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  • Writer's pictureYan Yu

Health Benefits of Meditation - Part I

Here are some of the benefits that you may not know about. Meditation can help you focus, reduce stress and anxiety, enhance your mood, boost creativity, foster resilience and improve your physical health.


This is part of 2 part article summarising what we know about the health benefits of meditation.


Introduction:

Now when people talk about meditation obviously there are several types. An analogy I like to make is that it’s like exercise, which we know is good for you. Now we know there are different types of exercise like endurance training, strength training, zone 2 training, etc. In the same sense, as with meditation, there are also different flavours. One that focuses your attention more on your inner self, and is done with your eyes closed for example, whereas there are also other forms of meditation that people do with their eyes open and focusing on things that are external to our body. There are different kinds of benefits to all these kinds of meditation, which we will go through during this segment.


When I talk about meditation today in this article, just for simplicity's sake, I choose it to mean specifically, ‘mindfulness’.


Mindfulness is one of the most popular meditation techniques. It has two main parts: attention and acceptance.


The attention piece is about tuning into your experiences to focus on what's happening in the present moment. It typically involves directing your awareness to your breath, your thoughts, the physical sensations in your body and the feelings you are experiencing. In practice, a very common thing that people will use to focus on is for example a spot behind your forehead between your eyes (commonly referred to as the ‘third eye’) or simply to follow your breathing in and out.

The acceptance piece involves observing those feelings and sensations without judgment. Instead of responding or reacting to those thoughts or feelings, you aim to note them and let them go.



Biology Underpinning

So let’s begin by talking a little bit about the science behind meditation. Most forms of meditation engage regions in the brain that regulate attention and emotion (ref). The adult brain can undergo changes through a process called neuroplasticity, which may include the development of new circuits (“rewiring”) and the formation of new connections between neurons. Since the 1980s, we have been discovering the benefits of meditation, and that is largely to do with emerging technologies such as MRI and more specifically functional MRI which allows us to be able to visualise which parts of the brain get activated whilst we are doing certain activities, and yes, you have guessed it, scientists have been putting subjects inside MRI scanners, and so we have learnt a lot from that process. What it tells us is that during the process of meditation, certain brain regions get activated, and we have actually localised different brain regions that are important. In terms of actual positive health benefits. In fact, there are over thousands of studies actually demonstrating real positive health benefits. These include enhancing good sleep, enhancing focus, helping to reduce your body’s inflammation, reducing pain, improving mood, and even improving outcomes in cancers, even improving symptoms in ADHD. The list actually goes on and on. And more astoundingly, many of these studies have shown similar or even superior benefits than drug treatment, minus the side effects of course.


Different kinds of meditation for different benefits

Now you may not realise that there are several kinds of meditation and the benefits are not the same. Certain ones are good for reducing anxiety, whilst others focus on improving your focus, whilst some might reduce symptoms like depression. So really, depending on what you want to achieve out of meditation, you can actually be quite specific if you know which areas of your life you want to improve. Probably we only have time to focus on the more general idea of meditation. There is actually a whole loads of stuff to talk about just relating to breathing techniques during meditation alone, but I think I will save that for another day.


To be continued in part II

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