Meditation on Science: How Mantras and Deep Breathing Really Help

Meditation Reduces Stress

Mental and physical activity increases the level of the hormone cortisol in the body. And it stimulates the appearance of inflammatory cytokine molecules. Normally, cytokines are always present in the human body, even participating in its protection. But if their number increases dramatically, it is dangerous.

Read also: 8 Different Types of Meditation and their Benefits.

In 2013, American scientists found an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program of stress reduction reduced post-stress inflammatory response. In this study, volunteers were smeared with a burning cream containing capsaicin (a substance derived from the world's hottest chili). Significantly, the more stress a person experienced, the more effective meditation helped him.

What is mindfulness meditation?

The classical practice of meditation is based on awareness of the moment "here and now", the ability to accept your thoughts, feelings and actions without judgment. Such  mental training teaches you to slow down thoughts, let go of negativity, calm down your mind and body. It can last as long as needed. Therefore it is convenient for scientists to investigate mindfulness meditation. They can observe a person for a long time and evaluate all the bonuses and risks of the meditation process.

Different meditation practices can affect other markers of the meditation process's inflammation. Free levels and skin stress response. It also helps combat the physical and psychological effects of stress. For example, it helps to get rid of irritable bowel syndrome and fight PTSD. The latter is easily confirmed - US Marines regularly use meditation.

Neuroscientists believe that mindfulness meditation weakens the amygdala and strengthens its connection with the prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain help you respond more calmly to stressors and recover faster from shocks.

Meditation is good for mental health.

It would seem that if meditation can handle stress and its consequences, it is good for mental health. But everything is not so simple here.

On the one hand, mindfulness meditation can help people with depression, according to a study of more than 4,600 adults. Reducing stress levels can play a significant role here. For example, practicing meditation will help if a person's mental problems are caused by stress. But it's not always the case.

On the other hand, it is crucial to keep in mind that meditation is no more effective than psychotherapy and your doctor's medications. It may not be the primary treatment, but it may be a component of it.

Meditation Improves Attention

In a 2007 study, researchers analyzed the effect of an 8-week course of mindfulness meditation. They found that meditation improves the ability to reorient and maintain attention. Another study was conducted with the personnel department. It showed that someone who practiced meditation regularly could stay focused on the task for longer and better understand its details. Their colleagues, who did not meditate, did worse.

There is evidence that as little as four days of practice can trigger positive changes, and the effects can last up to five years .

It is too early to say that meditation can help people with attention deficit disorder. There is little research showing that this is possible with at least adults. But larger studies are needed to understand how meditation can be used to treat ADHD.

Meditation changes the brain

A study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that people who meditated for an average of 20 years had higher gray matter volume than those who did not practice meditation. This discovery confirms that meditation can influence neural connections. 

In 2011, Sarah Lazar and her team at Harvard discovered that mindfulness meditation could change the brain's structure. Eight weeks of meditation increased the size of the cortical layer of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning.

In the same year, colleagues at Yale University noticed that meditation reduced the "monkey mind" (this is when the brain's attention is constantly jumping from one object to another). This is usually due to a lack of happiness due to perennial worry about the past and future.

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How Andrey Kurpatov relates to meditation

Meditation helps you stay old

Perhaps the habit of meditation can slow down some of the aging effects. For example, the Kirtan Kriya method helps people with age-related memory impairments to cope better with tasks.

What is Kirtan Kriya meditation?

This is one of the main types of meditation in Kundalini Yoga. The Sa Ta Na Ma mantra is chanted in combination with the movements of the fingers - the idea is that you can discover your "true essence" in this way. Replacing fingers' movement so fingers' movement sounds, studies have shown, does not have a positive effect - no changes occur in the brain and memory does not improve. But if you follow the guidelines exactly, then positive changes can be achieved in 12 minutes.

That said, a review of 12 studies showed that different styles of meditation improved alertness and mental agility in older volunteers. Another study found that meditation lengthens telomeres. These are such "protective caps" of chromosomes. With age, they shorten, and the shorter the telomeres, the worse the health and the closer the old age. This process can be slowed down not only by meditation, healthy eating, and sports.

Meditation makes us kinder

Other studies show that loving-kindness meditation (metta meditation) can help develop compassion for yourself and others. It activates the brain centers associated with empathy and altruism.

What about loving-kindness meditation?

The purpose of this meditation is to create good intentions for yourself and others. During the practice, a person must accept himself as he is, imagine loving people (it does not matter whether they are living or already dead) nearby, and send love to those around him. It is important to focus on a sense of inner peace for maximum effect.

Additionally, there is a growing corpus of studies that suggests that mindfulness practice can reduce psychological biases. For example, one study found that even a short meditation reduced prejudice against the homeless, and another found that mindfulness meditation reduced unconscious prejudice against blacks and the elderly.

Meditation Helps Fight Addictions

And meditation can also help a person get rid of addictions. After all, it increases self-control and awareness of deviant behavior. A review of 14 studies, for example, found that meditation helped people cope better with emotional overeating. Another study compared the effects of meditation with those of the American Lung Association's Smoking Freedom program. In 17 weeks, people who practiced mindfulness meditation quit smoking more often.

So meditation really can do anything?

Not really. In 2018, 15 scientists published a study that highlighted the problems in most meditation work. For example, many suffer from inconsistent definitions, small sample sizes, poor oversight, and short follow-up times.

Another group of scientists came to a similar conclusion in 2014. They stated that meditation can improve stress, anxiety and chronic pain. But when it comes to improving quality of life, eating and sleeping habits, for example, the available data is still insufficient.

This does not mean that the scientists themselves invented the meditation bonuses. But it means that any conclusions should be treated with a grain of healthy skepticism.

Meditation for beginners

The phenomenon of "night."

Well, and the most interesting thing in the end. Some researchers warn that meditation may be unsafe. We are talking about the phenomenon of "dark night", when a person, after long practices, loses touch with reality. Something similar happened to the American Megan Vogt, who ended up in a psychiatric hospital after a 10-day course of Vipassana meditation.

What is Vipassana?

Vipassana is known as insight meditation. She suggests not to concentrate on something external but to pay attention to your own feelings. Adepts are sure - this is how you can see the true nature of your existence.

Although Vipassana can be practiced anywhere and at any time, S. N. Goenka's retreat is popular. It looks like this: for 10 days in a place far from civilization, you should be silent, meditate, meditate and be silent.

Read also: Why You Need a Morning Ritual and How to Start it

In 2017, psychologist Willoughby Britton published her project's first work on the diversity of meditative experiences. In it, she invited those wishing to share the strange and terrible effects of meditation practices.

It turned out that almost every person out of hundreds of those surveyed had at least one experience something strange after meditation. Someone felt anxiety and overexcitement; others had problems with sleep and sensitivity to light and some self-perception problems. In some cases, these effects have been attributed to childhood trauma and psychological problems. But the strangeness was also noticed in the volunteers, who were absolutely healthy.

Bottom line

Give meditation a try if you want to. The main thing is to monitor your feelings in the process, start with small and simple practices. If you have a mental illness, first talk with your doctor if meditation is right for you.

Adapted and translated by The Cop Cart Staff

Sources: Life hacker