THE SCIENCE OF MEDITATION AND WHY IT’S AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT TOWARDS MENTAL HEALTH
In my last blog we discussed the science behind physical activity, and why I incorporate the practice into my work as a psychotherapist. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here https://www.saibiltlc.com/blog. To get you up to speed I am writing a 7-part series that delves into each strategy that I use as a clinician with clients experiencing stress, anxiety and depression. Today our focus is on the science of meditation.
To get started, let’s use the definition of science as the systemic study of the natural world through observation and experiment, yielding an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject. Sound good? That said, the human mind is undeniably a suitable subject for scientific study, and one purpose of meditation is the careful observation of one’s own mind. The goal of meditation is a significant shift to a more accurate and realistic perception of one’s self and one’s relationship to others and the world - known as enlightenment or awakening, which produces and increases our well-being.
In my practice over the last thirteen years, the most common struggle I see is with a false sense of self and others. We have an internal voice that leans into the negative and inaccurate, which causes struggle and pain. In order to alleviate and manage that struggle, we need to become increasingly aware of our thought patterns, so that when that negative voice pops up, we can catch it, check it, and change it (The Three C’s). However, the brain moves very quickly and we can easily spiral out into a tornado of negativity before we know what’s happened. This is why having a tool to slow things down can help us towards a more realistic, adaptive voice which can relieve struggle and pain. One technique I use for this is cognitive-behavioural therapy, which we’ll get into later on in the series. Another extremely effective technique is meditation.
1. Meditation increases activity in the brain directly correlated with anxiety, depression and increased pain tolerance. Who wouldn’t want a little increase in pain tolerance?
2. Meditation increases memory, self-awareness and goal-setting. Considering I forgot what I said to my husband five minutes ago, this could prove to be valuable.
3. The region of the brain associated with empathy is found to be much more pronounced in regular meditators than beginners. I’m fairly confident that empathy has the ability to solve the majority of the worlds problems.
4. Regular meditators have higher levels of alpha waves, which have been shown to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness and anger. I’d like to have less moments where I feel like I could turn into the Incredible Hulk at any moment. You?
5. Meditation changes our brain shape and size. Studies found that after a practice of eight weeks, grey matter was more dense in areas associated with learning, memory processing and emotional regulation. The amygdala, which deals with stress, blood pressure and fear had reduced grey matter. Yes please.
6. With respect to the entire body, meditation decreases blood pressure. Meditators produced more antibodies than those who did not meditate. Meditators also had increased immune system function. Sounds like super powers if you ask me.
7. At the cellular level, your chromosomes have protective protein complexes called Telemeres, which help reduces damage to your DNA and lower cell death. A shortened telomere has been linked to several diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, alzheimers, and cancer. When cancer survivors completed a meditation program, their bodies showed increases in telemore length. It is believed that psychological intervention, such as decreasing stress, has a direct effect on the enzyme Telomerose, which has been shown to counteract shortening by adding DNA to the shrinking telomeres. Enough said.
Are these reasons enough to start meditating?