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Lesson 7 of 12: The Scientific Benefits Of Meditation as we have mentioned, meditation offers many health benefits. Did you know it physically and mentally alters your brain for the better?
A growing body of research on the scientific benefits of meditation and meditation as part of yoga practice has demonstrated some very clear physical changes. One study showed that meditation produced denser gray matter in the hippocampus in the brain, the seat of memory, learning, self-awareness, and compassion.
Another study has shown it can improve the health of the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain that controls both motor functions such as breathing and movement, and non-motor functions, including certain forms of learning.
Those with Parkinson’s disease have issues with this part of the brain, and could, therefore, benefit from meditation. Meditation also improves the connectivity of the caudate with other parts of the brain when done in conjunction with yoga.
Starting with this lesson and the scientific benefits of meditation, I’m going to layout the different purely secular methods of achieving a meditative state. Now, a lot of people might argue whether these methods are “classical” meditative techniques. But as I’ve mentioned before, we really couldn’t care less about whether it’s traditional, classical or what have you.
Instead, our focus is to learn the basic practical, doable techniques that enable people to focus on the present moment. This is the key to relieving stress and removing unnecessary life pressures.
The first method I’m going to teach you is the SEAL quick stress relief method. This method was pioneered for the US Navy SEAL program.
SEAL stands for Sea, Air, and Land teams. These are highly trained, mission-critical military units run by the United States Navy. These are the seasoned military specialists that often see the action first in any kind of armed conflict. In other words, you have to have your wits about you.
Usually, they get sent in to clear out an area, they plant bombs, they do sabotage, they do all sorts of highly stressful military work. It follows that the US Navy invested a tremendous amount of money to enable these military specialists to achieve instant or almost instant peace of mind right before they do a task.
Also, if they’re in the middle of a firefight or they are in the middle of a very sticky situation that can be fatal, they get the US Navy invested in this training to help them calm down and remain focused on the task at hand.
Basically, you breathe in, and then you hold it in for four seconds. You then release your breath, and then at the end of that stage when all the air has left your lungs, you hold it for the same number of seconds (four) when you were breathing in. You repeat this about 3 to 8 times. Again, as long as it’s comfortable.
SEAL Method Guidelines
When you’re doing this, you don’t think. You know you’re doing it wrong when you’re thinking. Instead, you should just focus on what you’re doing. Focus on the air coming in, focus on holding your breath, then focus on the air going out.
If you keep repeating this with your focus solely on your breath and what your body is going through, relaxation will come. Your mind starts to unclench.
You’re no longer worried about stuff at work. You’re no longer worried about your relationship. You’re no longer worried about your childhood. You’re no longer obsessing about that person you can’t forgive. None of that matters. Instead, you focus on the here and now. That’s when the relaxation comes.
Ideally, you should start with the SEAL method for quick stress relief. This is the easiest meditation method and it delivers the quickest results. Once you learn to de-stress using this technique, you should then go deeper by adopting the methods described in the following lessons of this training.
Dr. Oz explains how you can reduce stress and anxiety by taking a few minutes each day to concentrate on your breath. Learn how important your breathing is.
Proven scientific benefits of meditation can prevent age-related cognitive decline and alters alpha waves in the brain, for better mental function. It changes cortical thickness, resulting in improved attention and a clearer perception of one’s own body. Meditation improves breathing and makes the body less sensitive to pain.
Scientific benefits of meditation and brain mapping with MRI have shown significant structural changes in the brain after only a few weeks of meditation for less than 30 minutes per day.
Since we know scientifically that something is being profoundly altered within the body as we map the brain, it will come as no surprise that those who meditate report observing or experiencing certain things they feel to be unusual.
Some say their head feels cooler, lighter. Others report that their body feels as though it’s floating. Many people feel energized, and/or as if their breathing is more effortless and fills their lungs and body with enriching oxygen.
Some report headaches after meditation, or too much meditation. Some reports show that meditating with a hat or other head covering as a bandana or shawl can help. Others report a sore back or stiffness. It will depend on how you sit, and for how long. Generally speaking, stretching a little bit and keeping warm, but not too hot, can eliminate these issues. A shawl, light-weight jacket, or blanket can help.
Some scientific benefits of meditation studies have reported a change of perspective, such as viewing themselves as if they were outside of their bodies. Others have seen flashing lights, colors, or patterns. Some people have reported sudden recollections from their past, or even from past lives.
Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that is, that what they term your continually residing mind moves from body to body as we would move from house to house.
When you die, your root mind, as it is called, transfers to another living being at the moment of conception. If we are lucky, we get precious human life. If we are unlucky, we might end up in the animal realm as a pig or cow, destined for only a short, brutish life before death and rebirth all over again.
Reincarnation may be a strange concept for Westerns and completely rejected by people who follow religion like Christianity and Judaism, but if we meditate about it, it may not seem so unlikely, and that people can, therefore, remember experiences from one or more past lives.
