Why do we have to meditate 2
The effects of meditation on the body and mind
For thousands of years people from different cultures have known about the effects of meditation on mental and physical well-being. For a long time, meditation was lumped together with esotericism - and has nevertheless established itself as an effective relaxation method over the last few decades. For a few years now it has become more and more clear that meditation is much more than that: a mental training with impressive effectiveness. Because even if monks in particular meditate so diligently during their lives that they gain tens of thousands of hours of meditation experience, meditation also works without any problems without spirituality.
Mental and physical health are closely related. Mental illnesses can manifest themselves in the body and physical illnesses often result in psychological problems as well. Meditation has a noticeable effect on the psyche after just a few hours - less susceptibility to stress and a feeling of inner calm and balance. This in turn has an impact on physical aspects such as blood pressure, immune system or cholesterol level. Neuroscientists have examined and measured these noticeable effects in various studies. With the help of imaging processes such as magnetic resonance imaging, the neurobiological effects of meditation exercises on brain activity and brain structure were made visible. It turns out that through meditation and mindfulness we can actually change our brain and personality.
Effects of meditation on mental health
By the way: We have summarized all scientifically proven effects of meditation in our ultimate meditation infographic!
1. Improved feeling of stress
10 percent of all Germans fear that they will tip over at some point because of stress and that they will no longer be able to meet the demands of our ever faster society. Methods such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation or stress management methods such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) have long been tried and tested methods of getting stress and perception of stress under control. The results such as relaxation and a feeling of satisfaction are quickly felt. Our physical and emotional experience of stress is strongly linked to the stress hormone cortisol, which has been shown to be lowered through meditation. A connection between the reduced experience of stress through meditation has also been scientifically proven: The substance of the right amygdala in the brain decreased in meditators, which was significantly associated with a reduced experience of stress and anxiety.
2. Emotional stability and positive thinking
Monks are known for their cheerful, happy disposition. According to scientific studies, this optimistic attitude is associated with a demonstrably more active left frontal cortex. This area of the brain regulates feelings and can provide emotional balance. The amygdala is part of the limbic system of the brain and controls, among other things, the emotional evaluation of situations. It is precisely this area that is less active with meditators. Therefore, they approach conflicts and problems less irrationally. The hippocampus is also part of the limbic system and is responsible for regulating emotional reactions. Excessive stress causes the hippocampus to shrink, which can lead to emotional imbalances and even depression. Thanks to the stress regulation and reduced cortisol release through meditation, the gray matter of the hippocampus thickens and the ability to regulate emotions improves accordingly. There are 4.9 million people in Germany who suffer from depression and the use of antidepressants has doubled in ten years. According to one study, meditation could be an alternative for treating depressive disorders, comparable to antidepressants and behavioral therapies.
3. Mindfulness and patience
Many people suffer from the daily carousel of thoughts in which they continuously jump from one thought to the other and thoughts often repeat themselves in an endless, stressful spiral. The goal of meditation does not have to be to switch off these thoughts, but to strengthen the ability to be present in the immediate moment during meditation and in everyday life. Improved mindfulness means that less emotional stress is triggered by thinking too much about the past and future. Meditation teaches you to observe your thoughts from a distance or to be mindful and not to go straight over to an uncontrolled affective reaction. These emotional learning processes are controlled by the orbitofrontal cortex, which has been shown to be more dense in meditators. So it is possible through meditation to reprogram the mechanical reaction to situations and to become more patient and mindful.
4. Memory, focus, and mental flexibility
Nowadays the brain has to process more and more information and impressions. At some point a level is reached at which the ability to concentrate decreases and the head simply gets tired. A good memory performance and a high attention span are therefore becoming more and more important. The increase in gray matter in the hippocampus caused by less stress has a positive effect on learning ability and memory. Studies have also shown that meditators find it easier to focus on things and faster to notice when they lose focus. In the brain scan, this shows up in a more active anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and in the prefrontal cortex. The more active ACC also strengthens the ability to learn from experience and to regulate one's own behavior and control it more rationally.
