10 Amazing Benefits Of Meditation
I had a fascinating consult call with a prospective client last week who get very offended when I described some aspects of new age philosophy as woo-woo.
I tried to explain that, to me anyway, any process that couldn’t be explained by science (and this includes some NLP processes that I use with clients) are by (my) definition, woo-woo.
I think she realized at that stage she was talking to the spawn of the devil and declared we weren’t a good fit before I even had the chance to ask her:
“If you ‘re an expert in manifestation what the hell were you doing manifesting a call with me?”
All flippancy aside, if I’d had chance to explain further I would have gone on to point out that there are many things that were once considered woo-woo that are now part of the mainstream.
It really wasn’t meant to be an insult because twenty years ago, meditation was woo-woo to billions of people.
It would be fair to say it’s only really the last decade or two (in the west anyway) that it’s morphed from a pastime for tofu loving hippies who liked to knit their own yogurt and burn strange smelling plants, to a method scientifically proven to lower stress levels, improve happiness level and overall physical and mental health.
The evidence stacking up in favor of meditation even for skeptics is approaching biblical proportions, so pull up a cushion, pour yourself some green tea and prepare to be astounded, or at the very least, mildly intrigued.
1. Fancy Living Longer? Meditation’s Got Your Back
There are some things in your brain called telomeres and even though they sound like an enemy of Doctor Who, they are a tad more important than that.
Telomeres are like little caps at the end of your DNA that protect it from erosion and damage during chromosome replication.
Ok, I think we both know I have no idea what I’m talking about this and skating on thin ice using Wikipedia as a research tool, so lets cut to the chase.
The length of your telomeres is a strong signifier of how long you’ll live.
Having really long telomeres won’t help you if a speeding bus runs over your head, but under normal conditions they will help keep you fit and healthy for longer than most people.
And yes indeed, research has shown that long-term meditators have longer telomeres than non-meditators.
2. Meditation Can Make You Thick
When I was growing up in England being called thick wasn’t a good thing. Well not when somebody was talking about your cognitive abilities anyway.
Meditation can make you thick, but thick like a fox, as recent research at UCLA has revealed that long-term meditation not only strengthens connections between brain cells, but also increases gyrification.
Gyrification may sound like a new dance craze, but it’s actually the folding of your cortex (the outer part of your brain).
The more folds you have the more surface area you have, and the more surface area you have the better your short-term memory is as well as your ability to retain information, concentrate and also the faster you can process information.
In short, meditation makes you smarter.
3. Got ADHD? Then Get Mindful
Firstly, if you do have real ADHD congratulations on making it this far into the post!
Secondly, go and buy yourself a meditation bench like this one of mine (al) and learn to meditate.
Or if you have kids who suffer from it, teach them.
A 2011 report in the Mind and Brain – The Journal of Psychiatry reveals meditation can be more effective for kids with ADHD than shoveling amphetamines into them.
Now who would have thought having kids meditate is better for them than getting them hooked on speed?
4. Meditation Can Make You Smarter
A recent study at Harvard University Medical School using voxel-based morphometry (no time to explain what that is now, largely because I have no fucking idea whatsoever) discovered that regular meditators could increase the level of gray matter in their hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.
You may be thinking,’ “So what, my brain is full anyway, why do I need any more gray stuff in there?”
No reason really. Oh except maybe that it can improve your ability to learn, to retain information and to see things from different perspectives.
As well as the added bonuses of helping you regulate your emotions, reduce depression and manage long-term pain more effectively.
5. Meditation Improves Your Happiness Levels
My guess is you’d like some more happiness in your life and meditation can deliver that in spades if you stick to a regular practice.
The left part of your pre-frontal cortex is the area of your brain that is responsible for positive emotions amongst other things. Studies of Buddhist monks have shown that this part of their brain was doing a happy dance when they meditated.
That wasn’t the exact technical and highly scientific term they used, but you get the idea.
Think about it – how often do you see a Buddhist Monk arguing with the guy who has 15 items in the 10 items or under check out lane?
6. Defeat Unwanted Thoughts
I spent about 3 days last week humming E=MC2 by Big Audio Dynamite. Fortunately I love that track so it wasn’t such a big deal like the time I got the Chicken of the Sea advert stuck in my head for about a month.
Having irritating songs refuse to leave your head on command can be bad enough, but it’s nothing compared to the damaging negative, self loathing and hostile thoughts so many people have playing on a loop.
Unfortunately, asking an annoying tune to leave the comfort of your mind or be forcibly removed is no more likely to succeed than doing the same with negative harmful thought.
The more you try and force them out into the back alley for a good kicking by the bouncers the more entrenched they become until the point where even bouncers are on their side and you’re screwed.
So if force and intention cannot get rid of them, what can?
Meditation, that’s what.
Your negative thoughts don’t like to be watched, they’re scared of the light and they prefer to skulk around under cover and unnoticed doing their damage as you go about your daily life unaware of the carnage they’re causing.
When you meditate you can observe your thoughts without judgment. You can see them come and you can see them go. And then can see them come and go all over again. And then again and again.
