Now that we know what’s going on inside our brains, let’s take a look at the research into the ways it affects our health.
1. Better Focus
Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular bouts of meditation.
2. Better Memory
One of the things meditation has been linked to is improving rapid memory recall. Catherine Kerr, a researcher at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly that those that did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain “their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.” This seems to be very similar to the power of being exposed to new situations that will also dramatically improve our memory of things.
3. Less Stress
Mindful meditation has been shown to help people perform under pressure while feeling less stressed. A 2012 study split a group of human resources managers into three, which one third participating in mindful meditation training, another third taking body relaxation training and the last third given no training at all. A stressful multitasking test was given to all the managers before and after the eight-week experiment. In the final test, the group that had participated in the meditation training reported less stress during the test than both of the other groups.
4. More Creativity
There is some research into how meditation can affect our creativity.
Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied both focused-attention and open-monitoring mediation to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards. They found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show any obvious signs of improvement in the creativity task following their meditation. For those who did open-monitoring meditation, however, they performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.
Research on meditation has shown that empathy and compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. One experiment showed participants images of other people that were either good, bad or neutral in what they called “compassion meditation.” The participants were able to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.
6. Better sleep:
Anyone who’s ever experienced a fitful night of sleep knows that “just relax” is easier said than done. But do-it-yourself meditation practices may help you prepare for rest, and put worries or discomfort behind you.
These techniques work best when done right before bed, in a quiet, calming environment. But you can also practice them several times a day, recommends Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at New York University School of Medicine.
“If you can keep your stress levels under control during the day, you’ll sleep better at night,” Walsleben says. “You can even do them at your desk or on the train.”
7. Less Anxiety
This point is pretty technical, but it’s really interesting. The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have, and it turns out this is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways. This sounds bad, but it’s not.
When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Centre (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centres. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.