Why meditation is not just sitting
Meditation is far from sitting and doing nothing. Meditating regularly can actually have numerous health benefits, from reducing stress to assisting memory and learning.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘meditation’? Do you think of monks, living in a dark cave deep in the Himalaya? Do you think about hippies with long hair, praying for love and world peace? Or do you think about people sitting on the floor, wasting their time doing nothing?
Let’s come back to that last question and take a look at what research – especially from the field of neuroscience – says about the benefits of practicing meditation.
Research shows that meditation:
Relaxes the fear centre: Meditation calms the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for deciding whether we perceive a situation as stressful or not. Once the amygdala perceives a situation as potentially threatening or fearful, it reacts and initiates a stress response in our body. A calm amygdala is a calm mind and body.
"Regular meditation increases activity in the areas [of the brain] that cause more positive feelings and reduce feelings of anxiety."
Allows us to have more positive emotions and less anxiety: Regular meditation increases activity in left anterior brain areas – the areas that cause more positive feelings and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Increases our ability to deal with stress: The increased activation in the same left anterior brain areas leads to more adaptive responses to stressful events and enables us to recover faster and bounce back from negative experiences.
Slows brain waves: During the day our brain is usually busy and works in beta brain waves. This means the brain is alert, stimulated and animated. During meditation, our brain slows down and works in theta waves, which normally only appear during certain sleep stages. Theta-wave activity results in better communication between more distant brain areas, which in turn enhances memory and helps you to generate new ideas and insights.
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Assists in memory and learning: Meditation supports the production of new neurons, which might result in a boost to your brainpower. Regular practice also increases the density of the hippocampus, a brain area crucial for learning and memory. On the other side of the hippocampus is a brain area that suffers the most from permanent stress and gets damaged most frequently.
Builds meta-awareness: Meta-awareness is the ability to reflect and be aware of ongoing thoughts and mental states. Regular meditation trains your meta-awareness, which could increase your ability to better control your thoughts, including unwanted mind-wandering and negative thoughts.
Helps to sustain attention: Regular practice increases our ability to keep our attention stable and to stay focused.
Builds selective attention: Meditation improves your selective attention, an ability to filter incoming information so that only relevant information reaches our conscious attention.
Helps aid physical recovery: Compared to other supine (lying down) rest methods, meditation leads to higher heart rate variability (HRV). This simply means that the higher our HRV is, the better our body is recovering.
Boosts immune function: Compared to individuals who do not meditate, meditators experience better immune functions.
Now, it’s time to come back to our earlier question: Is meditation simply sitting and doing nothing? Well, with a host of researched, proven and scientific health and wellbeing benefits, meditation can never simply be classified as ‘doing nothing’.
Do you practise meditation and what benefits does it have for you?