How Meditation Has Been Proven To Create Balance In Your Life
What possible use can meditation have? Why would I want to wear a robe, sit cross legged on the floor, eyes shut, clenching a thumb and forefinger and chanting some hippy-type mantra? Clearly it’s just a waste of time, a cult full of weirdos.
Is Meditation Just A Form Of Art?
It turns out I wasn’t just a little bit wrong. I was totally and utterly wrong. I had shut my mind and was going against lots of the principles that I preach, failing to keep my mind open. I guess we can’t all be perfect!
As we continue to focus on January as a month of balance, I want to look at meditation and how you can use it to create more balance in your life. I’ve been meditating for about 5 months now, practicing mindfulness for a little over a year. I went in to it as a sceptic and come out a convert.
Last year I wrote this post about how mediation can change your life. I’m now going to elaborate and tell you some of the science behind it. I thought this meditation and mindfulness stuff was all a bit arty, with no real science behind it. How wrong I was.
Firstly, so that I’m clear and as I mentioned in last years meditation post, there is no need to be sat on the floor cross legged in a pose that many people consider is a requirement (I thought that). Instead I’ve meditated on trains, buses, cars, a public bench. This is something that you can do where ever you are (within reason).
The Science Of Meditation
I am not a scientist with any level of qualification regarding the brain, neuroplasticity or meditation. I am just a convert to the benefits of mediation and someone that needs to understand some of the science behind it. This science is what I’ve found and should be enough for most people to realize that there is more than just a bit of art behind what these meditator-type people do – there is a whole bunch of science that proves that mediation really is good for you.
Meditation affects the brain. If you are to do a brain scan and look at what’s going on in the brain if you don’t meditate you’re likely to find some interesting connections (of course, everyone is different so this will be a bit of a generalisation). The medial prefrontal cortex will, within itself, have strong neural connections. It will also have strong neural connections between itself and the insula and the amygdala.
Translating The Science
OK, so what does this mean? The medial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that references you. It’s based on how you perceive things and formed through your experiences. The insula works on your sensations and is the part that gives you that gut feeling and decides how strongly you respond to a particular sensation or experience. The amygdala is responsible for the fight or flight mechanism.
With this in mind, what these strong neural connections are doing is heightening the response to an experience or sensation and making it more likely that you will decide that this input to your brain is a problem of some sort.
Neuroplasticity Of Meditation
Meditation can actually change the physical structure of the brain. This is neuroplasticity – changes in the brain’s neural pathways and synapses.
If we scan the brain of someone that regularly practices meditation daily there are some interesting changes. The connection between the medial prefrontal cortex and both the insula and amygdala are weakened. This means those sensations of panic, anxiety or fear that fleetingly pass through us when we really wish they wouldn’t are reduced. Resultantly we have less anxiety and are able to respond to it in a strengthened and more controlled way to these situations that otherwise may have been difficult to deal with.
Not only are these connections weakened but the connection between the lateral prefrontal cortex and both the insula and amygdala are strengthened. When something potentially anxiety provoking or dangerous presents itself these stronger connections allow us to act more calmly and rationally.
Additionally, the connection between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (part of the medial prefrontal cortex) and the insula are strengthened. This promotes our ability to be empathetic and understand others that are different to us. It allows us to be more compassionate, open our mind to further possibilities and perhaps even (and this part is my own personal theory) be more creative.
Meditation is neuroplasticity in action.
Does The Theory Actually Work?
I meditate about 5 times a week for 20 minutes. I should be meditating twice a day every day and I’m striving towards that. Life, combined with a 3 month old son, make it slightly harder for me to fit this in but I’m working on it.
When I meditate I notice that I am calmer, I’m more empathetic, I’m open to possibilities, I’m less anxious and I’m more creative. I also suffer from nerve pain and, while I don’t have any tangible evidence, I think that meditation has also reduced the affect of this pain.
I started meditating as a sceptic so this isn’t some placebo effect – it’s the opposite. Meditation has had affects on my brain. It has rewired it and continues to do so. As I increase my practice and get better at it I fully expect to see more results. While I can’t personally attest to claims of meditation improving things like your immune system, I can believe that it’s true.
How You Can Apply This To Your Life
It’s widely acknowledged that exercising is healthy. That’s the physical part. What about exercising your brain? Just like with your body, you need to do this regularly. You should be doing a daily or twice daily practice to get maximum results.
I learned with Will Williams Medication in London. He teaches Vedic meditation – essentially this is what’s commonly known as Transcendental meditation but that term has been copyrighted and trademarked heavily. It involves 2 sessions of 20 minutes each per day. You can pretty much do it anywhere and say a mantra inside your head.
Many of you will think that you won’t be able to get your mind still enough to reap the benefits – I certainly did. But, I learned, it’s OK to have thoughts enter your mind – this is part of life. You just acknowledge them, raise the ‘volume’ of your mantra inside your head and, soon, you’re back to focussing on your mantra – it really works.
To get the full benefit of Vedic meditation I highly recommend going on a course. However, there are lots of other forms of mediation and we’re all different. There are links to free guided meditations at the end of last years meditation post and there is help in our free Perfect Madness Toolkit too.
Why You Should Start Meditating
I’m not going to insult your intelligence and, once again, talk about the benefits of reduce anxiety, improved immune system, etc, etc. Instead, I’m going to put it another way. Perhaps, you already feel strong and in perfect health – you don’t have any of these ‘issues’ which need ‘fixing’. But then imagine how good you could be. Imagine how you could take on even more challenges if you were even stronger, if your brain functioned even better. If you want to help others, achieve more, make the impossible possible, then I truly believe that meditating regularly will help take you to that next level.
Not convinced and don’t want to dedicate 2 sessions of 20 minutes a day to this? Start small. Try 2 minutes or 5 minutes just once a day. Do that for a month and see the benefits yourself.
This is where I challenge you. I’ve personally seen the results. Now it’s your turn. Give it a go. Try it. I’d love to hear how you get on – let me know.
Main photo by Moyan Brenn.