Interest in meditation and research into its benefits has exploded over the last ten years and we now know more than ever about how it helps our bodies and minds. In many ways it’s no surprise that science has shown that meditation can lower stress, ADHD symptoms, migraines, PTSD symptoms and more; after all, it’s been practiced since antiquity in one form or another. Still, some of the facts we’re learning about meditation may surprise you. Here are a few that just might encourage you to take up this holistic, beneficial practice.
1. Meditation Causes Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change, both functionally and structurally, based on input. For a long time, researchers believed that the brain lost its ability to stop changing once humans reach adulthood but we now know this just isn’t true. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that experienced meditators have higher levels of gamma wave activity and their minds don’t become stuck on a particular stimulus, even after they stop meditating. Basically, that means long-term meditation helps you control your thoughts automatically! Pretty cool, right?
2. Meditation Makes You More Alert than Sleep!
Amazingly, meditation can even be better than sleeping when it comes to alertness. A study in 2006 asked college students to either watch television, meditate or sleep and they were then tested on alertness by pressing a button every time they saw a light flash on the screen. While the students watching television scored the lowest, those who spent time meditating scored 10% better than those who took a nap!
3. Meditating Can Help You Ditch Medication
Meditation has been found to help more than medication in many cases, such as high blood pressure. In 2008, a doctor named Randy Zusman asked his high blood pressure patients whose condition couldn’t be controlled with medication to use a meditation program to reduce their stress for three months. At the end of the study, he found that 40 of the 60 patients had significant drops in their blood pressure levels and could reduce their medicine. That’s because meditation aids in relaxation, which naturally forms nitric oxide to open your blood vessels.
Other studies have also found that meditation can significantly reduce the symptoms of ADHD and even PTSD. In the latter case, a recent study found that active duty returning soldiers with symptoms of PTSD saw a significant reduction in their symptoms when using guided imagery — a form of meditation also known as guided meditation — combined with traditional treatment compared to those who just received the usual treatment plan. In many cases, guided imagery helped to reduce their symptoms past the threshold for a diagnosis!
4. Meditation Can Relieve Pain Better than Morphine
You might not believe it, but a study conducted in 2011 determined meditation can reduce pain intensity a whopping 40% and the unpleasantness of pain by 57%. Compare this to morphine, with a pain reduction of only 25% on average. How does it work? Meditation actually reduces activity in your brain’s somatosensory cortex while boosting activity in other areas.
5. Boost Gray Matter Through Meditation
Finally, a study published 8 years ago found that men and women who meditated for 40 minutes every day had thicker cortical walls than people who don’t meditate. This translates to slower aging of the brain and it’s also associated with memory, attention and making decisions. No surprise, given that other studies find that meditation can help you improve test scores!
There you have it, five cool and surprising facts about meditation you probably didn’t know. And, that’s just the beginning! Meditation can help with so many areas of life and promote general well-being. If you don’t already have a daily meditation plan, now’s the time. It takes only 10-20 minutes a day to enjoy the most benefits and anyone can set aside this amount of time, no matter how busy your life may seem. As the old adage goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day — unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.”
Christine Layton is an avid meditator who recently picked up this life-changing habit at the age of 25. She writes for TheHealingWaterfall.com, which produces some of the world’s best-selling guided meditation and guided imagery programs, including programs for sleep, pain relief, PTSD and reducing stress. Find The Healing Waterfall on Twitter @MaxHighstein or Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/maxhigh/.