If you have ever benefits of meditation a few minutes at the end of yoga class, you will know that trying to slow down your thoughts is more complicated than it seems.
“Our minds are constantly in action, worrying about deadlines, evaluating our performance or that of others, or living in memories of the past,” says Nina Smiley, Ph.D., and director of the Mindfulness Meditation program at Mohonk Mountain House. In New York.
Practicing meditation trains your mind to focus your awareness on the present, which can help you achieve the coveted zen. This state of serenity not only makes you feel good, it is also good for your health, and can be directly beneficial for your careers. Even conventional medicine is beginning to recognize this ancient practice, as research into its benefits expands.
“I recommend every one – that includes all the patients I’ve had – to learn what [meditation] techniques do well and practice them routinely,” says Dr. Mike Roizen, chief of wellness at the Clinic. Cleveland and president of the medical advisory board of Vitamin Packs. This is because the benefits of meditation does not involve the risk of side effects and is free.
But understanding how meditation works has been complicated. We have recently begun to see studies that are good, randomized, controlled and larger trials, says Dr. Madhav Goyal, who has a master’s degree in Public Health, and an associate professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who investigates the effects of meditation for the general welfare.
Why should you take the trouble to meditate? The data we have is very encouraging. Here are six ways in which practicing mindfulness meditation daily can benefit your body from within.
Improve your mental health.
The strongest link between meditation and general health is its ability to reduce stress, which can trigger or exacerbate some serious conditions, such as heart disease, obesity or even anxiety disorders.
The good news is that the benefits of meditation can improve your mood: After researchers at Johns Hopkins University analyzed 47 trials (which included more than 3,500 people), they determined that mindfulness meditation programs improve anxiety, according to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Long-term meditation can also help reduce the risk of depression (or help with treatment if you’re already struggling with it), possibly because it has a positive effect on brain chemistry, says Roizen. Research suggests that various meditation techniques slow down the release of mood-altering cytokines, an anti-inflammatory chemical that could lead to depression over time.
“There is very convincing evidence to recommend [meditation] clinically, either as a treatment or as a coadjutant treatment, to those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain,” says Goyal.
Reduces painful inflammations
“Inflammation is the body’s reaction to something it does not like where it is,” explains Roizen. In some cases, it is a good thing: it is the result of your body attacking an allergen or an infection. However, chronic inflammations cause structural changes in your body that have been linked to numerous major chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, IBS, and even Alzheimer’s.
But meditation can contribute to the mitigation of these harmful effects. It’s a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the researchers gave the participants full conscience meditation training or enrolled them in a general health improvement program. Eight weeks later, they used burning – capsaicin cream to trigger an inflammatory response in the skin – just because it’s easier to test the skin than the brain, Roizen said.
They found that patients who meditated showed a much lower inflammatory response than those who did not, suggesting that meditation might have the ability to reduce chronic inflammation in your body, says Roizen.
Control your cravings
It is called “eating without meaning” for a reason: eating a whole bag of chips is usually not a conscious decision. In a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Brewer and a group of researchers created an application designed to use meditation and mindfulness meditation to reduce cravings. For 28 days, a group of obese and overweight participants meditated for 10 minutes. By the end of the trial, they had reduced the intake related to cravings by 40%.
“Mindfulness benefits of meditation allows you to take a curious awareness of the experience of cravings so you do not get caught,” explains Brewer, whose research focuses especially on the ability of meditation to control cravings and anxiety. “With it [meditation], we can break the link between impulse and action.”
Give your brain a boost
There is also evidence that mindfulness-based meditation can boost your brain. A study published in Psychological Science found that two weeks of training in mindfulness meditation improved the scores of reading comprehension participants for the postgraduate admission tests compared to the control group.
It is not entirely clear how it happens, but other research has found that meditation could thicken some areas of the brain associated with attention and introspection, and a “bigger brain” translates into greater potential, says Goyal. A second complementary study also found that meditating 40 minutes a day for two months was enough to increase brain volume in areas associated with stress, learning, memory, empathy, perspective and compassion, which theoretically it returns better in some cognitive tasks.
Combat premature aging
Could meditation be a solid foundation of youth? “We know that uncontrolled stress is one of the main causes of aging,” says Roizen. “It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.”
In a 2016 study published by Translational Psychiatry, the researchers recruited 102 women to spend six days in a retreat where they relaxed or did a meditation program. Compared to the blood that was drawn to the women before they entered, the blood samples at the end of the withdrawal showed improvements in the biomarkers associated with the aging of the newly minted meditators.
While the exact reason remains unclear, “we know from this and many other studies that meditation reduces aging caused by stress,” says Roizen.
How to keep colds out of your future
benefits of meditation can be beneficial in keeping colds at bay. In a study published by the Annals of Family Medicine, the researchers assigned the 150 participants, over 50 years, to one of these three groups for eight weeks: full consciousness meditation training, moderate-intensity exercise training or control group.
Both meditation and exercise reduced the propensity for colds compared to the control group: these two groups were sick for more than half the days of the control group during the investigation.
Again, relaxing effects are likely to be a factor, Goyal says because stress can intrude on your immune system’s ability to fight infections.
Deal with pain
If the pain is in the mind, then theoretically you can stop it, and a small study published in the Journal of Neuroscience analyzed how to achieve it. To establish a baseline, 15 people without experience in meditation were asked to simply focus on their breathing in an MRI machine. During the resonance, the researchers alternately applied some heat to their calves and asked them to rate the pain after the experiment.
The patients received four days of training in full consciousness meditation before repeating the entire process. After learning the techniques of meditation, they registered a reduction in discomfort by 57% and pain intensity by 40%.
Meditation does not exactly change physical pain, Brown says. The brain scans of the study showed that meditation reduced brain activity in areas associated with sensations, so it is likely that our relationship with the senses will change, he said. In other words: it can help your brain redefine the pain and make it a simpler experience.
During meditation training “people are actively taught to observe how they feel and not react to it,” says Goyal. “It’s a way of training the mind to reduce negative reactions.”
How to practice meditation?
Start meditating can be simple, and you do not have to hum that “om” (unless you want!).
“Meditation can take many forms, be it breathing exercises, using a mantra or guided visualization,” explains Smiley. “Mindfulness meditation can easily be incorporated into one’s routine, such as a morning shower or coffee break, and I encourage beginners to start practicing meditation with a breathing exercise.”
Here’s how to do it: Start concentrating with a couple of deep breaths. “As I breathe in and out deeply, I silently say ‘in’ and ‘out’ with each breath,” Smiley says. “During this cycle, if some thought comes to your head, accept it gently and without prejudice, forget it and return to meditation.”