Whether on a local news channel or in a conversation with friends, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about “how amazing” meditation is. There is also, however, a good chance that you’re just not that into it. Maybe you tried it before and felt like it was impossible to sit still for that long, or that getting to “quiet” your mind was an impossible task. Or, maybe, you haven’t tried it simply because it seems too “new-agey” or “out there” to actually be effective.
Or, maybe, like so many of us, you absolutely love the idea of meditation and, when you have had time for it, you really enjoy being quiet and getting still. The problem, unfortunately, is finding time to actually make it a habit – not just an occasional thing you do when you have a moment.
Wherever you are on the spectrum, the reality is that meditation is an incredibly powerful tool, one that not only makes you instantly feel better (whether you can get your mind to be still or not), but a practice that has profound long-term effects. When you take the time to meditate, you’re doing so much more than slowing down – you’re actually changing the way your body and brain works by manipulating the chemistry of them both.
Here are three ways that these chemistry changes work when you meditate…
- Meditation preserves your brain. When you practice meditation regularly, you’re able to manipulate the chemistry of your brain so that it actually preserves itself from aging. This means that you’re able to keep more of the gray matter in your brain, and not just in one particular area. According to research done by UCLA, people who meditate for more than twenty years had a “widespread effect… that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain”.
- Meditation works quickly. Although the effects of long-term meditation are profound, so is the body’s and brain’s ability to make significant changes even after short-term practices. In another study done by researchers at UCLA, even an eight-week mindfulness and meditation program has the ability to increase brain volume, “thickening” four regions that correlate to self-relevance, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, empathy, compassion, and reduced anxiety and stress.
- Meditation evokes an immediate relaxation response. So many Americans live in a constant state of stress, which is why meditation is so important. When you meditate, your body almost instantly relaxes – and the chemistry of your body and brain changes accordingly. As you relax, your heart rate becomes more regular, your blood pressure reduces, and your brain waves become steadier, which means that everything in your body begins to function at a higher level.
There are plenty of different types of meditation to choose from and, ultimately, it’s up to you to determine which style is right for you. Some research, however, shows that the most effective type for individuals, especially those new to meditation, is one that uses an external focus, such as giving attention to your breathing or the repletion of a word or phrase, also known as a mantra.
Even just ten or twenty minutes each day can be plenty to create real changes in the chemistry of your body and brain – ones that can make a big difference in your overall health and quality of life.