Meditation has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and I think there are a lot of people out there who think they should meditate, but don’t. Like people who think they should work out but don’t. For my own edification, I have been doing some reading about the benefits of meditation. It’s been enlightening. Get it?
|Photo Credit Akuppa John Wigham|
There’s a great article in Psychology Today about how meditation works in your brain. It breaks the brain down into a couple of centers, the “Me Center”, that constantly references your own experiences. It’s all about you. And the other center is the “
that uses logic and rational thought, somewhat at odds with the Me Center in
that the overrides
automatic behaviors and habits. Ostensibly, when we let it. Assessment
What these two centers compete with is a connection to the part of the brain that monitors bodily sensation, and the part of the brain that handles your fear reaction. Among non-meditators, the pathway between the Me Center and these two pain/fear centers is stronger. Among those who meditate regularly, the pathway between those centers weakens, and the pathway between the
and the pain/fear centers strengthens. Assessment Center
It’s a great article, go read it.
So basically what you’re doing when you’re meditating, on a regular basis, is learning to assess data from the pain/fear centers of the brain in a more rational manner, as opposed to simply reacting based on remembered pain and fear.
There’s another great article in the New Scientist about the affect of meditation on genetics. This was my favorite passage:
The boosted genes had three main beneficial effects: improving the efficiency of mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells; boosting insulin production, which improves control of blood sugar; and preventing the depletion of telomeres, caps on chromosomes that help to keep DNA stable and so prevent cells wearing out and ageing.
Holy crap meditation will help keep your body younger? Sign me up.
Phys.org reported on a study lead by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers that found grey matter increased in the hippocampus (learning and memory) and “in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection” in response to regular mindful meditation practice.
This made me wonder, what is the difference between mindful meditation and… any other kind of meditation? Mindless meditation? Is that like when you are staring into space blankly? In the MGH study, participants engaged in a “nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.” I always thought the mindful part of meditation is the part where you’re paying attention. To your thoughts, to your body, to the constant dialog between your mind and body that so frequently is ignored.
All these studies point to the importance of regular practice. It makes me think about so many books I’ve read recently about the importance of regular practice. In art, in business, in yoga. How showing up, doing the work no matter what, and then getting up the next day and doing it again is the only way to improve at whatever task you have set for yourself. I need to take that attitude toward meditation too, and not shove it aside as something that I will make time for later. That never works.