Beyond Spirituality: the Role of Meditation in Mental Health

25 January, 2012 at 17:18 | Posted in Body & Mind, meditation, Science, Spirituality | 2 Comments
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By Jonathan Krygier and Andrew Kemp,
The University of Sydney

Meditation has traditionally been associated with Eastern mysticism but science is beginning to show that cultivating a “heightened” state of consciousness can have a major impact on our brain, the way our bodies function and our levels of resilience.

Clinicians are increasingly looking for effective, preventative, non-pharmacological options to treat mental illness. And meditation techniques – such as quietening the mind, understanding the self and exercising control – show promise as an alternative tool to regulate emotions, mood and stress.

Body

Meditation influences the body in unexpected ways. Experienced meditators, for instance, can speed or slow their metabolism by more than 60% and raise their body temperature by as much as 8°C.

Even a little training in meditation can make people calmer, less stressed and more relaxed. As little as 20 minutes a day leads to physical changes, such as reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, deeper and calmer breathing. Improvements in blood pressure as a result of meditation have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attack.

Meditation is also beginning to prove effective as a treatment for chronic and acute pain. One experiment showed that four days of mindfulness meditation substantially reduced the participant’s experience of unpleasantness and the intensity of their pain.

Mind, braind and beyond

Meditation increases left-sided, frontal brain activity, an area of the brain associated with positive mood. Interestingly, this increase in left-brain activity is also linked with improvements in immune system activity. And the more you practise meditation, the greater your immune function is likely to be.

Studies have shown that long-term meditators have increased volumes of grey matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex and hippocampus regions of their brain which are responsible for regulating emotion. Similar changes have also been found in non-meditators who completed an eight-week course in mindfulness training.

So even a limited stint of meditation has the potential to change the structure of the brain.

Ageing

The cortex in the brain usually thins as we age – a type of atrophy related to dementia. Intriguingly, those who have meditated around an hour a day for six years display increased cortical thickness. Older meditators also show decreased age-related decline in cortical thickness compared to non-meditators of the same age.

Read more: Beyond spirituality: the role of meditation in mental health – Science Alert

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2 Comments »

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  1. Reblogged this on Red Rock Crossing.

  2. What a great post! 🙂


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