We all know meditation is good for us, but what does it do exactly?
Meditation is an ancient practice first developed in India to train the mind and increase awareness. It became an important component of Buddhism and other religious movements in Asia. It has spread all over the world and is used in many spiritual practices to promote calmness and decrease anxiety.
Ancient and modern practitioners alike have long understood meditation leads to a happier, more balanced outlook, and modern scientists have recently set out to understand exactly how meditation reaps such rewards. Researchers have found the practice changes brain chemistry to decrease anxiety and promote focus and productivity. Specifically, regular meditation shrinks the fight-or-flight part of the brain (the amygdala) and expands the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with concentration, awareness, and decision-making.
A separate study found meditation decreases neural activity in the default mode network (DMN), which is responsible for wandering, self-referential thoughts. If your mind has ever wandered and you find yourself suddenly worried about the embarrassing thing you did in high school, your DMN is to blame. When you calm this part of your brain through meditation, it’s easier to be in the moment and stop worrying.
In addition to changing brain chemistry, meditation has the following positive impacts:
- Increased creativity: According to the Harvard Business Review, “research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind.”
- Improved physical health and vitality: A Stanford University School of Medicine study found that meditation can lead to a 30% decrease in stress-related symptoms, such as high blood pressure, minimizing the change of serious illness in the long term.
- Healthier relationships: Meditation helps practitioners reconnect with themselves and their community. According the Harvard Business Review, “meditation can help strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions,” leading to less emotional reactivity and better relationships.
- Better concentration: Various studies have found that regular meditation practice enhances neural pathways in the brain responsible for concentration and attention.
- Positivity: Studies have shown mindfulness, a type of meditation that revolves around being in the moment, increases optimism and decreases negative thought patterns.
There are more studies every month uncovering new and important benefits from meditation. And more and more people and companies are turning to this ancient practice to reap the benefits.
If you are new to meditation and need help jump starting your practice, check out our meditation 101 blog post.