The Science of Meditation

The Science of Meditation
November 6, 2013 Brian E. Miller

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Science has proven time and again that meditation can restructure the brain and rewire it for success, better concentration, more peace and composure, greater compassion, less stress, and amazing improvements in all areas of life.

Masters such as Patanjali, Jesus, Buddha, and many more have taught meditation as a way to profoundly alter our experience of life, as a means to eliminate our suffering, and as a means to cultivate more love, joy, and abundance. Nowadays, especially in the West, we are looking for scientific validation. Luckily in these exciting times, neuroscience and quantum physics are proving what those masters have taught for thousands of years, with scientific, quantifiable results. They are finding that even small amounts of meditation have profound results on the brain and actually remodel its physical structure.

Research at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine has given us a new look at how the brain develops. They used to believe that the brain peaks at adulthood and doesn’t change from there, but with the advent of neuroplasticity we know that everything we do, every experience we have, changes the brain.

In a study published in Neuro Image in 2009, Eileen Luders, a researcher in the department of Neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine, compared twenty-two meditators and twenty-two nonmeditators, all in the same age range. The findings were that the meditators had more gray matter in the regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotional regularity, and mental flexibility. The gray matter makes a region of the brain stronger and more powerful. This is simply a matter of training the brain through meditation. A mathematician’s brain will have increased gray matter in the area of mathematics and will have stronger problem-solving skills. The part of the brain trained creates structural changes, and thus the brain becomes better at doing what it is asked to do.

In short we can train the brain to do anything. When we are receiving negative results in our life, it is due to the habits we have trained the brain in. Using meditation, however, we can “rewire” and train the brain for success. Learning to meditate is the same as learning any mental skill: a new language, an instrument, and so on. We cannot expect to sit down at a piano for an hour and think that after that hour we will be Mozart. It takes practice and consistency, as does meditation. However, just as in learning an instrument, we can begin to see progress and change in the short term as well as the long term.

Meditation is a training of the mind. It’s not some mystical practice or cosmic, New Age mumbo jumbo. It’s clear-cut science and a practice that has amazing results for those who stick with it.

Researchers have proven that where you focus your attention in meditation will stimulate that part of the brain and restructure, strengthen, and make it more skillful. For example focusing your attention on your breath will restructure the brain for better concentration. It will become easier for you to concentrate in all areas of life. Meditating on compassion and love will develop a brain that spontaneously feels more connected to others. We are meditating all the time, even if we are unaware of it: the subconscious is constantly meditating on our past—over and over—and thus our actions follow, creating results in our lives. Often the meditations of our subconscious are strengthening parts of our brain and creating habits without us even being consciously aware until the results show up in our lives. Even then, we are seldom aware that the root of these results started in the unconscious mind.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence [success], therefore, is not an act, but a habit.  ~Aristotle

Breath meditation, or other types of concentration meditation such as focusing on an object or word has many benefits. It has been proven that concentration increases in the brain, helping it to concentrate better without distraction but also making us better at noticing what is happening around us, giving us a better perspective of the present moment, and allowing us to be present more often. The less distracting and scattered the brain, the more control we have over our limited beliefs and the easier we can direct and access the areas of the brain we wish in order to create what we want.

Sound complicated? It’s not: just a simple five-minute breath meditation daily can have profound effects.

We are often so distracted and scattered that it is impossible to see clearly how we are creating exactly what shows up in our lives. In this world of ever-increasing distraction, it is even more imperative to cultivate a concentrated mind so we can begin to target the areas we wish to build as opposed to those that unconsciously strengthen while we are out to lunch, so to speak, scattered in an often ceaseless chatter of distraction.

Concentration meditation, like that of the breath, activate regions of the brain that are significant for controlling attention. This is true both for those who have been meditating for many years and for the novice who does only a few minutes a day. Those who have done this training for a while show less activation in the regions critical for controlling attention, yet research has concluded that their performance on attention tasks were found to be much better. What happens is that, in the long term, the training reduces the effort it takes for the brain to focus attention; it literarily restructures the brain, allowing focus to become effortless. Beginners can reap the benefits of this with just a short amount of meditation and progress more and more if they stick to it, eventually reducing the effort and energy it takes for the brain to retain focus and attention.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” This being said, our physical bodies are a result of our minds as well as the world around us. For example, numerous studies have found that meditation reduces stress and anxieties that cause premature aging, heart attacks, and more. I have seen a few places that use meditation as a beautification system; the results have been pretty amazing. By focusing meditations visually on the face or other part of the body—like with sports visualization combined with nutrition—people have been achieving amazing results in the world of skin care and beauty, just more proof that what you familiarize (meditate on) yourself with becomes your reality.

As we begin to see the validity of meditation in our lives, as we become more mindful, we begin to be able to see our worlds (inner and outer) more clearly and thus are able to begin to transform them. Philippe Goldin, Director of the Clinically Applied Affective Neuroscience Project in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, shows that mindfulness meditation dramatically decreases anxiety by changing the brain’s response to negative thoughts. Breath meditation is a form of mindfulness meditation, but we can also just be present and focus on the sounds and sensations around us, bringing ourselves back into the present when we find the mind drifting to the past or future.

Research shows that even our emotional responses to the world are learned habits of mind. We can retrain ourselves to be more compassionate, loving, and so on. A study on psychology done by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan, found that loving kindness meditation increased the practitioners daily experiences of joy, gratitude, and hope. Practitioners of loving kindness meditation, even in just a few weeks of practice, experienced this, along with a greater sense of purpose in life and sense of self-acceptance, with fewer symptoms of depression and illness then they had at the onset of practice.

Science offers amazing insights into how meditation, even in the first week of practice, can profoundly affect our experience in life for the better. Science, though, can only go so far as to explain the deep effects meditation has on us, and in fact is far behind the wisdom of ancient masters, yet these are still exciting factors to see. Your individual experience with meditation will far outweigh any scientific study. Only you can experience your world, inner and outer, and thus the changes you will experience. We can read studies of the science of meditation or stories of the great masters’ accomplishments until we are blue in the face, but all it takes is a commitment to meditate. Even a small commitment of five to ten minutes a day can lead us on a path toward profound change.

 

About the Author:

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Brian E. Miller is an American author and adventurer who travels the world writing, learning and teaching. Realizing there are many paths and something to be learned from everyone and everything, Brian teaches from many sources. His passion to help others discover their limitless potential has led him to teach those looking to overcome limiting beliefs and cultivate empowering habits in any arena of life. He has traveled all over the United States and India, amongst other parts of the world, studying and practicing intently with many credible teachers and healers. He realizes that one’s journey is that of self-exploration and expression and all he can do is be a medium for those wishing to search within for their own truth.

www.brianemillerbooks.com

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Visit Brian’s Website for a FREE Meditation MP3 Download and more in the blog series of “Overcoming Self Limiting Beliefs the Impede you on your Path to a Fulfilling Life”

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