The Benefits of Meditation
The physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of meditation have been well documented for thousands of years. Scientists, philosophers, spiritualists, and religious leaders have heralded the power of witnessing awareness. They may refer to it as deep reflection, being present, mindfulness, contemplation, prayer, meditation, or simply relaxing, but it’s all the same thing—disconnecting from the activity and drifting to the space between our thoughts.
In the Yoga Sutras, written sometime between 200 b.c. and. 200 a.d., the sage Patanjali (who created a common thread that all schools of yoga follow) defined meditation in four Sanskrit words: yoga citta vritti nirodha, which means “one-ness is the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.”
1. Effects on the Mind, Body & Spirit
Over the first few days, weeks, and months of daily meditation, the quieting impact this simple practice has on your bodymind begins to express itself in each choice you make. Your shift may be so subtle that even you don’t see these meditation benefits at first. But your thoughts, selections, decisions, and daily actions become more conscious, leading to more intuitively conscious behaviors. Then one day you realize you have a broader perspective, a deeper sense of calm, and heightened clarity… yes, greater creativity, expanded grace, greater ease. You realize you are making more spontaneous right choices. You realize you are being more authentic. There is greater alignment between what you think, what you say, and what you do. These are the myriad effects and benefits of meditation. The world is still turning—and sometimes faster than ever—but to you, that swirl is in slower motion, like texts coming into your cell phone with a really faint hum rather than a blasting ringtone.
2. Stillness, Peace & Quieting the Mind
Over time, moving from activity to stillness during meditation translates into more conscious behaviors during non-meditation (the other 23 or so hours of your day). Your interactions with the world shift more effortlessly from reactivity to responding, from reflexiveness to reflectiveness, from defensiveness to openness, and from drama to calm.
There’s a big bonus regarding the effects of meditation on top of all these other nourishing aspects of having a practice. Over time, meditation benefits you by quieting you to a state where you experience life with a deeper understanding of your true Self, which can open the door to spiritual exploration, connection, discovery, and fulfillment—one of the many spiritual benefits of meditation. It is along the so-called “spiritual path” that you truly can experience your unbounded and unconditioned Self—the infinite you that rests at the core of who you are underneath your body and beneath this worldly garb of titles, roles, masks, ego, and the complexities of this life.
Regardless of the depth of your spiritual nature, simply by spending time in stillness and silence, you will experience the benefits of meditation and become more imbued with the ability to open to greater possibilities in each moment instead of the ones you were fixed on.
This creates a more universal trajectory for the rest of your life with an expanded point of view. By seeing yourself as more universal and less personal, you’ll realize more options in each moment instead of seeing only the limited ones you thought you had before. Everything in your life becomes richer when you see there are lots of different ways things can play out and your previously constricted viewpoint only made you feel more helpless as life unfolded. But this tool called meditation and its benefits can give you the edge you need to feel strong each day, to gain clarity, and to finally regain your peace of mind.
3. Evolving our Brains: The Scientific Research
Different types of meditation styles take you to different places. Some calm you in the moment, others calm you after the moment, some open you, some inspire you, some relax you, some comfort you, others transport you, and some deliver you to a life of oneness and deeper fulfillment. This may sound like a huge leap from the clinical, scientific proof of the power and benefits of meditation, but its current trendiness, and 5,000 years of testimonials should give you the support you need right now to continue exploring.
Over the last several years, thousands of compelling scientific studies have found evidence that a regular, consistent meditation practice can offer a wide range of healing benefits and meditation-linked health benefits. The data include hundreds of clinical studies performed by science and medical departments at major universities, research reports in such venerable sources as The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and The New England Journal of Medicine, and special features in more popular publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Time magazine to The New York Times. There is now compelling evidence that meditation is a powerful tool in managing anxiety and stress, pain relief, restful sleep, cognitive function, and physical and emotional well-being.
Meditation Changes the Physical Structure of the Brain
In the January 30, 2011, issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Massachusetts General and University of Massachusetts Medical School reported results of a clinical study on meditation benefits that demonstrated that meditation can actually transform our brain. Using MRI brain scans at the beginning and end of the eight-week trial, scientists discovered that each of the 16 subjects who meditated for 30 minutes every day experienced visible changes to the physical structure of their brains. Within 56 days, each subject’s MRI displayed an increase in the gray matter in the hippocampus (the part of our brain responsible for learning, spatial orientation, and memory) and a reduction in the gray matter of their amygdala (the fear, stress, and anxiety center of the brain).