The moment you position yourself Indian style, place your arms at your sides, and join your thumb and index finger to say “om,” your mind, body, and soul begin to transform. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years to promote spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, but how exactly does it affect the body? In AsapScience’s “The Scientific Power of Meditation,” Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown thoroughly explain meditation yields a number of benefits, including the ability to fight (not cure) diseases, increase empathy, and even lead to physical changes in the brain.
Meditation all starts in the brain with an increase in neural activity in regions directly correlated with decreased anxiety and depression, along with increased pain tolerance. The default mode network, in particular, is activated when the mind is at rest and not focusing on the outside world. This has been found to improve memory, self-awareness, and goal setting.
This is when the silent but active brain begins to undergo physical changes. A 2011 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found it takes up to two months to get a better brain. Participants who were involved in a meditation program for eight weeks had gray matter that was denser in areas associated with learning, memory, processing, and emotion regulation. The amygdala, which deals with stress, blood pressure, and fear, actually showed a decrease in gray matter.
Since meditation has a significant toll on the brain, and the brain controls all of you, it can protect your body when it’s most vulnerable to be ill. Compared to non-meditators, meditators are able to produce a greater number of antibodies and have an increase immune function when given the flu virus, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Furthermore, meditators may be able to see changes on a cellular level with an increase in telomere length, which is associated with a decreased likelihood of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Meditation not only benefits the mind and body, but also the soul. It can help meditators become more empathetic. Meditators tend to have higher alpha waves, which are known to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness, and anger.
Meditation can be a gateway to living a healthier lifestyle. However, AsapScience advises, “Meditation is not intended to be a substitute for other medical advice of a healthy lifestyle, but it can be a way to work out the brain with some extra health benefits.”
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