The Health Benefits of Meditation

Meditation – just hearing that word can elicit a range of reactions.  Many people have experienced a ‘meditative’ effect when engaging in an activity that involves concentration and focus. Often it is an activity that the person loves to do. When immersed in the activity, time seems to be suspended. Nothing else seems to exist except what is happening in that activity. These experiences are often random, and not necessarily possible to recreate on demand.

Meditation / Moyan Brenn / CC BY 2.0

Science is showing that consistent experiences like this have physical and mental health benefits.Studies by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical Center have shown the positive immune response by genes when regular relaxation methods(focused breath awareness) are practiced. “After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.” Another study used magnetic resonating images (MRI) to show that 8 weeks of mindfulness training suggests “changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

Considering the positive correlation between meditation and physical/mental/emotional benefits, why aren’t we all meditating? Somewhere between reading about the benefits, and the reality of changing our habits, something gets lost in translation.

I remember the feeling when I was in the presence of individuals who meditated. There was something calmer to them, perhaps less furrowing of the brow and excess emotions. As a mother of four boys, I was looking for strategies that would allow me to move through my day from my own center as opposed to the latest drama of a child!

It was from this place of a desire for a different experience that I started to dip into the meditation literature, and eventually classes. A little information helped to open me a little, and a few more family conflicts motivated me to search for a better way.

It was during a meditation class early on that I experienced my first “aha!” moment, a moment of complete peace and total love coupled with a physiological shift. Although it was fleeting, and I would try to recreate it, it was enough for me to know that change is possible.

Like any activity in life, the more that we do it the better we get at it. There are no individuals who were uniquely created to meditate. We all find it difficult to harness the mind that is jumping around with approximately 50,000 thoughts a day. Slowing down the stream of new thoughts, many of which are negative, slows down the corresponding negative physiological effect in the body.

Begin with breathing long slow inhales and exhales at specific times during the day, or with the repetition of a prayer or meaningful words when you feel your mind wandering into the past or planning for the future. The present moment is the present that we are given. Meditation helps each of us to stay in the moment, and to receive its gifts.