I have wrote a bit about meditation before, but only in very brief sections of other posts (here, and here). In this post I noted that meditation can actually decrease the amount of sleep required, and also reduce the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Since writing that post, I had been thinking of all of the other benefits that are associated with meditation and have come across a number of articles on this topic that have reminded me that meditation, or mindfulness, practices are a very important part of a healthy well balanced lifestyle. Many of you probably already know that stress is an absolutely destructive force in anyone’s life, and can lead to a large number of acute and chronic diseases, likely due to it’s negative impact on inflammation and gene expression in our bodies. You may also be aware that meditation and mindfulness practices can have a very positive influence on our perceived stress levels (1). However, you may not be aware of some of the other benefits that meditation has to offer, even if you think you are not stressed.
Benefits of Meditation
Are you one of those people that thinks they have all of their stress under control even though you do not practice some type of active stress management (ie. meditation)? Don’t be that guy! or girl! I used to be, and I can say from experience that although I would always say that I was easygoing and things never got to me, deep down, I think they really did. I never used to recognize and fully experience/deal with my negative feelings, I would just ignore them or not give them the type of attention they needed. In the end I think this lead to a few non-ideal things for me. For instance, getting angry over stupid stuff, like trying to hang up clothes and they keep falling down, or negative comments about other people doing/saying things I don’t agree with (usually in my head, but never to the actual person). While those type of things are going to happen in life, the amount to which they were happening with me was likely not ideal, since they do, whether you believe it or not, produce negative energy in your body. Therefore I have begun an almost daily meditation practice (only up to 15 mins/day), and I have noticed some small improvements. I have only been doing this consistently for about 1.5 – 2 weeks, and as I continue with it and become more practised, I anticipate that the benefits will increase.
Side track: Do you think thoughts can produce certain energies in your body? If not, I think it’s time to do some reading on the topic. Simply put, a thought is the start of a neurological signal initiating in your brain and travelling throughout the body, sometimes targeted to a specific limb movement or other action. This is probably the simplest way to show that our thoughts produce an energy. A thought to move, is a message travelling through your nervous system to produce the specific movement. Basically your thought began the physical process to produce the energy require for a particular movement. Therefore, why wouldn’t a thought like “bloody hell, I hate my job” begin a process to produce some type of physical manifestation of that thought? Good question right. Guess what else, since that thought was negative, the physical response to that thought will also be negative – think fight or flight stress response. In other words you experience a release of stress hormones and an acute inflammatory response in your body. Now imagine that you have either that negative thought, or any other stressful thought multiple times every day of your life. Ouch, you got it, now you are in a state of chronic inflammation, which begins to impact your health negatively. Maybe at first it’s only minor issues like a headache or tiredness, but eventually it turns into a major health concern like cardiovascular disease.
Stress and Positive Thinking
I think that this one is pretty obvious to even those of you that have never thought about meditation. It has been shown that practicing mindfulness and meditation reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, even in very stressful situations (1, 2). On top of that, meditation has also been shown to increase optimistic thoughts and feeling towards life in general (positive thinking). I can’t see anything but benefits from that, and we all know why positive thinking is necessary in life right?
Addiction & Improvement from Cognitive Decline
A bit more surprising is that meditation has also been shown be affective in the treatment and prevention of addictive diseases (ie. smoking, etc) (4). Even more impressive is that meditation has also been shown to improve cognitive abilities in individuals following cognitive decline (4). Now that being said, the study I reference here is a study on individuals that had experienced cognitive decline following chemotherapy for breast cancer, but I don’t see any reason why the same effect could not take place in individuals with other conditions that cause neuronal death (ie. Alzheimers or ALS).
While this may now be obvious to you given my above example of the physical manifestations of thoughts, meditation has positive impacts on inflammation and oxidative stress in the body (2, 5). The cool thing about this is that scientists have begun to try and understand why this happens at the cellular level. What they have found is that meditation improves our bodies antioxidant system (which I have wrote about before) allowing it to better handle oxidative stress.
By far though, I think the coolest thing that has been discovered relating to meditation is the fact that it actually appears to positive affect gene expression in our bodies inflammatory pathways (2, 5). Simply put, it reduces the expression of genes in cells that cause inflammation; thus, reducing/preventing unnecessary inflammation! Super cool. Also, this effect can occur acutely following one meditative session, but seems to get even stronger over a longer period of time (2, 5).
10 years ago I would have said all of this stuff was a bunch of bull and not even taken a second look, but that’s the fun in growing up. Keep learning and keep changing for the better. I am glad I have embraced some of the more spiritual aspects of life, as I am certain it will make me much healthier and just fun to be around 🙂
Now that we know all the benefits of meditation, the question remains how can we implement such a practice into our lives. Well, there are many ways to do it, and please don’t think that you have to walk around acting like a monk. I think you would be surprised as to the variety of people who implement such a practice in their lives, and you would never guess that they do so. Therefore, Part 2 of this series will focus on how to implement a meditation practice into your life. Part 2 will involve a bit of learning on my part also, and will really be focused on beginners, because that’s what I am right now.
Thanks for reading!
The Barefoot Golfer