While meditation has quickly penetrated the world of contemporary health, riding the wave of other eastern practices like Yoga, there still exists a great divide between those who swear by it and those who can’t seem to wrap their minds around it. Perhaps you’re one of them. Maybe you tried it once or twice and got bored or found it hard to concentrate (or stop concentrating). Unlike a typical exercise where the results are visible and tangible (bigger muscles, increased flexibility, etc…), the effects of meditation aren’t always as easy to spot—but they’re there. Below are a few facts about meditation that may change the way you think about this mental workout.
Meditation Can Enhance Your Memory
A recent study by UCLA concluded that meditation directly affects “gyrification”—the folding of the cortex. The more folds on on the cortex (outer layer of the brain), the more surface area available to retain information. In other words, meditation practices free up space in your brain that will allow you to carry and recall more information. A separate study also found that patients who regularly practiced meditation were better able to avoid distractions throughout their day, leading to heightened focus and productivity.
Meditation Slows Down Neurodegenerative Diseases
The fact that meditation “clears your mind” is old news. What we’re just discovering, though, are the physical benefits to clearing out our mental clutter in a world that is increasingly vying for our attention. Patients suffering from age-related neurological disorders, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, underwent a study at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to test the effects of mindfulness meditation. Those who participated showed a significantly slower level of cognitive decline, along with lowered stress and a greater sense of well-being.
Meditation Helps Regulate Blood Pressure
In 2008 researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital conducted another study to examine the link between the relaxing effects of meditation and physical wellbeing. The participants were patients currently taking medication due to high blood pressure. The research indicated that 64% of the patients who frequently meditated saw a substantial drop in their average blood pressure, and many were even able to lower the dosage of their prescriptions.
Meditation Makes You a Better Multitasker
Scientific American recently published the findings of research headed by the University of Washington for an article titled How to Be a Better Driver. The participants practiced two hours of mindfulness meditation a week for eight weeks. At the end of the study, they noticed a significant increase in the participant’s ability to handle and resolve distractions without losing focus on their main goal. The findings suggest that mindfulness meditation helps individuals to not only recognize distractions, but also allows them to address these disruptions while still concentrating on the task at hand.
Meditation Keeps You Young
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, Harvard researcher and psychiatrist, noted a correlation between consistent meditative practices and longer telomeres—the protective caps at the end of each chromosome. While shorter telomeres are signs of accelerated aging, longer ones indicate health and vitality. In her research, which studied the long-term effects of meditation, she saw that individuals who meditated daily for at least four years had significantly longer telomeres than those who only meditated sporadically or not at all. A similar study showed that people with longer telomeres had a greater capacity for focusing on their immediate surroundings. It’s no surprise that practitioners of mediation should have longer telomeres since at the heart of meditation is the directive to fix one’s mind on the present.
Meditation Can Help Alleviate Pain
While a lot of the attention is directed to the long-term effects of meditation, there’s no shortage of short-term benefits as well. One of the most salient being the effects meditation can have on people experiencing chronic pain. After just three 20 minute sessions of meditation, individuals reported a reduction in pain and an increase in their ability to withstand pain. This is likely the result of a combination of meditation’s relaxing, stress-reducing qualities and its instruction to experience things as an observer, rather than participant, thereby distancing the person from the pain experienced in his or her body.
Meditation is growing fast in the United States and other countries, with meditation studios popping up left and right and an increasing demand for phone apps that offer guided meditation. Still, there’s a long way to go before we accept this practice into our western world, where we have to see to believe. But remember—just because the benefits aren’t visible, doesn’t mean they’re not real. Namaste.