Meditation is a process in which a person uses a technique to focus his or her mind on a specific thought, object or activity in order to train attention, awareness and achieve spiritual clarity and calmness state. Since ancient times, meditation has prevailed in all religions and practiced in various ways. This ancient tradition continues to be practiced in many cultures to obtain spiritual peace and inner harmony.
The world has been witnessing increasing dynamics in scenarios such as competitive job market, pressures at office, home and academics, and lack of harmony and trust across cultures and countries. This has led to significant levels of mental stress and negative emotions. In this context, meditation is gaining significant importance and popularity among people all over the globe to achieve a sense of calmness and stability in one’s thoughts and actions.
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Meditation is defined as a state of calmness of the mind. It is primarily aimed at relaxing the mind to enhance focus and awareness which helps one to gain control over the mind. In other words, meditation is to the mind as physical exercise is to the body.
There are many types of meditations. Some examples are Mindfulness Meditation, Spiritual Meditation, Focused Meditation, Visualization Meditation and Loving-Kindness meditation. Let us examine an overview of what some of these mean.
Mindfulness Meditation: This is one of the easiest meditation techniques to be practiced wherein you need to focus on any object or your breath and lead yourselves into a sense of calmness. This meditation technique combines concentration with breath control.
Focused Meditation: This technique involves focus on a particular object such as a beads or gong or look inwards towards an image of faith or a small light form.
Loving-Kindness Meditation: Loving-kindness meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward others. In the technique, the meditator imagines exchange of feelings of kindness and love from their near and dear persons. This type of meditation is known to promote compassion and kindness. It helps people who hold feelings of anger or resentment by bringing out their kind and loving side of nature.
Visualization Meditation: This technique emphasizes on visualizing positive experiences, images or representative objects that triggers feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness. The meditators can imagine themselves achieving specific goals thereby channelizing their focus and increasing motivation. Visualization meditation is believed to boost an individual’s mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.
Spiritual Meditation: This meditation technique is mostly practiced in temples to attain higher levels of spirituality.
Influence of Meditation on our brain and human physiology
It has been studied that meditation improves blood circulation in the whole system, reduce stress and anxiety levels, reduce insomnia and stabilize sleeping patterns of individuals suffering from such conditions.
Meditation is being adopted at office environments to reduce work stress levels and boost confidence in employees. Reports of employees who meditated once a day at work using a meditation app reported significant improvements in their well-being, reducing job stress levels, and healthy workplace socialization. It trains your brain to respond in healthier ways to stressful situations making an individual respond to a situation and less reactive to it, thereby enabling quick recovery from a stressful or negative situation.
Science says mental and physical stress increase cortisol levels (i.e., the “stress hormone”). Increased release of chemicals known as cytokines that are inflammatory have been linked to health issues such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. It has been assessed that mindful meditation decreases cytokine levels leading to reduced stress and anxiety.
As per a paper from Nature publication [Prevalence, patterns, and predictors of meditation use among US adults: A nationally representative survey], in medical diagnosis, research has shown that patients suffering from anxiety and depression attain benefit from incorporating mindfulness meditation. In one study, treatment plans incorporated meditation for patients suffering from chronic pain through controlled trials that proved beneficial to the patients. Another study involving patients receiving cancer treatment incorporated meditation that resulted in reduced anxiety, depression, and pain on post-intervention measures.
The physiological benefit of meditation is attributed to improving active attention and self-regulation in the cortex region, stabilization of blood pressure, and decreasing cortisol levels. It has also been observed that meditation affects the parasympathetic nervous system that induces relaxation leading to physiological and biochemical changes.
As per an article in the Harvard Gazette in Health and Medicine [When science meets mindfulness], researchers probing the effect of mindfulness meditation on patients suffering from depression observed using Magnetic Resonance Techniques (MRI) techniques that changes in brain activity in subjects who meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating thereby indicating stability.
Meditation can help reverse brain patterns that lead to poor attention and mind-wandering thoughts, making it easier to tune out distractions thereby increasing focus. In one study, it was assessed that this helped participants increase the Gray Matter in key areas of their brains that is responsible for learning and memory processes, emotions, and increased attention spans.
Meditation enhances lower reactivity to emotional and distressing scenarios, increased positive self-esteem and higher coping abilities by decreases negative emotions, unwanted rumination, and negative repressed feelings. In a study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in the USA, discovered that with regular practice of mindfulness meditation, the brain becomes thicker in the mid-prefrontal cortex and in the mid-insular region of the brain.
Meditation helps control one’s cravings and addictions. Individuals who are addicted to elements such as alcohol or smoking, or basic cravings for unhealthy practices, can turn to meditation for de-addiction. Research has shown that people who practised mindfulness meditation were much more likely to quit smoking than those who didn’t. Human brain is known for its bio plasticity and adaptive abilities. Meditation practices help create new neural networks in the brain that assist in self-control and detachment from addictions.
The benefits of Meditation are manifold to humanity and nature. In the current world situations that span geo-political confrontations between nations, intense pressure at workplace, scenarios such as pandemics and unhealthy lifestyle practices, health challenges have risen to large levels and mental stress and negative emotions are on a continuous rise. It is hence important to practice Meditation for health benefits, social and emotional balance and a sense of calmness and stability in one’s life make the world a better place.
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