereby mindfulness-based meditation programs were introduced into participants’ routines. It found that the participants who meditated stayed asleep longer and had improved insomnia severity, compared with those who did not.

8. Meditation boosts cognitive function


And finally, meditation can help improve cognitive function - which is incredible really.


A study that focused on older people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) found that long-term mindfulness practice was associated with cognitive and functional improvements. The research suggested that mindfulness training could be a potential efficacious non-pharmacological therapeutic intervention for MCI.

In addition to these fascinating findings, expert in neuroscience, Luders, suggests a correlation between mediation and denser grey matter. Denser grey matter is associated with efficient cognitive function, memory, skill and intelligence. She proposed that the increased grey matter in the brain as a result of mediation could result in improved attention, greater positive emotions, and emotional control and stability.


Final Thoughts


Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool.


This method is not only free and accessible to us all but it reduces stress and anxiety, helps regulate our emotions, gives us perspective, relaxes the nervous system, promotes creativity and focus, reduces pain, encourages quality sleep and boosts cognitive function.


If these benefits don’t magically transpire overnight, don’t worry. It’ll take some practice.


Be patient with it, if it came easy we would all be walking around in a state of Zen.


Love and light,


Chloe


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