In the past decade breakthroughs in Neuroscience have revolutionized how we view the brain. Rather than hard-wired and static, scientists now see brain as having flexibility of response and the ability to adapt and heal itself. When you meditate you are actively making new neural connections. The process of sitting accelerates that process by creating space for fresh responses outside of our habitual patterns.
10. Your learning and memory will improve
In order to learn and better remember what we take in, it’s important that we train our minds to stay open to new information. When our minds are filled with what we think we know, there is little space for anything more. Meditation allows us to remain open to new information without blinding ourselves with our habitual emotional responses to new information. In a study published in Psychiatry Research, scientists found that participants who completed an 8-week Mindful based stress reduction program had increases in grey matter concentration in regions of the brain involved in learning and memory processes.
- Your focus will improve
The prevalence of attention deficit disorders in our society has exploded in the past 20 years. These days, laptops and smart phones keep us glued to distracting images and videos at an almost constant rate. Sitting and slowing down, even for 10 minutes a day, can open up new neural pathways that promote calmness and focus. An Emory University study found that the process of continually bringing ones attention back to an object of focus, as one does in mindfulness practice, strengthens the neural pathways for keeping attention.
- 8. Daily Practice Reduces stress anxiety and depression
Recent studies have demonstrated that Stress can tax our system enough to actually change the structure of our brains. The area of the brain called the Hippocampus is covered in receptors for the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol release can lead us into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression, turning stress into more serious chronic disorders. In a study of meditators who practiced thirty minutes a day, brain images showed increased grey matter in the Hippocampus, rebuilding this area previously damaged by stress.
- Decreases Pain
The practice of gently observing sensory information in our environment and body can change our relationship to physical discomfort. Often times we experience pain with a mixture of judgment that magnifies the intensity of our discomfort. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience demonstrated that after four days of mindfulness meditation training in the presence of painful stimulation, participants reported significantly reduced pain unpleasantness by 57% and pain intensity ratings by 40% when compared to the control group.
- Increases Positive Feelings
Meditation practice doesn’t just mitigate negative feelings; it can also give us a more positive outlook on our lives. Significant research has been done on “loving-kindness” meditation, a practice that incorporates visualizations, mantras and reflection. Resting the mind in compassionate space can disrupt what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill,” the propensity of humans remains at a stable level of happiness despite positive changes in their lives.
- Increases feelings of connection and empathy
Our society is becoming increasingly inter-connected by large impersonal social networks. As a result, our daily interactions with friends and coworkers are often mediated by a computer screen or smartphone. This can lead us to feel alienated from ourselves and disconnected from others. In 2008, a Stanford University study explored the effect of loving-kindness meditation on feelings of connection. After participants completed a brief guided loving kindness meditation, they were told to direct their feelings of love and compassion towards a photograph of a stranger. Participants reported significantly increased feelings of empathy and connection after the exercise.
- Improves creativity
Anyone who has sat a meditation retreat will tell you they experienced an increase in natural creativity after a prolonged sit. However you don’t need to sit long to experience the fresh sense of wonder that meditation practice produces. UC Santa Barbara’s Brain Research center has explored how mindfulness correlates with better insight-problem solving, our ability to creatively find solutions outside of logical reasoning.
- Improves our ability to Self Reflect
When we’re rushing around constantly, its difficult to tune into how we are feeling. Sitting still allows us to connect with our lives and act in our life with purpose and meaning. When we make decisions based on our habitual patterns we cannot make fresh changes in our life. Scientists have found that meditators have a greater ability to connect with their emotions, synchronizing their mind and body to help them act from the heart.
- Helps us establish a feeling of worthiness
Above all, meditation helps us feel worthy of being human, which may not be measurable through brain chemistry. Sitting lets us tap into that original state of being and original intelligence that we always have access to. When we feel worthy of being human, it affects our lives in more ways than we can imagine.