You can even smile at them, as long as it’s a non-judgmental and compassionate smile that is.
Eventually, not only does their power wane because you start to realize they are nothing more than thoughts and the only power they have over you is the power that you give them, but they start to pack up their bags and leave.
If you’re a chronic worrier or are used to relentlessly kicking your own ass inside your mind, meditation can be a bit scary to begin with, because all of a sudden you come face-to-face with your own demons.
But it’s ok, because when you shine a light on them you realize they’re not demons at all, just naughty scamps dicking around because they had nothing better to do and were unsupervised.
I once suggested in a blog post that it would be cool if kids were taught to meditate when at kindergarten.
There was much eye rolling in the comments from parents who presumed that as I don’t have kids I obviously didn’t understand their reluctance to engage in any activity that didn’t involve making a lot of noise.
At the time I was guessing that it would be useful because kids at that age are starting to form long-term habits, and what better time to introduce such a potentially life enhancing habit?
I didn’t realize that there had already been a lot of studies done (and they are still going on) with kids from as young as 5 and up to 18.
The results are in and they are unanimously and incontrovertibly positive with outcomes like following:
- Reduced exam stress levels
- Improved concentration
- Higher levels of attendance
- Improved self awareness
- Less classroom disruption
I’m not the kind of guy to say “I told you so” to the naysayers, but I feel like an exception is called for in this instance:
“Hah! I told you so!!!!!”
8. Is Meditation The Ultimate Life Hack?
There have been many studies undertaken using fMRI’s to see what’s happening with people who are meditating and much of that has been done on people who are accomplished at meditating in the first place.
However, there has also been a lot of research done on novices to see how they were effected by different meditations*
They have been studies showing beneficial physical changes in the brain as quickly as between 8 and 11 hours in some instances.
So whereas many people think you have to be in it for the long haul (and that’s advisable as the benefits are cumulative), it’s not necessarily the case.
You may indeed by seeing benefits before you have even had to re-shave your head and the life size statue of Buddha you ordered from Amazon has arrived.
*There are a great many different types of meditation and for the sake of this post I am lumping them all together (you can learn more in my free book giveaway at the end of this post)
However, improvements in cognitive function, concentration etc tend to me more associated with meditations like the mindfulness of breathing and vipassana. Whereas raised happiness and feelings of well-being tend to be more associated with meditations like metta bhavana or lovingkindness
9. Put Down The Needle And Pick Up The Zafu
Morphine can typically reduce pain in severely ill people such as those suffering from late stage cancer by about 25%.
In such circumstances a 25% reduction is not to be be sneezed at, although even that amount of reduction can leave people suffering terrible.
A 2011 study showed that meditation can kick morphine’s ass and reduce pain by up to 40%. And just as critically, it can reduce peoples perception of the pain by as much as 57%.
In other words, even though the scientists could see through brain imaging that a patient was in pain, the patient herself was reporting that it wasn’t as bad as the researchers would have expected.
10. Be Relaxed and Hyper Alert At The Same Time
If you were to measure your heart rate at rest for a length of time it would probably (presuming you are an average person and not either super fit or super fat) look something like this:
69, 72, 71, 71, 70, 72, 68, 70, 69, 71
You may think that as meditators are resting that theirs would look something similar, but you’d be wrong – at least for experienced meditators anyway.
Every time you breathe in you trigger your sympathetic nervous system, the part of your autonomic nervous system responsible for not just keeping you alert but also triggering your fight or flight response when necessary.
It’s the voice that’s sayis “Holy shit we need to act and act now because there’s a drug crazed axeman downstairs” when you hear a noise in the middle of the night.
Then when you breathe out your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and that has a calming effect as it tells your brain to, “Chill dude all is cool wid de world it’s just the cat we’ve had for 15 years moving around like it does every night.”
A good meditator is both chilled and hyper alert and if you measured their heart rate it would look closer to something like this:
58, 77, 60, 80, 59, 79, 59, 81, 60, 79
I’m not sure what use this is other than to remove the belief some people have that a nap is the same as meditating, but I wanted a nice round 10 facts so make of it what you will!
So Why Isn’t Meditation A National Pastime?
You may be wondering if all this is true (and it most certainly is, I’ve researched my ass off for this post with the exception of point 10 which was told to me by my meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa – so he’d better be right!), why isn’t Congress meeting right now to discuss how we get it into schools and encourage more people to meditate when the benefits are so spectacular?
Well you can call me a cynic, but the biggest (maybe only) loser if meditation were to become a staple of modern life would be the pharmaceutical and medical industry and we know how powerful and resistant they are.
I had made my book ‘Don’t Hesitate- Meditate’ unavailable as I have some vague plan to write a much more in-depth book on self development that would cover off meditation in some detail.
However, if you’d like to grab a copy and get a better understanding of what meditation is, what it isn’t, and even how to do it without the woo-woo approach you can right click here and download to your hearts content. And if you’d prefer the audio book version, you can grab that here.
If you’d prefer not to meditate and need a few reasons to support that decision, check out my post ‘7 Reasons To Avoid Meditation’