Details of recent scientific discoveries regarding the benefits of meditation.
The Benefits of Meditation
Scientifically speaking, the benefits from meditation are impressive. There have been numerous studies that have looked at its physical and neurological effects, which showed that it can help relieve a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, respiratory problems, addiction, chronic pain - whilst at the same time increasing creativity and work output.
Neuroscientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has discovered that meditators move activity in their brains away from the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear. In Kabat-Zinn's study, participants showed a pronounced shift in activity to the left frontal lobe, showing that they were calmer and happier than before. Not only that, but meditators also showed that they held on to the benefits meditation gave, even after 4 months of stopping practice.
An early study of meditation in 1972 showed that meditation actually lowered the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lacate, which helped decrease heart rate and blood pressure in meditators.
Meditation also gives:
* Better sleeping patterns.
* Increased concentration and perception.
* Increased reaction time.
* Lower blood pressure and heart rate.
* Increase in the calming hormones, melatonin and serotonin.
* Decrease of the stress hormone, cortisol.
* Long-term meditators experience 80 percent less heart disease and 50 percent less cancer than non-meditators.
Happier, calmer, clearer, more able to focus – these are the qualities of a mind that is far more able to be creative on a daily basis. Meditation simply can't fail to help.
So, what is it?
A lot of people, myself once included, have a deep scepticism of anything to do with meditation and equate it with everything from yogic-flying to hours of belly-button staring and mumbling 'Auuum!'...
...But meditation is a simple, logical process, and not at all strange. Some people use it as a way to relax. Some people use it as a means of exploring their own minds, and yes, some people do it with the aim of reaching Enlightenment and Buddhahood. You use it to suit your own needs and practise accordingly. I’m not trying to say that, where it appears, meditation’s spiritual has no meaning or importance. What I am saying is that meditation can still be of benefit to you in tens of ways whether you want to follow that ‘spiritual’ incline or not. Meditation is a powerful tool, something that anyone can learn and use to reach a calmer, happier mind in a matter of weeks. As the majority of the mental barriers to creativity are due to things like distraction, and prevarication, meditation will certainly help to clear, discipline and focus awareness and allow ideas to arise more fluidly. If meditation is regular (at least once a day) then the state it induces becomes semi-permanent and regular, spontaneous creativity will become easier.
Meditators aren’t trying to stop their thoughts and sit blankly, but instead learn to redirect their attention onto one idea and have it stay there, rather than let it wander from thought to thought, in the way that it usually does. You can choose to place your attention on any perception at all as a means of meditation: your breathing, a pebble, a stick in the ground, imagined spheres of light, sounds, touch – if it can be held in the mind, it can be used as a focal point for your awareness. Think of it as like having a conversation with someone in a room where a lot of people are talking at the same time - it’s relatively easy for you to tune out the voices you don’t want to hear in favour of the one you do. The other voices are still there, but they’re not at the centre of your attention and don’t get in the way of your conversation any more.
The purpose of this is to help you learn how to relax and to train your mind so that you can stay calm and clear under just about any circumstances. This doesn't mean turning yourself into an unfeeling robot though; you're not learning how not to have emotions or normal responses. This is simply a way of gaining a quiet mind so that experiences are felt more deeply within it, not a way of suppressing your character or feelings. Anyone, no matter who they are, will directly benefit from meditation.
I recently read a comment to a meditation blog, where the respondent said something along the lines of: “Meditators are deluding themselves. No matter how good they get at meditation, no matter how long they sit for, it's not going to make their worries or day to day problems go away. It's not much more than a temporary fix and is therefore a pointless waste of time...”
To be honest, nobody learns to meditate to make the real world somehow disappear so that they don't have to cope with it. Meditation changes the way you react to stress, and makes life easier to deal with when things go wrong – it isn't meant to put you into a state where you aren't fully aware of your life anymore. As for how long its effects last, the benefits meditation continue over into your daily life too, making the lumps and bumps of work and relationships seem that much smaller and less stressful. Meditation isn't a temporary quick fix, but something that can elicit deep and lasting personal change.