Meditation is an ancient practice which transcends geographic and cultural boundaries. However, far from being outdated, the benefits of meditation are more relevant than ever, with everyone from corporate tycoons to Hollywood icons vouching for its effectiveness. Recently a growing number of scientific studies and research have also confirmed these experiences, bringing the appeal of yoga and meditation far beyond the realm of mere celebrity endorsement. Here are a few concrete ways that meditation can improve your life, boost your vitality and give you a greater sense of wellbeing.
Benefits of Meditation #1: Improved Attention and Focus
Both psychologists and neurologists have been conducting numerous tests on the effects of meditation and they have found that it helps one keep a steady focus and lessens the mind’s tendency to stray. One report examined the effects a two-week meditation course had on a group of undergraduate students, in regard to their academics.
The study found that after practicing meditation, the students experienced enhanced mental focus and improved memory faculties. Specifically, researchers measured the students’ aptitude on the Reading Preparation Test for the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) and found that the undergrads scored better after regular practice of meditation. They recorded an improvement in test scores by 80 points, from a previous score of 460, to a total of 520 after the meditation program.
These findings may be new for Western researchers, but these benefits have been known for a long time in India, where meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Even the Buddhists have extolled the use of meditation in one’s daily life for the focus and awareness that it brings.
Benefits of Meditation #2:Better Cardiac Health
While improving focus may seem like a natural outcome of a decidedly “mental” practice like meditation, research has proved that benefits one can derived from meditation are in fact much more far-reaching. In two studies conducted in 2008 and 2012, findings showed that a considerable improvement in cardiac health was one of the benefits of the meditation Shambhavi Mahamudra can improve one’s level of cardiac health considerably. Shambhavi Mahamudra is the introductory practice of Isha Yoga, an ancient kriya that has millions of dedicated practitioners who aver that they experience greater emotional balance, concentration, focus, stability and better health with regular practice of the meditation. In fact, there have been several scientific studies that measure the various benefits of practicing the kriya regularly – both with regard to brain activity during the kriya, as well as statistical research of how it affects people’s health and wellbeing.
Participants in both studies showed augmented Heart Rate Variability or HRV, as well as a more stable Cardiac Autonomic Nervous System. An increased HRV is notably linked to better immunity during stressful conditions, as well as a better rate of survival following accidents and surgeries. On the other hand, a decreased HRV shows a high inclination towards heart diseases like heart attacks, chronic heart failure, coronary artery disease and hypertension.
Research findings showed that with regular practice of Shambhavi Mahamudra and Isha Yoga, participants showed a better cardiac response to stress, an increased exercise capacity and a lower likelihood of heart problems such as infarction or ischemia.
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Benefits of Meditation #3: Better Sleep Quality
Better sleep is an important part of how to be happy in life. With ever more hectic schedules, sleep is something that commonly eludes people –often when they need it most. So with the increased levels of peace and balance that people experience after meditation, an added benefit is that one’s sleep disturbances can be easily sorted out with regular practice.
A recent study by the 20th Congress of the European Sleep Research Society in Lisbon, Portugal monitored the sleep patterns of 30 participants, one half of whom were meditators, while the other half was not. Those in the study were between 22 and 55 years old, and from similar socio-economic backgrounds.
The researchers took full-night multi-parametric tests, also measuring EEG data and the amount of REM sleep of both groups. They found that the meditators rated considerably higher on sleep efficiency, total REM sleep and overall sleep time. The meditators were also roused from sleep fewer times in the night and had a better sleep quality when compared to the control group. Thus, the report concluded by saying that regular practice of meditation can have a beneficial influence on sleep quality.
Benefits of Meditation #4: Decrease in Chronic Ailments
Regular surveys of meditators have revealed some surprising findings vis-à-vis chronic ailments. It was found that those who meditate on a consistent basis were able to cut down on their medication and overcome problems like allergies, depression, asthma and other illnesses. 92% experienced more inner peace, 86% experienced greater emotional balance, 81% reported improved mental clarity, 78% reported greater energy levels, 73% experienced increased self-confidence and 71% experienced enhanced levels of concentration and productivity.
Benefits of Meditation #5: Enhanced Coherence within the Brain
Practitioners of Shambhavi Mahamudra were also tested by the Centre for Biomedical Engineering at IIT Delhi, where researchers monitored EEG (Electroencephalography) data before, during and after the practice. The tests showed an increased level of coherence between the right and left hemispheres, which signifies an improved information exchange among different areas of the brain, in addition to greater functional coupling and synchronization. This improved connectivity in the brain has been linked to better results on IQ and creativity tests, in addition to a greater sense of emotional balance and cognitive flexibility.
The participants of the study underwent tests that measure the levels of alpha, beta, delta and theta waves in connection with the practice of Shambhavi Mahamudra. It was found that practitioners displayed an enhanced alpha band power, signifying a reduction in stress levels. There was also a notable raise in delta and theta band power, with a significant decrease in beta band power. A decrease in beta band power signifies a lower propensity towards mental agitation, tension and worry. Increased theta and delta activity has been observed to show signs of gaining access to deeper levels of consciousness.
The researchers commented that alpha waves grouped with delta signals are indicative of an empathetic radar or inner intuition, similar to a sixth sense.
Benefits of Meditation #6: Decrease in Menstrual Problems
It is estimated that 75% of women experience problems related to menstrual problems but unfortunately, most of the therapies have been found to treat only the symptoms of the disorder. Recently however, yoga has been shown to help and studies related to this have shown promising results.
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Poole Hospitals NHS Trust, UK carried out a survey of 129 female meditators in the range of 14 to 55 years, from the UK, USA, Malaysia, Singapore and Lebanon. 72% of the participants practiced on a daily basis and the others meditated between one to three times a week.
The survey monitored their experience of menstrual problems before and after they started their meditation practice. The symptoms they inquired about in the study included menstrual cramps, severity of menstruation, abnormality in menstrual cycle, premenstrual syndrome, the need for medical care and any hindrances in work during the menstrual cycle.
Among those surveyed, participants experienced a 57% reduction in menstrual cramps, a 72% reduction in emotional symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, depression, arguments and crying spells, a 40% reduction in breast swelling and sensitivity, and a 50% reduction in bloating and weight gain. There was an 87% reduction in the severity of menstruation and an 80% decrease in the abnormality of the menstrual period. There was a 63% decrease in the need for medical care, and 83% decrease in total number of days their work was impaired.
The researchers reported that meditation can be regarded as an alternative treatment for menstrual problems seeing that the participants experienced an improvement of symptoms on all levels.
Benefits of Meditation #7: Enhanced Athletic Performance
Research surveying the effect of meditation on athletic performance has come out with results that meditation helps athletes focus better and for a more sustained duration. Another surprising outcome is that it also helps to maintain hydration levels during sports. A study conducted at Delhi University found that before practicing meditation, a group of field hockey players under observation were unable to maintain proper levels of hydration during peak times of the game, even though they had been instructed on how to maintain their water intake.
After practicing meditation for 21 days, the surveys showed that not only were the players more focused but they were able to naturally conserve water. They also gained an intuitive understanding of their bodies hydration needs, which positively affected their performance.