Meditation: effects on the brain and health
Meditation is an ancient technique that aims to provide a natural healthy state of the human mind at rest and the way to lead mind to the level of stability and clarity. In addition, meditation allows the mind to relax and enhances mental strength. For a long time meditation is not only Buddhist practice anymore, but something that anyone can learn and apply regardless of the spiritual tradition.
Researches have confirmed that long-term meditation can significantly contribute to the improvement of general health condition and to lead to positive changes in the brain structure.
Although meditation primarily relaxes the mind and relieves the stress), we should not neglect the fact that it provides a range of health benefits to the body. With positive mental attitude and proper breathing, one can truly beneficially effect on various physical symptoms of many disorders in the body.
Different types of meditation
There are more than 100 meditations techniques, however, for many meditation teachers all of these techniques can be classified in 5 main types:
- Primordial Sound Meditation: Silent practice with mantra, vibrational sound which is repeated silently and helps entering into deeper levels of consciousness. Mantra is personal and combines sound the universe was creating and place of person’s birth.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Technique that combines breath awareness – focusing on attention on inhalation and exhalation processes with body scan – process that includes relaxation or release of tension.
- Zen: Also known as seated meditation, comes from Buddhism, is based on observing the mind and the breath, through the interaction with a teacher.
- Transcendental Meditation: seated meditation that uses sequences of Sanskrit words or mantra to help the meditator to focus during meditation in lieu of just following breath.
- Kundalini Yoga: Technique that combines breath, mantra, mudra (hand position), and focus
Health benefits of meditation
Meditation can have both emotional and physical benefits, and these benefits can last even when meditation session ends. Emotional benefits of meditation can be: better emotional stability, reduction of stress, anxiety and negative emotion, increased creativity, sharp mind without tension, anger and frustrations, etc.
On a physical level, researches have shown that meditation can: lower high blood pressure, reduce pain caused by headaches, muscles and joint problems, ulcers, improves the immune system, reduce sleeping problems, lower the risk of anxiety and depression by increasing serotonin levels in blood and reduce asthma attacks.
Meditation effects on brain
Neuroimaging studies that used EEG and functional MRI showed that meditation can have effects on brain changes. It has been found that meditators exhibit a different gray matter morphometry in multiple regions of the brain comparing to individuals who do not meditate. In 2 studies it has been identified brain activation in hippocampus and the right anterior insula during meditation.
It is known that hippocampus is involved in memory and learning processes and in the emotional control modulation, while for the insula it has been postulated that plays a crucial role in the awareness process.
Meditation isn’t a replacement for medical treatment, but it may be useful as addition to first line treatment if health care providers recommend it.
Meditation and cardiovascular health
Physiological effects of meditation such as a slowed heart rate may be useful in the treatment of high blood pressure. One trial study has reported that 3 months of transcendental meditation practice significantly reduced clinic measured systolic (reduced for 10.7 mm Hg) and diastolic (reduced for 6.4 mm Hg) blood pressure.
Another study has reported positive effects of transcendental meditation on the intima media thickness of the carotid artery, which may be useful in atherosclerosis treatment, in co-intervention with exercises, diet, and herbal supplements.
Sahaja meditation for respiratory issues
One study showed that certain type of meditation called Sahaja meditation (passive witnessing of thoughts) can be useful with patients with poorly controlled asthma.
The positive results were a significant reduction in the asthma severity in airway hyper-sensibility in response to chemical stressor in asthma patients on Sahaja meditation treatment. It has been also found that Sahaja meditation can reduce frequency of seizures in patients with epilepsy, however larger studies are needed to prove it.
Meditation and serotonin levels
Meditation can increase levels of serotonin in the body so this can be very useful in treating anxiety and depression disorders, where low levels of serotonin are major problem. However, relevant and larger studies are needed to prove it. Researchers found that practices such meditation can reduce central nervous system stimulation, so this can be very thankful in treating chronic insomnia. Meditation relieves the body and mind from stress which is the major cause of insomnia.