Has your therapist ever suggested that you meditate? Did you immediately ask yourself, “why would I do that”? Believe it or not, there’s empirical research and evidence that supports meditation for both the body and mind; that’s probably why your therapist suggested it. In this blog I will refer to meditation as the cultivation of basic human qualities, such as a clear and stable mind, emotional balance, sense of caring, mindfulness, even love and compassion. I recently read an article (Ricard, Lutz & Davidson, 2014) for a brain and behavior course that assessed the relationship between meditation and neuroscience. In this article they present three common types of meditation: focused-attention, mindfulness, and compassion and loving kindness. Here I’ll share important take-aways that, hopefully, will change your perspective on the ancient practice:
- “The goals of meditation, in fact, overlap with many of the objectives of clinician psychology, psychiatry, preventive medicine and education” (p. 40)
- Here at Wild Tree our goal is for clients to get well, stay well, and discover their inner strength. While other practices or fields may differ slightly in that message, the overall purpose is for clients to be and feel better, whatever that looks like for them as unique individuals. As suggested by the growing amount of research, meditation has that same intention and similar results.
- “Meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body” (p. 42)
- Those who meditate are able to regulate their mental state to achieve their own form of inner enrichment, very similar to those who learn how to play a musical instrument. As someone masters their instrument, the brain region that controls the movement becomes larger over time. From a biological perspective, we would consider this to be neuroplasticity which is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization.
- “Staying aware of an unpleasant sensation can reduce maladaptive emotional responses and help one to move beyond the disagreeable feeling and may be particularly useful in dealing with pain” (p. 43)
- Researchers found that experienced practitioners were able to engage in open presence, sometimes called pure awareness, in which the mind is calm and relaxed without focusing on anything in particular. The goal here is to open yourself up to experience without making any attempt to interpret, change, reject, or ignore difficult or painful sensations. In my work with clients I’ve often utilized an activity called Leaves on a Stream (based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT]) to engage in a similar type of mindfulness.
- “Some evidence even exists that meditation – and its ability to enhance overall well-being – may diminish inflammation and other biological stresses that occur at the molecular level” (p. 45)
- Research has shown that even engaging in one day of intensive mindfulness practice decreased the activity of inflammation-related genes, altering the functioning enzymes involved with turning genes on and off. While such a practice would come with years of experience, it’s truly inspiring to see what meditation is capable of! To take it a step further, research suggests that mindfulness training has the potential to slow processes of cellular aging.