5. Intuition and body awareness
The feeling for our own body is often drowned out in everyday and professional stress and we do not even notice when something is wrong. Delaying illnesses, ignoring complaints or simply not taking them seriously can have fatal consequences. Meditators who focus primarily on perceiving the body during meditation automatically improve their body awareness. They have a higher density of gray matter in the right islet cortex and increased activity in the somatosensory cortex. The awareness of one's own body is controlled in both areas of the brain. This better perception of one's own feelings also increases the so-called gut feeling. This primal instinct and intuitive knowledge are often an important guide in our lives.
6. Slows down the aging process
It is generally accepted that not only does our skin become more wrinkled with age, but our cognitive performance also declines. However, we can strengthen the areas of our brain that are responsible for memory, sensory perception and emotional evaluations through meditation. Usually, the density of the prefrontal cortex in the cerebral cortex decreases with age. In long-term meditators, however, it has been found that the cerebral cortex is up to five percent thicker. There is an impressive difference, especially in meditators between 40 and 50 years of age, because the thickness of their cerebral cortex corresponds to that of a 20-year-old. Above all, fluid intelligence, i.e. the ability to think logically, benefits from long-term meditation.
Effects of meditation on our physical health
1. Better sleep
Through meditation, people behave much more attentively in everyday life, they can better control their emotions and do not fall into emotional stress as quickly. Since the mind is less preoccupied with distracting thoughts during the day and evening, it is much easier to fall asleep and the quality of sleep improves.
2. Reduced pain sensation
Above all, the emotional processing of pain is influenced by meditation. It was found that the pain areas of the brain such as the primary somatosensory cortex are severely shut down during meditation and that the pain intensity is reduced by 40 percent. For comparison: morphine reduces pain by 25 percent.
3. Lowered blood pressure
One study has shown that regular meditation can lower blood pressure by up to 12 percent. This is probably due to the fact that the relaxation effect of meditation causes the constricted blood vessels to widen again and less cortisol stress hormones are released.
4. Strengthened immune system
Stressed people are more likely to be susceptible to disease and have a proven immune system to be more vulnerable. The positive feelings and more optimistic outlook on life that is achieved through regular meditation activates the left hemisphere of the brain, which is related to a strengthened immune system. Meditation is therefore often used in cancer patients and as an accompanying measure in chemotherapy.
5. Lower cholesterol
Not only are unhealthy fats in the diet responsible for high cholesterol, but stress is also a cause. Therefore, relaxation and meditation, in addition to diet or medication, should also be considered in the treatment. One study has shown that after a year of meditation, cholesterol can drop by 30 mg / dl, which is more than can be partially achieved with medication. The combination of a healthier lifestyle and regular meditation can prevent cardiovascular diseases or even arteriosclerosis in the long term.
6. Decreased migraine attacks
Many migraine attacks are caused by stress. Avoiding stress can therefore be a therapeutic approach to prevent attacks. In one study, participants reduced the number of migraine attacks by 1.4 per month, they were 2.9 hours shorter, and the pain was perceived as less intense.
Meditation: balm for mind AND body
In summary, most of the listed effects of meditation can be traced back to the intensive reduction of stress in combination with an improved (self-) perception.
During meditation we learn to control our thoughts, to balance the world of emotions and ultimately discover the depths of our being. This is probably the biggest difference to common relaxation methods. When meditating regularly, the body releases less stress-inducing cortisol, which attacks important areas in our brain and can permanently damage it. At the same time, areas in the brain that positively influence our behavior and allow us to go through life more relaxed are strengthened. If we reduce stress through meditation, we not only feel better mentally, but we also become and remain physically healthier.
The effects of meditation can be felt quickly, because after just a few meditation sessions, mindfulness, inner calm and less stress are clearly noticeable. It is impressive that the first changes in the brain can be measured after just 25 hours of meditation. Interestingly, these changes are infinite, because even with study participants with 50,000 hours of meditation experience, linearly increasing brain changes were still measurable.
Do you want to feel the positive effects of meditation?
TheMeditation program from YogaEasy with Petros Haffenrichter takes 30 days and consists of three modules of nine units each. Each module day has a special focus such as breath, seat, mind, concentration, sound, mantra, loving, self-healing and silence. The program is free for our members. Everyone else can become a member here for 16 euros for one month.
Christiane is a meditation teacher and blogger at Journey Inside Meditation and works independently as a marketing freelancer. She has been engaged in yoga and meditation since she was 17 to better understand herself and the dynamics of life.
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