The science behind meditation and 10 reasons to start doing it today

Ever wondered, how people manage to wake up so early and do their chores, yet they stay calm always? Managing skills, struggling with everything for better productivity, is the sign of a successful person. There is another mantra to their peace and i.e., Meditation. It is the pathway which allows people to settle down their inner angst and evolve as a better human. The main objective of Meditation is it connects human mind and heart. After a lot of researches and speculation, the whole science behind the importance of meditation is unfolded. It yields a surprising number of health benefits, including stress reduction, improved attention, better memory, and even increased creativity and feelings of compassion. But how can something as simple as focusing on a single object produce such dramatic results? Here’s what the growing body of scientific evidence is telling us about meditation and how it can change the way our brains function.

The Mind-Blowing Science of How Meditation Rewires Your Brain

At first, I couldn’t believe that a simple daily meditation practice affected my life so powerfully. So, I started doing research and devoured all of the scientific studies on meditation that I could find. I was amazed at what I found – it turns out meditation can transform nearly every area of your life.

Before we get started it’s worth doing a quick review of what is actually meant by meditation. The practice can take on many different forms, but the one technique that appears most beneficial, and which also happens to be among the most traditional, is called mindfulness meditation, or focused attention. By mindfulness, practitioners are asked to focus their thoughts on one thought and one thought alone. An overarching goal is to be firmly affixed to the present moment. This typically means concentrating on the breath — observing each inhalation and exhalation — and without consideration to other thoughts. When a “stray” thought arises, the practitioner must be quick to recognize it, and then turn back to the focus of their attention. And it doesn’t just have to be the breath; any single thought, like a mantra, will do.

Notions that it is simply about relaxation or cleansing the mind of all thoughts are common misconceptions. It is hard work and it takes a lot of practice to get better. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to stay focused. Progress can be measured by how long a single thought can be focused upon without straying.

Connection of brain and meditation

Meditation causes the brain to undergo physical changes, many of which are beneficial. Other studies, for example, have shown that meditation is linked to cortical thickness, which can result in decreased sensitivity to pain.

Or take the 2009 study with the descriptive title, “Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem.” Neuroscientists used MRIs to compare the brains of meditators with non-meditators. The structural differences observed led the scientists to speculate that certain benefits, like improved cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, can be tied to this growth and its positive effects on breathing and heart rate (cardiorespiratory control).

The integrity of gray matter, which is a major player in the central nervous system, certainly appears to benefit. It has been linked to larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter, resulting in more positive emotions, the retention of emotional stability, and more mindful behavior (heightened focus during day-to-day living). Meditation has also been shown to have neuroprotective attributes; it can diminish age-related effects on gray matter and reduce cognitive decline.

A study from earlier this year showed that meditators have a different expression of brain metabolites than healthy non-meditators, specifically those metabolites linked to anxiety and depression. But it’s not just the physical and chemical components of the brain that’s affected by meditation. Neuroscientists have documented the way it impacts on brain activity itself. For example, meditation has been associated with decreased activity in default mode network activity and connectivity — those undesirable brain functions responsible for lapses of attention and disorders such as anxiety, ADHD — and even the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.And finally, meditation has been linked to dramatic changes in electrical brain activity, namely increased Theta and Alpha EEG activity, which is associated with wakeful and relaxed attention.

10 reasons why you should start doing meditation today

While most of the studies listed above addressed the neuro-cognitive aspects of meditation, other studies have correlated meditation with many of the health benefits already described.

1.Meditation reduces stress

Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practiced over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. If you want your stress levels to plummet, meditation may be the answer.

2. Meditation Affects Your Overall Health

Perhaps one of the most impressive benefits of meditation that has been investigated by researchers is that it may have the ability to slow aging and help prevent disease. A review article published in Frontiers in Immunologythis June explored what we know so far about how meditation can affect your genetic makeup. Yes, you read that right.

Researchers looked at a collection of past studies on how “mind body interventions” (activities like meditation or mindfulness, breath regulation, and Tai Chi) affected people’s stress response at a molecular level. What they found is that these practices tend to counter the effects of stress, meaning that they may help fight against the development of disease and aging. More research is needed to get to the bottom of exactly how it all works and how frequently you need to practice to reap the rewards, but the link has been established, and it’s undeniable that meditation affects your mind and body right down to your DNA.

On a spiritual level, shutting off your five senses during meditation can also help you disconnect from the outside world’s overwhelming information, including external stressors that can lead to physical manifestations. When you disconnect, you are entering a space where you are in touch with your pure mind. That is meditation—the process of bringing yourself closer to your inner self. When you stop receiving and internalizing negative information, your heart beat, blood pressure, and basically every part of your body starts to calm down. Because of this, there will be less imbalance in the mind, body, and breath, which can result in less disease overall.

3. Meditation increases your sense of connectedness and empathy

Feeling a little disconnected from those around you? Try compassion meditation. Loving, kindness and meditation (sometimes called Metta) is a compassion-based meditation that enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Not a hugging person? You just might become one after trying metta!

4. Meditation decreases beta waves

Even after the very first time you meditate, you’re going to see a significant decrease in beta waves. What the heck are beta waves? Basically, they’re information being processed by your brain. Why would you want to decrease that? Because most of the information your brain processes is useless junk, a bunch of noise preventing you from focusing on things you actually want to focus on. I’ll talk a bit more about this later when I tell you how to meditate.

5. Mindfulness meditation reduces pain

Mindfulness meditation is a little different from traditional meditation in that it is usually practiced with eyes open. You’re still receiving information through your five senses, but it’s coming to you in a very controlled way, and therefore, you can purposefully heighten your awareness. For example, if you’re mindfully eating and noticing every single bite, then you’re so present and connected to your senses (taste, smell, sound, etc.) that the very action can bring tremendous fulfillment to that part of your being.

