Stress has almost become the natural state of mind in the 21st century. From work to personal issues, everybody is stressing over something or the other. It’s not a surprise if you have ever been told that you should meditate to get over stress!
Meditation is an activity where you practice mindfulness and train your mind to concentrate. It has been a practice in several religions like Buddhism and Hinduism over the ages. However, today it is devoid of religious connotations and is used by people of all faith to bring some peace in their lives. There are many forms of meditation – Transcendental Meditation, Heart Rhythm Meditation, Kundalini, Guided Visualization, Qi Gong, Zazen and Mindfulness.
In recent times, studies have scientifically proven benefits of meditation through modern equipment like MRI and EEG. One of the benefits of scientific research on meditation is that it has led to the creation of meditation programs and practices like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
MBSR is a program developed by Professor Jon Zinn that uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga to help people become more mindful. It is used to reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. In fact, studies have shown that after the MBSR program patients have shown decreased social anxiety, depression and increased self-esteem.
The program is usually an 8-week program where the participants undergo three basic techniques for mindfulness – meditation, body scanning and yoga. This is done in a non-judgmental environment and focuses on positive themes like acceptance, trust and patience.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
MBCT is a program developed mainly for persons dealing with depression and severe anxiety. It uses guided meditation and mindfulness to create a sense of purpose in these persons. This program which lasts for 8 weeks needs to be used along with medical treatment and only as an alternative therapy. Yet, studies have shown that MBCT has been proven in preventing relapse of depression.
Benefits of Meditation
- Improved Attention
The problem of shortening attention span is so widespread that even advertisers are creating shorter and crisp advertisements! It has become crucial to improving attention span for more concentration on work and study. With young children also suffering from attention deficit, meditation becomes an important tool to improve attention. Science shows that meditation training leads to sustained attention.
- Prevention of stress
It is as important to reduce stress as it is to prevent it. Science has proven that constant meditation and meditation before an important event can reduce stress. This is because meditation leads to decreased levels of cortisol or the stress hormones.
- Increased grey matter
Every person hopes to remain relevant and intelligent even during the old age. This is possible by meditation; it is proven that long term meditation is associated with grey matter density in the brain stem. This means that meditation can almost arrest the diminishing markers or symptoms of old age.
- Improved learning and memory
Not just mental changes, meditation is also known to create physical changes in the brain. It is known to increase the cortical thickness of the brain which is in charge of the learning and memory functions of the brain. It also decreases the cell volume of amygdala which is responsible for anxiety, stress and fear. It is no wonder that Buddhist monks are always cheerful and focused on living in the moment!
Apart from these, meditation can also help in dealing with addiction and reducing dependency. Today, meditation is done everywhere; right from corporate companies to schools. The benefits of meditation are many. While it may take time for one to master it, even a few days of meditation will improve your health!