Meditation is an ancient artform, a science of mindfulness, that has received a lot of attention in the West in recent decades. Much scientific research has been undertaken, proving what the ancient Buddhists, Yogi’s and Taoists have known for millennia: that the science of meditation practice, produces benefits in nearly all areas of our subjective lives. From psychological health, to physical health, the proven benefits of meditation are profound, necessary and totally applicable to our modern lifestyles.
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The Science of Meditation
So what is meditation? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, the science of meditation is a series of practices and techniques that aim to quiet the chatter of our mind, connect us to our senses, harness the power of the mind and ultimately help us to understand who we truly are and transcend the body-mind to realise that we are universal consciousness. Though this last point is perhaps a bit esoteric and not necessarily provable by the current Western scientific method, it is what famous meditators like the Buddha, Jesus, St John of the Cross, Milarepa, Yogandanda, Sadhguru and Amma the “hugging saint” claim to have realised.
Incredibly, seemingly simple exercises can have such pronounced physiological effects, hinting both at the effectiveness of meditation techniques and how we can literally improve ourselves using the healing power of the mind.
What is Mediation?
In most traditions, there are three main pillars of meditation: sensory acuity, concentration power and equanitmity. Sensory acuity is all about becoming hyper aware of the “data” coming from our sensory inputs. This increases our level of mindfulness. Mindfulness means how present and aware we are. It could be called mind-emptiness, because when we are mindful, our internal chatter has been totally quietened. Really what it means though is that our mind, our awareness, is fully engaged in the present moment and aware of what we are doing to the minutest detail.
Concentration power is about single pointed focus. The ability to stick with one task without getting distracted, so important in the age of social media scrolling and short attention spans! Depending upon what kind of meditation practice you’re doing, concentration power can be trained by concentrating on any of the following: a mantra, an object, subtle physical sensations, a yantra (sacred symbol) or most commonly, the breath moving into and out of the body.
Equanimity is about being with what is, without needing it to be any other way (if you’ve ever done a Vipassana retreat you’ll know what I’m talking about). No clinging to or craving pleasurable experiences, no aversion or pushing away of uncomfortable experiences. Just neutral, non judgmental observation of whatever it is you’re experiencing in the moment. This one pillar, if mastered, has innumerable benefits and can greatly reduce all kinds of mental suffering.
Meditation and the Brain
Now that you know the basis of what most meditative techniques aim to do, let’s delve into the science of meditation and what meditation does to your brain and body. Recent studies have found the following:
- It can boost your immune system’s ability to combat foreign invaders (like the flu) here
- It can reduce inflammation (which science is discovering is a major factor in many common illnesses) here
- It can reduce our sensitivity to pain here
- It can reduce reduce stress, anxiety and cortisol levels hereand here
- It can reduce the effects of depression hereby increasing positive emotion here
- It can increase grey matter here
- It can increase brain thickness in areas related to emotional regulation, positive emotions, self control and paying attention hereand here
Incredibly, seemingly simple exercises can have such pronounced physiological effects, hinting both at the effectiveness of meditation techniques and how we can literally improve ourselves using the healing power of the mind. The benefits of meditation science don’t end there, let’s see how those physiological effects flow into the rest of our lives.
One of the mediation effects of the brain for those in a regular practice, are that you begin to gain deeper insights into yourself and human nature, which has the benefit of increasing your capacity for emotional intelligence and your ability to empathise and be compassionate. Basically it helps you to become a more heartful human! This then has the flow on effect of increasing your capacity for social connection. This can be super helpful for people with social anxiety, and research has actually shown that meditation can reduce feelings of loneliness.
Meditation can benefit your career too by increasing productivity, attention span, your ability to multitask, helps you think outside the box and improves your memory. It’s a wonder that given the proven benefits of meditation, that the science of mindfulness hasn’t been widely rolled out across the majority of education systems yet. Though many hard working, passionate meditators are working to achieve this end.
So, now you know about the Power of Meditation, how can you take the next step? You can:
- Google meditation groups in your area. Meditation comes in many different styles and price ranges, from free Tai Chi in the park, to meetup groups, to expensive in depth training courses. If you live in a city there will likely be something to suit your consititution and budget. If in doubt, go with a tried and true method that has been around for a long time and give it a good go, 3 months minimum, to really see the impact.
- Use the app “One Giant Mind” or any other app that teaches you step by step, how to meditate. This is a great option if you live in a remote area.
- Find a local yoga class that incorporates meditation into the practice. Yoga asanas (postures) were originally intended to be a stepping stone to seated meditation.
- Find a martial art that utilises mindfulness: qi gong, nei gong, tai chi and aikido are all great.
- Just find yourself a quiet spot, preferable in nature, sit and focus on your breath
- Or if you’re short of time, practice doing your morning routine or any other activity as mindully as possible, paying attention to every single little movement.