What are the benefits of daily meditation? Despite decades of conflicting information, research studies now show us the benefits of practicing meditation regularly.
What’s the need for meditation? Despite the whole mental health awareness and well-being revolution over the past twenty years or so, people tend to neglect their most precious and creative asset: Their brain.
Meditation can be practised anywhere and with very little training. For example, you can meditate on the train, bus or even in the gym.
Like most things, repetition is the key to success! Despite being a practical approach, it helps to have an understanding of Eastern principles and philosophy.
Stop trying to control everything
Have you ever noticed when you try to take control of everything in your mind, it rarely goes to plan? You lose touch with the present moment and you become preoccupied with everything that could go wrong.
Another disadvantage is that it causes your anxiety levels to rise up like a Tsunami. Some people don’t think that stepping out of the storm and into meditation is even possible.
With regular meditation practice, you can take back control of your mind. One powerful way of doing this is to observe your thoughts as they occur or as Eckhart Tolle describes it ‘watching the thinker’.
Watching the thinker
Watching the thinker means observing your thoughts in a different way.
Instead of concentrating on them and finding possible solutions to your various dilemma’s, you just watch the stream of thoughts objectively without judgement.
Ask yourself, what is my next thought going to be? And then become alert and watch, listen and wait. Your thoughts never take long to come.
Every time you do this, it creates space between you as the awareness and your thought processes. You realise you are not your thoughts.
The more attention you give to this presence in which thoughts spontaneously arise, you discover ‘being’ as formless, omnipresent and powerful.
This presence was there before you ever had a single thought. This is your natural-self that precedes your identity, personality and body.
Stillness is another word for presence or ‘being’. Some people prefer to access presence by listening.
Can you imagine an Orchestra playing music as a long-sustained chord without rest? – Probably not.
This is because music doesn’t exist without stillness. It is the silence in between the musical notes as well as the space in which music is listened to.
By cultivating stillness through meditation, you can grow in the power of presence. As you become more aware of stillness, your spirit will shine more brightly.
The brains own computer
The frontal lobes (behind your forehead) work like a computer system. Together they are essential for human consciousness and carry out many complex roles and functions.
Firstly, they allow you to carry out most of your daily activities. They give you the ability to concentrate on reading a book or magazine.
They also allow you to process new information. The frontal lobes play a huge part in creating and storing memories.
And the frontal lobes communicate and interact with other areas of the body and brain. For instance, together they allow you to move independently: The left lobe controls the right side of the body and right lobe controls the left.
1. Meditation can boost your brain power and reduce stress
Meditation helps to thicken the grey matter in your prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the frontal lobe associated with decision-making and planning.
Daily meditation practice strengthens your prefrontal cortex. As a result, you can achieve greater will-power, problem solving skills and learn more effectively. Researchers believe that meditation may reduce the negative effects of stress.
Meditation practice is like essential downtime for the brain. You could say It allows the brain to run more efficiently and prevents it from becoming overloaded.
2. Meditation helps you to manage your emotions better
Do you ever struggle to manage your emotions? You may find yourself reacting angrily to challenges and then later regretting it.
The prefrontal cortex communicates with the amygdala. The amygdala can be found inside the temporal lobe of the brain and relates to how you manage your emotions. Anatomically, the temporal lobes sit behind your ears. (In the brain).
As a result, the amygdala is often associated with the infamous ‘fight or flight response’. This is when you react to a challenging situation and either attack, freeze or run from potential danger!
I am sure you have felt this way, even if it was before a job interview or just before a near death experience? It may feel like butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms etc.
Regular meditation strengthens the neural circuitry between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. This gives you much greater control over stressful emotions and how you choose to respond to them.
Interestingly, brain scans of advanced meditators show they have a smaller than average sized amygdala.
Check out this research on the effect of meditation/mindfulness on the amygdala. So, regular meditation can help you to respond to challenging emotions in a much calmer and more productive way.
3. Meditation can make you feel awesome!
Happiness is contagious! And there is good reason why Monks are the happiest people in the world! Another benefit of meditating regularly is that ecstatic feeling. It even goes beyond happiness!
Furthermore, research studies show when a person feels happy, their left prefrontal cortex lights up and activity levels increase; consequently, the right prefrontal cortex becomes less active. This happens more frequently with people who meditate regularly.
So, by meditating regularly, you can produce more ‘happy hormones’ including endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.
4. Meditation can help you sleep
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is shaped like a pine cone and the word pineal comes from the Latin ‘Pinea’ meaning like a pine cone.
The Seat of the soul
The world-famous French philosopher and Mathematician Rene Descartes famously described the pineal gland as “the seat of the soul”. Although Descartes understanding of the soul was completely different in those days, the pineal gland does play a huge part in your sleep/wake cycle as well as other endocrine (hormonal) functions.
Yes, your body has its own natural rhythm or body clock: the Circadian rhythm which regulates your sleep pattern. The light sensitive pineal gland produces melatonin at night which helps you sleep. When you awaken and open your eyes, serotonin is produced, and you feel awake.
By practising meditation and mindfulness principles you can improve your sleep pattern. This study – Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia | SLEEP | Oxford Academic (oup.com) showed that Mindfulness meditation had a positive impact on people’s insomnia. It is important to note that this was a relatively small study of only fifty-four people.
- The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Frontiers | Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state | Human Neuroscience (frontiersin.org)
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