Meditation, Mindfulness, and Modern Science
When you hear the word “meditate,” what comes to mind? Do you think of enlightened ancient monks? New-Age Gurus with crystals? Or do you think of optimizing your mood, performance, and overall health through a simple contemplative practice?
Meditation is an umbrella term that encompasses the practice of enhancing consciousness and to acknowledge the mind and, in a way, self-regulate it. Meditation is an ancient practice that was first recorded around 1700 BCE in a religious text about spiritual practices. The focus of ancient meditation practice was spiritual growth and transcending emotions in order to live in a calm and present state. Modern science has acknowledged and supported meditation practices to improve mental and physical health.
We are hearing the word “Mindfulness” more often these days. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Being mindful of your breath, for example, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation. Following your breath improves your awareness of being in the present.
Habitual meditation has been shown to:
- Shrinks the amygdala (the part of our brains which controls our reaction to fear).
- Thickens the prefrontal cortex (the thinking and reasoning part of our brain).
- Enlarges the hippocampus (controls our memory, providing context for our emotional responses).
- Strengthens the posterior cingulate cortex (associated with our creativity, self-reflection, and self-awareness).
- Builds the temporoparietal junction (manages our ability to be empathetic and emotionally intelligent).
- Reduces blood pressure.
- Boosts our immune system.
- Helps us handle pain.
- Improves our sleep.
- Prevents heart disease.
Mindfulness and Meditation have been associated with improved focus, reduced dependency on opioid drugs, and lowered anxiety and depression levels. There have even been studies suggesting a positive effect on the DNA of breast cancer patients. One recent study found that people who practice mindfulness had healthier blood-glucose levels, suggesting that improved focus and regulation could help fight obesity and unhealthy eating habits.
Embarking on the journey of meditation can be difficult — but, if you want to start out with baby steps, take ten minutes out of each day to remain mindful when drinking tea, taking a break during work, or focusing on your breath before sleep. Even a minute of meditation is better than none, so that can be a starting place. It will get easier over time if you continue it as a practice.
There’s quite a bit of power in the simple act of focusing your mind and many things out there to help build your practice. VJLAP offers recordings of guided meditations. You can use Apps like Calm or Headspace among others. To enroll in a free Mindfulness Meditation class, please visit the Brown University website.
**Meditation is not meant as a replacement for your established medical care, but can be a helpful adjunctive practice. Please consult with your treatment provider. This article is meant to be informative and is not intended to be a replacement for medical or psychiatric treatment. Please seek treatment or diagnostic information from a professional provider.
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