In the busy modern world, meditation has come out as a potent tool for achieving not only inner serenity but also remarkable success. This ancient practice has found its way into the routines of countless individuals, particularly among the ranks of high achievers. We have all heard so many stories of CEOs, artists, athletes, successful authors, and visionaries who credit their mindfulness practice, often centered around meditation, as a secret behind their achievements and well-being. So, we wanted to investigate the benefits of meditation, always backed by science.
But first things first!
Meditation: Definition and History
The word ‘Meditation’ stems from a Latin term, ‘Meditatum’, which means ‘to ponder’. It is used to define any practice that involves focusing the mind on a specific object, thought, or activity to attain a psychologically and emotionally relaxed state of mind.
According to the American Psychological Association, meditation is defined as; 
“A profound and extended contemplation or reflection in order to achieve focused attention or an otherwise altered state of consciousness and to gain insight into oneself and the world.”
You will be surprised to know that the discipline of meditation is 2600 years old. People have been practicing it way before the birth of modern civilization.  Once used by Buddhists solely for deepening their understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life, meditation has now become one of the most commonly performed exercises for reducing stress and relaxing the body and mind.
The popularity has tremendously risen over the past couple of decades with the recent surge in research in the discipline of meditation. People are now opening their minds to meditative practices that were once deemed useless by most.
According to an estimate, the number of people practicing meditation has increased more than three times since the year 2012. Currently, 200 to 500 million people around the globe meditate daily.  It has become the second most popular and commonly practiced mind and body relaxing activity in the United States, the first being yoga. 
Scientific Research on Meditation
Thanks to modern research which has unveiled many surprising facts and remarkable benefits of meditation along with the science behind it. The benefits of meditation are not just limited to psychological stress reduction. Surprisingly, there is a wide range of advantages. From improving sleep quality to augmenting memory and concentration, from reducing blood pressure to slowing down the aging process and delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Benefits of Meditation, Backed by Science
As you can imagine, this article talks about some of the great benefits of mindfulness practices, such as meditation, and how science explains them.
Benefit No.1: Stress Reduction
One of the most common reasons why most people fall into meditation is stress reduction. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, mindfulness meditation can decrease work-related stress by up to 31%. 
Even a 2016 study conducted in Southern California, has demonstrated that meditation is equally effective in decreasing stress and depression as vacations; yet the effects are surprisingly longer-lasting. People who meditate continue to observe reduced stress levels for months. 
So, how does meditation help with stress?
Usually, mental and physical stress is caused by a stress hormone released in our bodies, known as cortisol. The hormone in turn induces the production of inflammatory chemical mediators which cause fatigue, sleep problems, and other symptoms of anxiety and depression.
An 8-week clinical trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions has shown that practicing meditation inhibits these inflammatory responses and helps in alleviating stress-related symptoms. 
Benefit No.2: Memory and Cognition Enhancement
The benefits of meditation are far-reaching and memory enhancement is yet another one of these fringe benefits. People who meditate have reported a marked improvement in their recall abilities.
Besides, this mindfulness drill also enhances various cognitive functions of the brain, including executive control, emotional regulation sustained attention, etc.
These benefits have been attributed to the changes in the brain structure mediated by meditative practices.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a study to compare the brains of people who meditate for at least 30 minutes daily with those who did no such activities. Only after eight weeks, they noticed that the individuals who practiced meditation had a significant increase in the grey matter in the hippocampus region.
And this is the very area of the brain that plays a major role in the memory and learning processes. 
Similarly, another study reported an increased thickness of the cortical areas of the brain responsible also for memory and cognition. 
Benefit No.3: Empowering Decision-Making Abilities
In a world of endless choices, so many people stood at the crossroads of indecision, unable to pick between pizza or sushi for dinner. Well, good news! It seems that people who find it difficult to make decisions can also benefit from meditation.
In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of California found a positive correlation between brain gyrification and the number of meditation years. In simple words, they observed an increased number of folding (gyri) in the brain cortex of the people who meditate regularly.
