If there is one thing common in all of us, it is the flaming urge to be happy and satisfied in life. Whether a crying baby, an insecure teenager, or a responsible family person, we all seek something that would comfort us.
One accomplished meditator and scholar says that the real source of happiness lies in the clarity of thoughts. External factors can only be pleasurable as long as we are happy from the inside. According to Buddha, meditation trains the mind to “not dwell in the past or contemplate about the future.” It lets the mind settle in the ‘now’ and allows us to see the beauty of the present.
Meditation establishes a secure connection between our internal and external worlds. It awakens the body and benefits all aspects of the conscious and subconscious layers of the mind. It offers countless benefits for your mind and body.
Meditation Increases Attention
Have you noticed how meditation absorbs you into the moment? Mindful awareness comes naturally to us when we meditate, and we reach ‘flow‘ state where our mind is in complete harmony with itself. A study on the effects of an eight-week mindful meditation course found that people who are regular meditation practitioners had heightened attention and concentration span. Even people who meditated for short durations showed more focus than individuals who did not meditate at all.
A 2018 study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Kirsten Kline. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
Having problems concentrating isn’t just a kid thing – it affects millions of grown-ups as well, with an ADD diagnosis or not. Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE.
In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too – but it’s nice to have science confirm it. And everyone can use a little extra assistance on standardized tests.
Meditation Promotes Emotional Well-being
Studies have shown that meditation improves self-image and self-worth. When we meditate, we get a clear picture of our mind and become aware of the thoughts that drive our emotions and actions at the moment.
A large-scale study found that regular meditation decreases the likelihood of developing depression and mood-related disorders. Besides some forms of meditative practices which also promoted positive thinking, as researchers stated, and could improve cognitive skills and overall emotional health of an individual.
A study conducted at the University of Utah suggested that “mindfulness may be linked to self-regulation throughout the day, and that this may be an important way that mindfulness contributes to better emotional and physical well-being.”
According to Maria Camara, PhD, a psychotherapist who is also a qualified mindfulness teacher, meditation helps us connect with our true qualities. Once we’ve accepted who we are and learn to work with our thoughts directly, we reveal a loving capacity that has always been present within us. It’s no wonder that mindfulness increases happiness, enhances clarity and gives peace of mind.
A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training.
“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.
Meditation is a Stress Reducer
Stress is the body’s response to unforeseen adversities. Encountering immediate threats increase the level of cortisol, or stress hormone in the body, and activates the Autonomic Nervous system, which is responsible for fight-or-flight responses. Brain studies of regular meditators revealed that they have lower cortisol level in their brains, which explains their resilience and insightful nature.
Several studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can benefit those who struggle with stress, anxiety and depression issues. A literature review conducted in 2017 assessed 48 mindfulness meditation trials that involved around 3,675 participants. The review concluded that meditation is a useful tool that helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. And not only do meditators feel less stressed, their levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol decrease measurably.
Chogyal Rinpoche, a spiritual leader and meditation expert, explains how meditation gradually calms the mind and prevents strong emotions from erupting uncontrollably. So rather than allowing themselves to be overcome by depression and stress, meditators learn to calm their minds and achieve balance.
Meditation Improves Cognition
Researchers agree that an excellent way for professionals to increase the likelihood of success is to keep meditation practice as a part of their daily routine. Studies have revealed that both transcendent and mindful meditation practices improve the brain’s problem-solving and decision-making strategies, which can bring a desirable shift in our professional life.
Meditation Enhances Empathy
Loving-kindness or compassion meditation fires neural connections to brain sites that regulate positive emotions like empathy and kindness. The deep state of flow that meditation induces builds social connectedness and make us more affectionate and amicable as a person.