The science of meditation – worth being mindful of?

Meditation practices such as mindfulness are gathering attention from far more than just those wanting to follow the teachings of the Buddha. 
From CEO big cheese city flyers to primary school children, MMA “cage fighters” to brain surgeons, the word is spreading. Meditation is no longer to be sniffed at..
Meditation is now thought of, rightly I believe, as a tool in its own right free of any religious or secular leanings. One such practice that emphasises this is mindfulness, arguably the best known practice of today’s phone app technology minded generation.

Research you say? Indeed. One study I read, “Alterations in Brain & Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation”, (Davidson et al, 2003), highlights two very potent benefits of meditation: the impact on the immune system and mindset. 
Without getting into the finer points, the study showed comparisons in a meditation group to none meditation group with brain activity. This was particularly elevated to a significant increase in the left sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with the generation of positive emotions.
Possibly more interestingly, the study groups were also given a shot of the influenza vaccine. Significant increases in the presence and diversity of antibodies were observed in the mediators, aiding their ability to fight off the negative symptoms.
On a side note, this was from an 8 week course of introduction mindfulness meditation to 20 odd year old students, not 20 odd year practitioners fresh from a Tibetan monastery.
Research coming out of the University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) in 2012 showed further compelling results. Scientists observing MRI scans found that mediators can strengthen the brain from meditation through reinforcing the neural pathways between brain cells. 
This was demonstrated by the observed meditators having higher levels of gyrification – the folding of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth. This may allow for faster processing of information. Gyrification is also suspected to be responsible for making and improving decisions as well as forming memories.
Need more? A 2009 study termed, “Long-term meditation is associated with increased grey matter density in the brain stem” (kind of sums it up nicely with the title), gives further to, well, stretch your grey matter around.
Neuroscientists used MRIs to compare the brains of meditators with non-meditators. The structural differences observed led the scientists to speculate that certain benefits, like improved cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, can be tied to this growth and its positive effects on breathing and heart rate.
The integrity of grey matter, which is a major player in the central nervous system, certainly appears to benefit from mediation. This is speculated to result in more positive emotions, the retention of emotional stability, and more mindful behaviour (heightened focus during day-to-day living). 
Lastly, mediation has also been shown to have neuroprotective attributes; it can diminish age-related effects on grey matter and reduce cognitive decline whilst lessening markers for risk of anxiety and depression. 
And as a final point, meditation has been linked to dramatic changes in electrical brain activity, namely increased Theta and Alpha brain wave activity, which is associated with wakeful and relaxed attention.
Sooo, meditation can make you literally smarter, happier, more resilient and present in your day to day activities. If you stuck that on the side of a supplement bottle you’d have ’em queuing up.
I personally have a daily practice that ranges from 10 – 25 minutes. It’s not always easy, but has certainly calmed the self chat and reactivity down, (mostly!). It quite simply gives the ego the super heavy kick up the arse it so deserves. 
I’d advise anyone to give one of the apps a go, (Calm and Headspace are two of the ones I’ve tried the free trials on and liked).
 I’d also recommend a book I read and enjoyed. It lays out an 8 week program and has an accompanying cd – 
“Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” by Mark Williams. You can get it super cheap off Amazon and it really is a good introduction.

So, anyways, thanks for staying with me! As always, any questions or comments would be much appreciated – Peace out! 

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