Meditate & Be Mindful: It’s Good for Your Health
In the 1940’s, if you told someone you were going running, they probably would have asked, “Who’s chasing you?”
Know what happened next? The scientists charged in, validated the benefits of exercise, and now we all do it – and if we don’t, we feel guilty about it.
Right now, meditation is at the point where exercise was a few decades ago. It is, as Time Magazine put it, a revolution in health and mental health. As a result of the new science, meditation is now being shown as effective at performance enhancement for such elite organizations ranging from Google, to NBA teams, and the US Marines.
The practice of mindfulness is one that is growing ever more widely talked about. The world is moving faster; stress levels are higher; and more and more people are coming to understand the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
But what are those benefits exactly?
The practice—it is, in fact, something that one must practice—of mindfulness has been proven scientifically to improve the physical and mental well-being of all who take the time to stop, breathe, and meditate.
Mindfulness can diminish the severity of pain.
So much of how we perceive pain is mental; truly, some of it really is all in your head, and meditation can help. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that pain perception is cut nearly in half when the sufferer turned to mindfulness.
Mindfulness lowers stress.
Not only can the practice of mindfulness make us feel more relaxed and calm in the midst of a stressful situation, science has shown that it’s linked with markedly decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Mindful meditation makes us feel less stressed, because it changes the chemistry of your body.
Mindfulness increases our ability to feel empathy.
One study conducted at Northeastern University College of Science found even a brief period of mindfulness improved participants’ levels of compassion by as much as 50 percent; likewise, a different study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the practice of meditation showed more brain activity in regions linked with empathy while meditating than when not meditating.
Mindfulness can make us healthier.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in mindful meditation miss fewer days of work related to respiratory issues. When they do fall ill, those with mindfulness practice experience shortened and less severe symptoms.
Mindfulness is beneficial, even when you’re not in active practice.
Your brain’s emotional processing center, the amygdala, is “exercised” every time you meditate. The result is that your brain’s distress tolerance threshold (your “window of tolerance) is expanded, even when you’re not meditating. If you’re stressed or anxious mediation expands your emotional window of tolerance as much or more than anti-anxiety medication.
Keith Miller specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy for anxiety and stress.