A lot of people realize meditation is good for you, but they don’t know exactly how it affects your body and brain. If you’ve read my article on the foundations of successful weight loss, you’ll know that I take a mind-and-body approach to weight loss. And meditation is an important part of this, so today I’m going to delve deeper into how and why meditation is good for you.
What is meditation?
Before we get started, what is meditation exactly? Many people think of sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed for an undefined length of time. Others think of changing the same phrase over and over again. But meditation can actually be a lot of different things. From the Psychology Today website, meditation is turning your attention to a single point of reference. This could be body sensations, the breath, or a mantra. And meditation doesn’t require sitting still: you can even meditate while walking.
How does meditation affect the mind?
In a study published in 2010, researchers found that meditation improves psychomotor vigilance in people that were fatigued. Psychomotor vigilance is basically your ability to react to a stimulus- e.g. hitting the brakes on your car if an animal runs out in front of you. So this is one of the ways meditation is good for you. Taking a nap if you’re tired actually makes you feel more groggy due to a concept called “sleep latency” (basically your body trying to wake up). But meditating instead can actually make you more alert.
Meditation causes physical changes in the brain.
This is a concept I first learned from Dr. Aparna Iyer, a psychiatrist who specializes in physician wellness, and it totally blew my mind. But mediation actually causes physical changes in the brain that are visible on MRI. These include an increase in size of:
- The posterior cingulate, which is mediates mind wandering, and self relevance.
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The temporo parietal junction, which deals with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
- The Pons, which produces a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters
In addition to these changes, meditation also causes a decrease in size in the amygdala, which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general.
So meditating is like a workout for your brain: another amazing way meditation is good for you.
Meditation may slow aging.
People who meditate have longer telomeres. When our cells replicate, the enzymes that copy DNA cannot copy the very end of the DNA strand. To make sure none of the important stuff gets lost we have a repetitive DNA sequence called a telomere. This repetitive DNA sequence gets a little shorter every time the cell is copied. Longer telomeres mean you are biologically younger.
Other ways meditation is good for you.
- Depression: individuals who practiced mindfulness meditation had lower rates of relapse of their depression.
- Generalized anxiety: meditation has improved anxiety symptoms such as poor sleep, generalized worry, and irritability.
- Meditation can increase your attention span.
Okay, I can practically hear you talking to me at this point. I’ve convinced you that meditation is good for you. But how do you start? It’s actually really easy! And to help you start, I’ve created an introduction to meditation to guide you through the process! Just click the link below to download it.
Dr. Greer is a Plastic Surgeon who practices in Cleveland, OH. Her passion is helping moms regain self-confidence by getting rid of sagginess, wrinkles, and stubborn fat. Read more about her at www.greerplastics.com.