The practice of meditation is growing in popularity in the West and so are the scientifically proven benefits of it. In a world which can sometimes seem chaotic, people are turning to meditation as an antidote to a multitasking, distracted lifestyle. Consequently, they are increasing their mental and physical well-being. Meditation has its origins in prehistory. In fact, the earliest written records, the Vedas of ancient India, date from 1500 BC.
As an umbrella term that covers a number of practices, meditation takes numerous forms. One of them is mindfulness meditation. The participant focuses on the present moment and thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise.
“In a world which can sometimes seem chaotic, people are turning to meditation as an antidote to a multitasking, distracted lifestyle.”
Another important type is Loving-kindness meditation. This derives from the Buddhist Vipassana tradition. It emphasises universal love and compassion for others. Many people practice those forms today. Science now backs the benefits of meditation that humans have instinctively understood for millennia.
The health benefits of meditation are vast. Best of all, it's free!
These scientifically proven benefits mean that it is being recommended as an alternative therapy for a diverse range of conditions, including:
As science uncovers the secrets of how meditation can improve the function and even change the structures of the brain. Hence its place in increasing the well-being and happiness of both individuals and wider society is assured.
Scientists began to attempt to study the effects of meditation on the mind and the body during the 1950s. However, there are flaws in these early scienctific approaches. More recently, studies have used modern techniques such as EEG and fMRI to scan the brain before, during and after meditation. They are therefore allowing the link between meditation and physiological and psychological changes in the body to be studied in depth.
In 2013, a paper published by researchers at John Hopkins University identified 47 well-designed studies that had produced reliable results. Because of that, they concluded that meditation can be as effective as medication for some forms of depression and anxiety. A growing body of science supports the benefits of meditation which include:
Doctors are coming to realise that stress is the root cause of many physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. Meditation allows the body and brain to relax deeply and effectively. Research on PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) patients shows that meditation works:
The study also provides scientifically proven evidence that meditation helps people to cope better with stressful situations.
High blood pressure is a recognised risk factor for coronary heart disease. A long-term study by the AHA shows that the risk of patients suffering from cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis, myocardial ischaemia and atherosclerosis, or dying or suffering a heart attack stroke is reduced by 48 per cent when compared to a control group in a similar physical condition who did not meditate.
Meditation makes giving up smoking easier. The effect of meditating regularly is cumulative and as stress is reduced, so the impulse to smoke is lessened. One study of people meditating daily showed that 50 per cent had given up smoking two years into the programme.
Studies at Kyoto University discovered that the precuneus area of the brain was larger in people who rated themselves as happy and upbeat than in those with a more negative outlook on life. Science has shown that regular meditation can actually boost the brain’s grey matter. It appears that we have the ability to grow our own happiness. Dr Wataru Sato furthermore says that now we understand that meditation increases grey matter in the precuneus, it will be possible to design scientifically-based programmes to grow a happier brain.
Recent research on a group of participants aged between 55 and 75 demonstrated that mindfulness meditation techniques improve goal-directed visuospatial attention span. Meditation techniques are useful strategies to slow the cognitive decline experienced in aging.
“Science has shown that regular meditation can actually boost the brain’s grey matter. It appears that we have the ability to grow our own happiness.”
Contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga can be helpful to business in boosting the happiness and health of their employees: a happy, healthy workforce is a key to the success of a company. After offering a mindfulness course to 600 of their employees, Transport for London found that 80 per cent had seen an improvement in their relationships and felt more relaxed, more than half felt happier at work, and 64 per cent experienced better sleep patterns. Another pay-off for the employer was that absentee rates due to sickness and stress dropped by an astounding 71 per cent.
Mindfulness meditation works at work!
By encouraging us to focus on the present, meditation calms us, empowering us to lead a happier life and to cope with any difficulties life presents. Science shows that meditation is not only an effective therapy for many common diseases but also helps individuals improve their levels of happiness, grow compassion for others and boost their own physical and mental well-being, leading to the development of a compassionate, thriving and resilient society. ●
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