For example, when you were 10 years old, your body and mind were derived from the body and mind you had when you were 9. The body and mind you have at 9 years of age are derived from the body and mind you had at 8, 7, 6, 5, and so on, down to infancy, and even prior to your birth. Studies have shown that babies can even hear sounds and listen to music while they are still inside their mother.
If you have ever had any dealings with a newborn baby or puppy, you will know that they have a ‘personality of their very own from the moment they are born. Where do John or Mary’s likes and dislikes come from? A tendency in a past life?
Why do some dogs love to play ball, and others can’t be bothered? A tendency in a past life. This is an important point because it can also help you to explain the very strange thoughts that might pop into your head as you are meditating, things you can’t even imagine ever having thought. There is no reason to be ashamed of them.
They arise because of tendencies in previous lives. It is a question of what you do with the precious human life you have now that can help cut the cycle of suffering and negative thoughts and replace them with the scientific benefits of meditation such as a positive, peaceful mind that will benefit all.
The Link Between Meditation and Your Body
When we experience stress every day, it causes physical damage to our bodies. Meditation could be the answer to this problem. Meditation affects the body in the opposite way that stress does. Not only it calms down the body, but it also helps the body to repair itself and prevents new damages to the body too. So what is the link between the scientific benefits of meditation and your body?
Meditation can reverse your stress response and thus protecting you from the effects of chronic stress. According to research which compared a meditating group to a non-meditating group, they found that the nonmeditating group has worse stress responses such as high blood pressure, pain syndromes, and other conditions compared to the meditating group. Experts have said that any condition caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through meditation.
When you are meditating, you are actually relaxing your body. This helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure and it also improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. You start using oxygen more efficiently and you also sweat less. When you do it daily, your immune functions start improving. Once your mind is cleared of its stress, your creativity also increases.
In people who are meditating, brain scans have shown that there is an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate. Buddhist monks have shown that the scientific benefits of meditation produce long-lasting changes in brain activity areas involved in memory, attention, learning, and perception.
Meditation also helps ward off illness and infections. It is an immune booster. When you are relaxed, you are less prone to suffering from infectious diseases. Whereas for stressed people, their bodies are already physically damaged and their immune function is already low, so it does not take much to get them sick.
Although meditation is a little difficult to start, it is not difficult to learn. All you need is practice. Over time, you will be able to meditate properly, and to clear your mind, you too will be able to enjoy the benefits that meditation has to offer.
Meditation Using Your Body And Brain
There is constant two-way communication going on between your body and your brain. Do you remember a time when you may have thought of something that was just terrible or maybe you had a “sinking feeling” in your stomach area? That is the kind of communication that goes on between your brain and your body. Meditation can help relax your mind so it can help train your body to relax and your brain to be clear.
Recent research on the scientific benefits of meditation has found that not only does your brain communicate with your cells, but your cells will also communicate with your brain and also with other parts of your body. In fact, a scientist has recently discovered that we think with not only our brain but our bodies as well. Meditation can help us to also understand our brain. It is not inaccurate to look at your entire body as being part of your brain.
That may be a new fact that may startle you, but do not reject it. Many scientists are now starting to believe that we are actually a “body-brain”. You can communicate with your body and brain through meditation.
A key part of your body’s incredible communication system involves your cells’ receptors. This means every call in your body can have millions of receptors on its face, and each cell has perhaps seventy different types of receptors.
While meditating as I learned more I discovered that in the early 1970s, Candace Pert, PhD.D, was the first scientist to prove that the existence of these receptors with her own discovery of the opiate receptor. These receptor molecules float on the cell’s oily outer part of the membrane and also have roots that can reach deep inside the cell.
I’m sure that Dr. Pert had to do a lot of meditating as she wrote her wonderful book The Molecules Of Emotion, Dr. Pert says that “the life of a cell, what it is up to at any moment, is determined by which receptors are on its surface, and whether those receptors are occupied by ligands or not.
A ligand is described as a small molecule that will bind itself to a cellular receptor. Still using mediation to keep my mind clear I learned that there are three chemical types of ligands. They are the neurotransmitters, the steroids, and the ones that we are most interested in at this time, the peptides. According to Dr.Pert, as many as 95 percent of all ligands may be peptides.
The receptors and their ligands have come to be seen as “information molecules’- the basic units of a language that are used by cells throughout the organism to communicate across systems such as the endocrine, neurological, gastrointestinal, and even the immune system.” I would say as much knowledge as Dr.Pert has on this subject meditation would be what kept her mind in focus.
A positive, peaceful mind is the main goal of all meditation, but there are different methods of scientific benefits of meditation that strive to attain different ultimate goals. Let’s look briefly at some of the most common meditation challenges you are likely to encounter, and the ultimate goal of each in the next lesson.