Meditation – The Science Behind It
For many people the ancient art of meditation is often looked at as a hokey practice, only for those who have reached higher levels of spirituality. Harvard University Researchers and the Massachusetts General Hospital beg to differ. Their recent scientific research on the benefits associated with the practice of daily meditation are very enlightening.
The study consisted of 16 participants who took part in an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Participants attended one class weekly and were given audible meditation to do at home. On average the students did 27 minutes of meditation daily.
Two weeks prior and after to this program MR brain scans were taken of these participants. The study recorded an increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus – the part of the brain which has a large impact on learning and memory. The participants also reported significant reductions in overall stress, which correlated to a recorded reduction of grey-matter density in the amygdala.
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel.
This study goes a long way to overcome the myth that meditation practices are only for those who want to rid themselves of all of their worldly possessions and move to Tibet. Further research is currently being conducted to confirm these findings and to document the positive benefits that meditation has to offer individuals.
When beginning meditation practices it can be difficult to quiet your mind and stop it from wandering. Don’t be discouraged, like any new discipline meditation takes practice. Try starting out slowly with a 5-10 minute guided meditation. There are hundreds of resources online for you to choose from. A guided meditation is an ideal way to start because you have something to focus on that will take your mind off the distractions of the outside world.
You can either chose to lie down in a comfortable position in your home, or take your iPod to the nearest beach or your favourite outdoor area. In the beginning your mind will drift and wander but that’s okay. It’s normal. Just relax and bring yourself back to the voice of the guide. In a very short period of time you will notice that you are able to stay focused for longer increments of time. You will also begin to reap the benefits associated with daily meditation.
Another option is to research local meditation practices in your area. When attending a class you will get the opportunity to ask experienced teachers any questions you may have to improve your practice, as well as engage with like-minded individuals who you can exchange experiences with.
Personally I have found that meditation has helped me in quite a few areas of my life. I do a 10 minute guided meditation before bed, which helps me to relax and stay asleep through the night. I also listen to classical music while taking a walk along the Vancouver seawall or hiking in our local forests. Having more control over my mind and emotions has enabled me to deal with the challenging situations of daily life. I find my creativity and my ability to make rational decisions has increased. My overall wellbeing and enjoyment of life has also greatly improved.
I would like to encourage everybody to spend 10 days practicing a form of meditation of their choosing. Document this experience and write down your feelings, good or bad. How did you feel while meditating? Did you find yourself having difficulty staying in the moment? How did you feel directly after meditation? Did this help improve the rest of your day?
Feel free to share your favourite meditation videos, and experiences with us at Nested Naturals and others in the comments section.
Even if you feel that meditation is not working for you, you can rest assured that on a neurological level you are changing!