In popular Western culture, the word meditation often brings into mind images of humming monks in cross-legged poses in monasteries somewhere far up in mystical mountains.
Although the historical roots of meditation are closely connected with old religious and traditional practices, a large number of modern research studies on mindfulness and meditation reveal tremendous and clinically significant benefits of its practice.
What is Meditation?
Meditation can be both a spiritual and secular practice. As a non-religious practice, it is often used as an exercise for the mind that is meant to calm and collect one´s thoughts. The purpose is to train the mind to have one thought at a time— which is a lot easier said than done!
Try it out for yourself
Close your eyes for ten seconds and observe your mind.
What happened? As you observed, unless you have any previous experience with meditation, your mind probably went wandering off by itself- one thought led to another, like an uncontrollable chain of thoughts.
This chain of thoughts can be a pitfall, especially when dealing with negative thoughts, where one bad thought can lead to another and if undealt with for long periods of time can lead to long-lasting emotional disorders, such as depressions.
It is the ability to train, or «tame», our mind into calmly processing singular thoughts over prolonged periods of time that consequentially seems to produce the desirable physical and mental effects of meditation.
How meditation affects the body and mind
What appears to happen is that the amygdala- the part of the brain responsible for things like the body´s fight-or-flight response, fear, and emotions- reduces in size. On the contrary, the prefrontal cortex, which controls functions such as decision-making and concentration, increases.
Studies show that, among many things, meditation can help reduce stress, anxieties, and depressions, in addition to improving sleep quality and cognition abilities like memory, focus, and critical thinking.
The list of potential benefits of meditation is long, but here are some science-based reasons for meditating:
- Improvement of Focus (+source)
- Improvement of Memory
- Improvement of Emotional regulation and control (+source)
- Increase of Positive Emotions
- Decrease of Depression symptoms
- Decrease of Stress (+source)
- Decrease of Anxiety (+source)
The sweet fruits of meditation have also caught the eyes of several big corporations, and start-ups in Silicon Valley. Companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs, Ford, and more, have begun adopting meditation programs aimed at improving the well-being of their employees.
These programs are estimated to have saved the companies many thousand dollars per employee and increased revenue as a result of happier and more productive employees.
There are also plenty of successful individuals who have emphasized and encouraged the practice of meditation, ranging from Larry Brilliant (CEO of the Skoll Global Threats Fund and formerly Google) and Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) to Oprah Winfrey (billionaire media giant).
Many of these thank parts of their success to the profound effects meditation; how it allowed them to focus on the present, avoid unnecessary worry, and clear their head for contemplation of big decisions.
So, is it Worth doing?
Meditating is beyond doubt one of the safest things you can do. From the research data available today, on the topics of meditation, much of it points in the direction of meditation being a great asset that has plenty of benefits for the human body. Meditation, as both a spiritual and secular form of therapy, has become increasingly popular in recent years, and new research continues to support and document its many advantages.
For something that only takes a couple of minutes a day and is completely free, the rewards are great, potentially even life-changing. Meditation is maybe one of the easiest things to do, but ironically perhaps also one of the hardest.
However, in order to get the most out of meditation, there are some precautions and preparations one should make before jumping right into meditating for several minutes per day.
If you enjoy the idea of meditation and would like to try it out, but are not entirely sure how to do it, you can check out our Beginner’s Guide to Meditation!.