These folds increase the surface area of the brain and are believed to enhance the processing of neural information rendering better thinking and decision-making abilities to the individual. 
Benefit No.4: Improving Sleep Quality
Meditation can also help in getting control over the jumbled and racing thoughts which often lead to sleep problems or insomnia. It also mediates a relaxation response in the body which creates a state optimal for sleep induction and good quality sleep.
A 2015 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed the effects of meditation on sleep. Participants who underwent sessions of meditative interventions for 6 weeks had a relatively better sleep quality and experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia and daytime fatigue as compared to those in the control group. 
Benefit No.5: Reduction in Blood Pressure
You might have heard your doctor saying to modify your lifestyle habits for better control of hypertension. Meditation is one of the excellent and highly effective practices in this regard.
A randomized clinical trial has demonstrated that three months of regular meditation caused a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure of the participants and they were able to reduce the dosage of their anti-hypertensive medications. 
Experts attribute these effects to the release of nitric oxide in the body which is a potent vasodilator. It dilates the blood vessels, and therefore, helps in decreasing blood pressure. 
Benefit No.6: Relief from Chronic Pain
Another amazing benefit of meditation is the chronic pain relief. The perception of pain is somehow interconnected with our mind. Although both meditators and people who do not meditate experience the same course of pain, the tolerance and ability to cope with pain are significantly higher among meditating individuals.
It calms down the somatosensory areas of the brain cortex responsible for pain perception. Therefore, makes you less sensitive to pain. 
Even some researchers from Wake Forest Baptist University have claimed that the pain-relieving effects of meditation are greater than those of morphine. Participants reported a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57% decrease in discomfort after meditation. Morphine only resulted in a 25% decrease in pain! 
Benefit No.7: Slowing Down the Aging Process
Although it seems unreal meditation also helps in slowing down the aging phenomenon. There is growing evidence that regular meditation can decrease the pace of senescence at the cellular level.
During cell division, a part of telomeres, DNA, and protein caps which protect the chromosomes, is lost. So, with each subsequent replication of chromosomes, there is a shortening of these telomeres until the time when the cell is no longer able to divide further. This causes cellular senescence and ultimately the cell dies resulting in many age-related phenomenons.
Several factors have been recognized to accelerate this shortening of telomeres, and chronic stress is one of the main reasons.
A 12-week prospective study has claimed that meditation not only lowers the cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging but also increases the activity of the telomerase enzyme which rebuilds the telomeres and increases their length. These results suggest the clinical applicability of meditation in reducing the rate of structural and functional decline with aging. 
Delay in the Onset of Neurological Diseases
Aside from its mind-relaxing benefits, meditation can also help shield the brain from age-related decline by maintaining its structure and functions.This eventually stops or delays the onset of several psychological and neurological diseases, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. 
The benefits and potential uses of meditation are far-reaching and it is difficult to cover each one of them in detail in a single piece of writing. Some other benefits of meditation are listed below. It;
- Prolongs attention span
- Enables better control over emotions
- Improves self-awareness
- Alleviates the symptoms of post-menstruation syndrome in women
- Helps children with ADHD and autism
- Provides relief from symptoms associated with cancer
- Boosts immunity
- Increases sex drive and libido – etc
In today’s fast-paced world, meditation is a timeless practice backed by scientific evidence that offers numerous benefits. From stress reduction to enhancing memory, empowering decision-making, improving sleep quality, lowering blood pressure, and even alleviating chronic pain, meditation proves its versatility in promoting well-being. Moreover, it holds the potential to slow down aging at the cellular level and delay the onset of neurological diseases.
With countless high achievers incorporating mindfulness meditation into their routines, it’s clear that meditation is key to both well-being and remarkable success. And the science behind mindfulness meditation approves this.
So, take a moment to ponder the profound benefits of meditation, and consider making it a part of your daily life.
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