Meditation and mindfulness have become extremely popular in the West in the 21st Century. They have a plethora of neurological benefits including increase in positivity and happiness, fighting addiction, increasing concentration and reducing stress and anxiety.
All this is possible with consistent meditation. Here are three ways that Meditation can help us lead healthier lives.
1. Alleviate Depression
Depression is considered a serious medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment. Symptoms include irritability, feeling hopeless, sadness, loss of cognitive abilities like concentration and disruption of sleep patterns.
A 2015 study of Harvard researchers found that 16.1 million Americans have reported this struggle to function properly due to the despair and darkness they face.
It has been discovered that meditation can be a great help to those suffering with depression. Meditation can be a form of active training in awareness of the mind and the ability to understand your feelings. Though meditation is not a treatment for depression, it is a strong tool that can help to alleviate the symptoms.
A 2014 study at John Hopkins University observed the connection between meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain.
"A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that's not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways." - Madhav Goyal M.D, M.P.H, assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study showed that 30 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation helps to fight symptoms of anxiety and depression. 30 minutes seems like a lot, however beginning with 5 minutes a day is a good start.
2. Give The "Monkey Brain" A Break
The DMN (the default mode network) is a region of low frequency oscillations in the brain. It is highly active when thinking about the past or the future. For instance, "I could have done this, I should have done that" or "What if this goes right... or wrong?"
In the Eastern world the DMN is simply called the 'monkey brain', because of its wandering tendencies.
It has been shown that meditation can lead to a reduction in the use of default mode network, leading to a quieter, more peaceful mind.
"The habit of spending nearly every waking moment lost in thought leaves us at the mercy of whatever our thoughts happen to be. Meditation is a way of breaking this spell." - Sam Harris
3. Reduce Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by sentiments of fear and anxiety in social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some aspects of daily life.
Social Anxiety Disorder hinders the ability of people to socialize, make friends or to find romantic partners.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder include: nervousness in social situations, stumbling over words, fear of being viewed as visibly anxious, stupid, awkward and boring. SAD can also lead to physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, nausea or even major heart attacks.
A part of the brain called the Amygdala is responsible for senses and memories. Its job is to optimise our emotions. However, factors such as anxiety affect the working of the Amygdala, and may force it to make decisions such as 'fight or flight' which gets activated in times of danger.
Meditation shrinks the size of the Amygdala and thickens the Prefrontal Cortex, which is responsible for awareness. A decrease in the size of the Amygdala increases our ability to handle social anxiety by reducing the 'fight or flight' reaction that arises.
Meditation is not magic, it won't solve our problems in a day. To reap any of these benefits, consistency is necessary. Meditating a few minutes in the morning or evening (or both) instead of scrolling smartphones is certainly worth a shot.