The Science Behind Meditation: How It Affects Your Body and Mind

For thousands of years, people have practiced meditation for spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. But from a scientific perspective, how exactly does meditating affect your body. Does it really do anything.

It all starts in the brain. During meditation, the brain experiences increased activity in regions directly correlated with decreased anxiety and depression, along with increased pain tolerance. The default mode network, in particular, is activated when one's mind is at rest and not focusing on the outside world. This network has been found to improve memory, self-awareness, and goal setting.

Enhancing Empathy

Want to be more caring to your friends and family. When scientists compared the brains of Buddhist monks to new meditators, they found that the region of the brain associated with empathy was much more pronounced in the monks.

Changing Brain Waves and Structure

Meditation also literally changes your brain waves. Meditators have higher levels of alpha waves, which have been shown to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness, and anger. But it doesn't stop there. Meditation also physically changes the shape and size of our brains. Studies have found that after eight weeks of a meditation program, gray matter was more dense in areas associated with learning, memory processing, and emotion regulation. Additionally, the amygdala, which deals with stress, blood pressure, and fear, had decreased gray matter.

Benefits Beyond the Brain

When we look at the entire body, meditation has numerous positive effects. It decreases blood pressure and increases the variability of heart rate, which plays a critical role in properly transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body. In fact, meditators have been found to produce a greater number of antibodies and have increased immune function when exposed to the flu virus. Meditation even has an impact on a cellular level. It helps reduce damage to DNA and lower cell death by increasing the length of telomeres, the protective protein complexes on chromosomes. Telomere shortening has been linked to several diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer. Remarkably, cancer survivors who completed a meditation program showed significant increases in telomere length.

Conclusion

Meditation is not a substitute for medical advice or a healthy lifestyle, but it offers a way to work out your brain with extra health benefits. Just as hitting the gym can grow your muscles and improve your overall health, meditation can provide similar benefits for your brain. So, why not relax and say 'um' every once in a while.

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