Numerous studies have validated the many benefits of meditation. Meditation doesn’t just help you relax and de-stress; its influence extends from the psychological and into the physical. Meditation has been shown to:
- Strengthen the immune system
- Lower high blood pressure
- Reduce anxiety attacks by decreasing blood lactate levels
- Alleviate tension-related pain
- Boost energy levels and stamina
- Increase serotonin production and improve mood
The most recent meditation study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital is the first to reveal that meditation rebuilds grey matter in the brain in as little as eight weeks! Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program explains:
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
The Greatness of Grey Matter
Scientists took magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brains of 16 people two weeks before and eight weeks after the study began. Participants were instructed to meditate for approximately 30 minutes a day by either listing to an audio recording of a guided meditation, or by focusing on non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind.
The second round of MR images showed increased grey matter density in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and in brain structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
What’s so important about grey matter? Grey matter is a primary component of the central nervous system. It uses its network of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites to process information in the brain. And it looks like you can give it a boost with just 30 minutes of meditation a day!
Making Meditation a Part of Your Life
In our over-active, multitasking society, it’s hard to sit still and command your brain to release all thoughts and distractions and think of…well, nothing. When starting out on a meditation program, take it easy. Release all expectations and let your mind do what it will. Given some practice, the time between distracting thoughts will decrease. If 30 minutes seems like too much time to commit, then start off with 5- to 10-minute daily meditations.
Here are some meditation tips for the novice:
- Find What Works for You: Perhaps you like to meditate while focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breath. Maybe you do better listening to a guided meditation. You can even start with a walking meditation—simply focus on a mantra or phrase that appeals to you while you take a 10-minute walk.
- Meditate Early in the Morning or Late at Night: Some people find that early morning meditation is easiest because their mind hasn’t yet succumbed to the chatter of the day. Others are too distracted by their list of to-dos to have an effective morning meditation, and do better centering their thoughts at night.
- Stretch It Out: When we center our focus and still the body with meditation, we become even more aware of the aches, pains, and tension we carry. Before your meditation session, work out the kinks with a gentle stretch.
- Don’t Let Frustration Get the Best of You: You don’t have to reach a state of enlightenment with meditation. If your mind is restless, acknowledge it, but don’t be discouraged…simply bring your focus back to your breath. And keep at it!