When you’re really present and aware, you have control over the usual information overload and your senses can be experienced to the fullest. The result is feeling aligned with your whole mechanism, body, mind, and soul. This is why mindfulness meditation can help with bodily pain. If you completely focus your mind and go to the center of the pain, you will begin to recognize it. The process of healing can start right there because you are connecting to the pain with full awareness.

6. Meditation reduces anxiety

And while we’re discussing the science of meditation, a decrease in anxiety is one of the more well attested health benefits. This goes back to beta waves again — it’s not just that there are less of them; it’s also what the beta waves are actually doing other than creating a constant chorus of useless thoughts in your head. You’re going to loosen up connections between parts of your brain that tell other parts of your brain to worry about traffic, or your next dentist appointment, or whatever you’re anxious about that you don’t need to be.

7. Meditation makes an individual smarter

The mind is receiving a tremendous amount of information every second. When it receives too much information, it’s difficult to process it all. Through meditation, the brain gets more connected with your senses because the outward awareness of your mind is present in a more gentle way—without over-processing things and getting confused by intel coming in from all angles. In a nutshell, meditation and mindfulness bring in harmony and balance between your breath, brain, mind, soul, and physical body. It makes sense, then, that when your brain is in a harmonious place, your day-to-day tasks, decisions-making skills, and ability to learn new things will become much easier.

8. Meditation decreases your need for sleep

One of the more interesting things we know about meditation is that it makes you need less sleep. The study was done on people who just started meditating, not on those who have practiced for years. However, what the study found is that 40 minutes of meditation can be a better means of resting than 40 minutes of sleeping. Keep that in mind next time you run off for 40 winks in the middle of a work day.

9. Meditation increases creativity

For the entrepreneur or creative professional, creativity is an absolute must. As you probably guessed, meditation is going to help you increase your creativity. Researchers at Leiden University in The Netherlands found that certain forms of meditation open up your mind to new ideas. This isn’t in the abstract. What it means is that your internal censor is less active after certain forms of meditation, allowing you to fully realize ideas that you might otherwise shut down before they fully blossom.

10. Meditation improves your productivity

Meditation increases your focus & attention. It Improves your ability to multitask. Improves your memory. Meditation improves your ability to be creative & think outside the box. It gives you perspective: By observing your mind, you realize you don’t have to be slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy and sad but that it doesn’t have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself. Think about it, you shower every day and clean your body, but have you ever showered your mind? As a consequence, you’ll feel more clear and see thing with greater perspective. “The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind,” writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar(link is external). We can’t control what happens on the outside but we do have a say over the quality of our mind. No matter what’s going on, if your mind is okay, everything is okay. Right now.

Meditation: How to Do It

As I’ve mentioned, there are tons of different ways to meditate. There’s guided meditation, mantra meditation, Zazen meditation, mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi meditation, transcendental meditation…

You get the idea.

Still, if you’re reading this article, you want to go ahead and get started. So here’s your quick guide from The Art of Charm on how to start meditating right away in a manner that’s going to provide you with immediate benefits.

  • Set the right environment. Turn off your phone. Close the laptop. Don’t play music. Make your environment as quiet and tranquil as possible. Plan to do anything you can to avoid interruption.
  • Set an alarm. Pick a time, starting with ten minutes, though the longer the better. Half an hour is great if you can do it. Set your alarm and forget it. Don’t worry about how long you’ve been meditating or how long you have to go.
  • Get your physical stress out. Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to prepare for meditation. Spend five or ten minutes doing this before you meditate and it will make a huge difference.
  • Find a comfortable position for sitting. You can sit in a chair, on a pillow, or on the floor. The main thing is that you need to be sitting up, not lying down, as the latter is almost always a recipe for falling asleep. If you want to find a “mystical” pose to help you get in the mood, go for it, but it’s not necessary.
  • Settle into position. Take a couple seconds to settle into position. Wiggle around a little bit. But once you’re set, stay there. In fact, learning to sit still — without moving, scratching, or otherwise adjusting yourself — is a lot of what the early stages of learning to meditate are about.
  • Close your eyes. Some forms of meditation don’t require this. For now, close your eyes.
  • Breathe. A lot of meditation is really just about breathing. There are different ways to do this, but one basic way is what’s called “four fold breath.” Breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. Focus on getting this right for a bit and it will eventually become automatic.
  • Let thoughts flow through you. A lot of guys think they need to fight against thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, just let them flow by like clouds through the sky. If it helps, say “thinking” when you have a thought and go back to focusing on nothing.
  • Do the time you committed to. Don’t be surprised if it’s difficult to meditate at first. We’re so used to being constantly stimulated that when we’re finally not, it can be uncomfortable or difficult. But do whatever time you set out to do. It’s not going to kill you. On the contrary, in many cases it can be the missing piece of the puzzle. Focusing on quieting our mind allows us to better use it when we need to, rather than constantly being consumed by mental chatter.

As with anything else you’re introducing in your schedule, it’s important to make time for this. One way you can do this is just by blocking it out on your schedule. Then you’re going to find it harder to come up with reasons to not meditate. Even if you can’t do it every day (though you’ll find the best results that way), you can treat it like going to the gym — do it three or even five times a week.

Meditation has a number of proven benefits, but the biggest one is just having a greater mastery over your mind. Leaders and celebrities from Barry Zito and Rupert Murdoch to Rick Rubin and David Lynch meditate. Just like your muscles need exercise, so do your focus and concentration.