What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say meditation? I would not be surprised if over half of you thought of a Chinese monk repeating the om mantra. Although meditation is heavily associated with eastern philosophies and religions, there is so much more to this topic than just surface-level knowledge. Meditation is a practice in which one can use different techniques, usually involving deep breathing, to connect with his or her body and focus on the present moment to relax. Despite evidence that meditation can be beneficial to our health, only about 18 million out of the 328.2 million Americans use these mindfulness practices regularly. Because of the many different forms of meditating, one may measure prosocial behavioral differences, overall health benefits, and physical changes to his or her brain and body- which is why it is a practice that more people, not just Americans, should do regularly.
Although meditation is known for its relaxing qualities, it does not get much recognition for making an individual’s behavior more outgoing and compassionate. In 2016, scientists researched 1,714 individuals within 8–12 weeks. Only half of those individuals received treatment, while the other half did not. Those in the control groups did not report any changes within their disposition. But, the ones who regularly practiced compassion or loving meditation exhibited positive behavioral changes, saying that they were able to apply newly learned psychosocial mechanisms to their daily lives in order to have constructive interactions with people around them. Observable outcomes examined in this research go to show the measurable, prosocial emotions and behaviors that mediation encourages for an individual. Yet, these beneficial outcomes are not solely for interpersonal situations.
Now that there is awareness of the prosocial benefits, what about the stress-reducing qualities? Meditation also goes a long way with intrapersonal matters, intrapersonal meaning “within oneself.” Yet to understand how meditation helps our mental well-being, it is vital to have a basic understanding of what stress is. When subdued to physical and or mental stress, our brains release a hormone called cortisol that helps our bodies deal with stressful situations. However, once exposed to high levels of cortisol for too long or too often, it will cause health issues involving high blood pressure, rapid weight gain, extreme irritability, disruption of sleep, and can contribute to diabetes. One way we can combat our stress and prevent increased levels of cortisol is through meditation. Research has validated a myriad of health benefits that meditation offers, including stress reduction, decreased anxiety, decreased feelings of depression, improved memory, and improved efficiency. Physiological benefits include reduced blood pressure, cortisol levels, heart rate, and increased metabolism, skin resistance, and relative blood flow to the brain, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information. As impressive as those results are, it is not nearly so as the physical effects meditation has on the human brain.
Harvard studies have found that the brains of long-term meditators had better preservation as they aged compared to non-meditators. These studies have also given data for the decrease in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. This indicates that meditation can actually increase the reaction time to external stressors, meaning we will have a much greater chance of constructively responding to feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and even anger. These reports match evidence given on the prosocial and health benefits that meditation has on individuals, indicating how powerful meditation can be for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Also, meditation involves many different forms in which you can also be doing physical activity (such as yoga or tai chi), so one will see physical differences to his or her body, as well as the improvement of one’s balance and attention span. Despite the reasoning, there are still many people unwilling to give meditation a try.
Most people are deterred by the obstacles you face during meditation and the amount of time it takes for effects to be noticeable. Many people experience something known as “monkey mind” when they attempt meditation. Monkey mind is best explained as overthinking or impulsive thinking when you are trying to still your thoughts. Yet, the more you practice meditation, the better you become at letting your thoughts come and go during this time of relaxation. People are also concerned about how soon they will begin noticing changes within themselves. Everyone is unique, so how quickly results develop varies from person to person, but changes typically occur within 8–12 weeks. Even then, this depends on how consistent you are with this training and how often each meditation session is. All in all, both concerns can be reasoned out with the understanding that meditation is a practice that requires effort and dedication if you desire measurable changes. Same with any goal, though. If you quit early, you will never see results.
At the end of the day, no one can be forced to meditate for their well-being. Some people simply don’t prefer it. Yet, because there is so much evidence to support how meditation instigates prosocial behavioral differences, overall health benefits, and physical changes to one’s brain and body, it is silly that a larger part of the collective does not consider meditation. If more people were to mediate for general self-improvement, imagine how much it would affect the collective. Change starts with one person at a time, which is why more people should meditate.
Belvoir Media Group, L. (2016, July). Meditation: The Relaxation Remedy Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://go-gale-com.proxy.southeast.edu/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T003
Berzuini, G., Bruno, S., Bubbico, F., Fazia, T., Iliakis, I., & Salvato, G., & (2020, October 26). Short-Term Meditation Training Fosters Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: A Pilot Study. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://go-gale-com.proxy.southeast.edu/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T002
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