Meditation is a practice that has roots dating back to as much as 5,000 years BCE. While it has often been associated with religion and spirituality, the medical community has embraced the practice and has been promoting its many proven benefits since mainstream research on the subject took off in the 60’s.
While there are many different types of meditation, some common methods are:
Anxiety can be described as a problem in managing distracting negative thoughts that hold power over an individual. This often times manifests as thought patterns that focus on future concerns.
Meditation trains the mind to have control over wandering thoughts by focusing on only the present moment, letting go of future worries and past events. With enough training, prior thought patterns can be broken, essentially rewiring the brain. This rewiring is also effective in improving depression, and managing stress levels.
It has been clear for a while now that the body’s relaxation response (the opposite of the flight-or-fight response) can have a positive effect on blood pressure in people with hypertension. Recent studies have indicated that a combination of mindfulness, breath-work, and mantra-repetition (transcendental) techniques are effective in triggering this relaxation response, therefore reducing blood pressure in the group tested (some participants were even able to eliminate blood pressure medication.)
p.s In the same study as above, evidence was found that the relaxation techniques used actually resulted in changes at a genetic level. Genes linked to the immune system, metabolism, cardiovascular system, and circadian rhythm were all positively affected.
We spend about 47% of our days in imagination mode; in other words thinking not about what we’re currently doing. This mind wandering makes us unhappy, as it is typically reflection on past events or contemplation about future events. Meditation is proven to be effective at training the mind to focus on the present moment, a skill that is associated with increased happiness.
In addition to happiness, meditation is an effective tool for general focus. Studies have concluded that mindfulness meditation can increase task-based focus. Participants experienced less mind wandering and a higher level of performance in the provided tasks.
Digestion and gut health is negatively impacted by stress and anxiety due to the “fight or flight” response triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. Similarly, relaxation and calmness produces the “rest and digest” response, courtesy of the parasympathetic nervous system. Meditation helps regulate these responses, firing up the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn suppresses inflammation, slows the heart, activates intestinal activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the GI tract (allowing food to travel and digest.)
Studies have shown that meditation improves IBS symptoms over both short and long term intervals. Participants noted drastic improvements in IBS symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, and diarrhea after both three months and one year of meditation.
Meditation has been proven to effect gene expression, which is the process of events in which DNA carries out different functions. Studies have shown that meditation positively shifts in gene expression relating to fighting infection and immunity.
There is a direct correlation between feelings of social connectedness and mental and physical health. Loving-kindness meditation has been proven to increase feelings of social connection as well as positivity and altruistic behavour (compassion towards new people.)
This may extend to social skills as well. Studies have shown that meditation can decrease social anxiety by taking the focus off of self, which is often the cause of social struggles.
Certain methods of meditation have proven to be a catalyst for creativity. A method known as Open Monitor Meditation, where the mind is open to all thoughts which are accepted with no judgements, has been proven to improve divergent thinking (the ability to generate new ideas.) Participants showed more flexibility, fluidity and originality in their responses to a test on which they were tasked to come up with multiple uses for a single object.