The many benefits of meditation are nothing new, and meditation as a health practice dates back thousands of years. Regular meditators can vouch for it as a fantastic natural antidote for stress, for creating mental and emotional peace, patience, creativity, improving focus and mood, and contributing to overall wellness.
Recent research seems to back these claims up. A review study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine found that not only does regular meditation alleviate stress symptoms, but that it’s efficacy may actually rival the medications used to treat anxiety, depression and pain!
However, the benefits of meditation may not be limited to perception of symptoms. Research at the Tom Baker Cancer Center in Alberta, Canada discovered that meditation can alter the telomeres, or the proteins on the end of a chromosome, the length of which is closely linked to the rate of cell aging. Meditative practice among a highly distressed group of breast cancer survivors resulted in longer telomeres than those of the non-meditating breast cancer survivor group. While telomere length as related to cell aging and stress symptoms is new and more research is needed to understand what role meditation might one day play in the treatment of cancer, this study opens the doors wide on the physical changes in the body as a result of meditation.
The Harvard Study
Now a new study at Harvard asserts that those calming effects, the stress relief, the pain reduction and even the cellular alteration is actually the result of changes in brain structure due to meditation! In the study, participants spent an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises. Participants’ subsequent MRIs found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory, and in brain areas associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection, as well as a decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to regulate anxiety and stress. Additionally, questionnaire answers submitted by participants before an after the meditation practice correlated with the MRI results. This apparent malleability of brain matter makes for a promising new view on safer, more natural treatments for pain and stress.
How To Start A Meditation Practice
Meditation is easy, cheap and worth a few minutes of each day. At the heart of meditation is a simple choice to become aware, without judgement. Even just a few minutes each day, sitting in silence and focusing on your environment, can have lasting benefits. In time, you may realize a method that works for you, or you might find and join a local meditation center, download a meditation app to your smart phone, or utilize online meditation resources like Headspace. Whatever your meditation method, give it a try! Your body, your mind and your brain will thank you!
Lead Image Source: Nickolai Kashirin/Flickr