My last couple of blogs have focused on the key shifts that you can make to cultivate calm. Mindfulness is the cornerstone practice that maintains my ability to remain calm and keeps me rooted in the present moment. It’s the ‘secret sauce’ of excellence. Here are 7 benefits of mindfulness that might appear incredible – but are backed by scientific research. If these don’t have you seated in a lotus position and reaching for the wave music double quick, then I don’t know what will!
Benefit Number One
Research supports the idea that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. In a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice, researchers found that mindfulness meditation helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but didn’t meditate.
Benefit Number Two
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School found that the relaxation response (which was the state of calm produced by meditation, yoga and breathing exercises) actually switched on genes that are related to improving our immune system, reducing inflammation and fighting a range of conditions from arthritis to high blood pressure and diabetes.
Benefit Number Three
Meditation can increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain and slow the thinning that occurs naturally as we age. Dr. Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and a leading scholar on the impact of contemplative practices on the brain, used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain activity of Tibetan monks and found that the trained mind is physically different from the untrained mind.
Benefit Number Four
Researchers at UCLA found that mindfulness and meditation helped lower feelings of loneliness among the elderly and researchers at the University of Michigan documented that military veterans experienced lowered levels of post-traumatic stress disorder after mindfulness training.
Benefit Number Five
Sticking with the military, a 2010 study found that improvements to working memory appear to be another benefit of mindfulness. The study documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation among a military group who participated in an eight-week mindfulness training, a non-meditating military group and a group of non-meditating civilians. Both military groups were in a highly stressful period before deployment. The researchers found that the non-meditating military group had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas working memory capacity among non-meditating civilians was stable across time. Within the meditating military group, however, working memory capacity increased with meditation practice.
Benefit Number Six
“Virtually every single health problem and disease can be improved with a mind-body approach”, say Herbert Benson and William Proctor in their book Relaxation Revolution. The authors recommend that mind-body science be considered as the third primary treatment option in medicine alongside surgery and drugs. Specifically they state that meditation can impact nausea, diabetes, asthma, skin reactions, ulcers, coughs and anxiety because all health conditions have some stress component.
Benefit Number Seven
Several studies find that a person’s ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner is assisted by meditation. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict, is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations and predicts relationship satisfaction.
My own anecdotal experience has been that a daily meditation practice has produced a number of tangible benefits. I’m able to be mindful more often, I respond mindfully rather than react emotionally more frequently, and that delivers huge benefits in all of my relationships (my husband will back me up on this…). I also feel ‘grounded’ throughout the day and able to savour each moment. I’m certainly more consistently happy, and I leap out of bed at 6a.m. (rather than hit the snooze button) to begin my meditation because it’s one of the most joyful activities of my day.
If you’ve always wondered about meditation, and been meaning to give it a try, then there’s no time like the present. Choose a time of day when you’re unlikely to be disturbed for ten minutes, sit comfortably and breathe. Whether you have bells or whistles or music to accompany the pursuit is up to you. There’s no ‘right’ way – but your way. Meditation and mindfulness is simply about tuning in to the present moment and noticing what’s going on there.