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The Science Behind Meditation

By Virginia Palomar
Updated March 19, 2015

People who meditate regularly will swear up and down that it changes not only your outlook, but also your mind, your body and your overall well-being.
As it turns out, this is absolutely true, and science is finally paying attention to the measurable benefits of mediation.

If you adhere to regular meditative practice, chances are you are reaping some pretty big benefits. However your practice is designed, maintaining a mindfulness meditation routine has been proven to improve concentration, decrease anxiety levels, lower stress and more. Some of the meditative benefits science has proven are:

1. Attention

Wait, what? Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve individual attentive abilities down to a neurobiological level.

One study out of Liverpool John Moores University demonstrated that participants of a study with no previous mindfulness meditation experience performed better on a specific test after weeks of mindfulness training. Their attention had improved and the results were documented by an EEG. Practice mindfulness meditation regularly to help increase your attention span.

2. Anxiety

We’re often told to take a deep breath when we’re about to lose it. A deep, calming breath is a good way to stifle oncoming anxiety, and with regular mindfulness mediation, it has been proven to alter the way the brain approaches stress and possible threats.

Your medial prefrontal cortex, which can simply be referred to as the “me” center of your brain, is the part of the brain that engages in information processing about things that relate to you and your life, as well as empathy for others.

One part of this center is pretty selfish, but that is necessary for making important decisions about your life and protecting yourself. This overall “me” center is connected to other parts of your brain related to fear responses. One of these areas is called the amygdala, and it engages that base fear you feel when any sort of stressor starts disrupting the peace.

With regular meditation, the connection between the “me” center and the multiple “fear” centers diminishes. In short, you can decrease your anxiety over time with regular meditative practice!

3. Stress

The hormone cortisol, which is released when we are under stressful pressure, has been shown to decrease after mindfulness training. A study measured cortisol levels before and after a mindfulness retreat with a group of individuals, and those who reported a strong sense of well-being and awareness of the present also demonstrated lower cortisol levels.

This could very well mean that regular meditation can keep the hormone cortisol from overacting and causing us undue stress, which is fantastic news if you’re a stress-junkie because meditating regularly will help those cortisol levels under control.

4. White Matter

What matter does white matter make? That’s not a riddle. You may have heard of gray matter, but white matter, in the simplest of definitions, is a critical tissue in the brain that sends signals between various parts of the brain. These signals act as messages for the brain, telling you how to act, what to feel and a myriad other essential directives.

Integrative Mind-Body Training (IMBT), a modern form of meditation developed in China, has been proven to increase white matter production in a part of the brain used in self-regulation tasks. This relates to the attention benefit mentioned above and also has a variety of other positive potentials.

Regulating one’s emotions could actually help improve symptoms of mental illness, especially those in mood disorders like depression. If you suffer from mental illness, talk with your psychiatrist and/or therapist about integrating meditation into your wellness routine.

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Calming down, paying attention and improving the necessary neural connections in your brain all sound like wonderful things, don’t they? It may seem crazy that something as profoundly accessible as meditation can have actual physiological effects on our brains, but those of us who enjoy regular meditative experiences aren’t surprised.

We’ve felt these benefits for a long time, only now our perceptions are being backed by science. Could this mean that meditation will one day become a routine part of medical or mental health care? It’s certainly possible.

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Katherine Hurst
By Virginia Palomar
Virginia’s mother was the person to first introduce meditation to her, and has been fascinated ever since. How can I mind be taken to such a calm and peaceful state whilst still being awake? Her calling was to find out more, and help others to do the same! Now, Virginia specializes in Mindfulness Based Integral Psychotherapy and Life Coaching, and teaches her clients how to find sustainable relief from addictions, depression, anxiety and trauma-related distress disorders.

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