Close your eyes for just a second. Take a deep breath in, and let it go. Now open your eyes. This is just the beginning phase of meditation, an ancient practice that is performed around the world. Anyone that regularly practices meditation will tell you it has benefits to their lifestyle. It helps them manage their stress, it opens their mind to new ideas, some even get into the religious and mystical aspects of it. Just give it a try and you may find yourself more at ease and aware. Maybe you will feel a little less stressed about work or an important event coming up. All these stories are not just based on a state of mind, there is a science behind the practice. A science that goes beyond just the mental benefits of meditation, it also can improve the body as a whole.
Studies have shown that meditation helps improve multiple psychological areas and responses in the mind. These include stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders, and cognitive function. It affects what researchers refer to as experience-based neuroplasticity. Experience-based neuroplasticity is the cells and neurons in our brain creating and breaking connections with each other based on their response to stimuli. This in turn affects how we react to situations. Meditation and stress can affect this process intensely, resulting in two completely different responses. Through meditation the responses can be much more controlled and focused.
Meditation also helps us with our memory. Stress can actually shrink the part of the mind called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps us form memories, and affects our learning capacity. Like the rest of the body, this part of our mind can heal itself over time, but only if stress is reduced or eliminated. Meditation can help achieve this, as proven in a research study on 16 individuals who were put through a standard 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Response training program. It was found the group showed an increase in the gray matter of the left hippocampus.
It also has effects on the heart and circulatory system. Meditation relaxes the muscles and allows blood to flow more freely. It can improve our immune system and slow the natural deterioration of the mind. Stress on the other hand can induce the feeling of a fight or flight response, which tenses the muscles, increases blood pressure, and can place some important functions of the body as secondary priority. Functions such as the immune system and even the digestive system can suffer from stress creating a fight or flight response. If this goes on long enough it can result in headaches, chest pains, stomach problems, overeating or undereating, withdrawal from social life and an increase in addictive practices such as consumption of alcohol. It is important to regulate our stress using methods that reduce it. Things such as meditation, natural ingredients that aid in the reduction of stress, and our own personal methods of combating it.
The best part about meditation is that while one can join a class or group for it, meditation on it’s own is absolutely free. Joining a class can be beneficial, letting you learn more about the practice of meditation in an environment designed for peace and serenity. Sometimes a local group will meet in a park or a members home to perform a group meditation. Though both are wonderful options, all you need to meditate at home is a spot and a few minutes at least. Even a five minute session will help improve your life and your health. Some who are experienced in meditation are sometimes capable of remaining in meditation for hours without end. Regardless if you just take five minutes on a break at work, or an hour in your backyard, fit meditation to your needs and lifestyle. Blend it in and don’t let it become more of a chore than an escape.