By Vibhu Krishna, 200 hour yoga teacher training student
We all know that meditation is beneficial to us. But how exactly does it affect our everyday lives? Here are our five favorite benefits of meditation, although we suspect it touches us in more ways than science can currently prove.
1. Improve your relationships Meditation changes our brains and behavior in many ways that positively impacts our relationship skills. It can improve our ability to respond appropriately to difficult situations, such as during a disagreement with our partner. The practice also improves empathy - the ability to understand another person's state of mind, without getting lost in their "stuff" or losing awareness of our own emotions. It also makes us better communicators, able to see a situation clearly and not get lost in our own "stuff."
2. Boost your brain Scientists have known for some time that meditation increases the volume of grey matter in regions of the brain associated with memory and emotion, resulting in improved learning and empathy. Meditation has also been correlated with improved focus and attention. And now research indicates that long-term meditators appear to have even more gyrification, or folding, in the cerebral cortex, making your ability to process information even speedier—which effectively means you’ll be able to memorize and recall the Sanskrit name of one-legged pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) with ease!
3. Jumpstart your mood Got the blues? Meditation may be useful for alleviating depressive symptoms according to research at Johns Hopkins University. The decrease of symptoms observed in meditators with mild depression matched improvements commonly associated with antidepressant medication. Meditation is also a proven stress-buster and can even induce positive thoughts. And you don’t have to meditate two hours a day for the rest of your life to reap these benefits. Research shows significant stress reduction with just 25 minutes of meditation a day over three days.
4. Fight Disease In a five-year study, Harvard psychiatrists found that meditation can switch on genes associated with improved immune function. It can also switch off pro-inflammatory genes which causes quicker recovery from the physical trauma of stress. Your heart also benefits from meditation via decreased blood pressure and the potential prevention of cardiac disease. Finally, meditation can bring relief from symptoms to those suffering from many illnesses, including ffibromyalgia, HIV, asthma, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
5. Live longer Each time your cells divide, the protective ends of their chromosomes—known as telomeres—shorten. The shortening of telomeres is a natural occurrence that accompanies aging. Over time, however, it eventually leads to an inability of the cell to divide, which has been associated with disease onset. Telomerase, sometimes referred to as the immortality enzyme, helps maintain the ends of chromosomes after cell division, thus keeping the cell alive longer. In a pilot study at the University of California at Los Angeles, meditation caused a 43% increase in telomerase activity, proving that a calm state of mind can counter the effects of cellular aging.