handmeditation_optGuided meditation can be a very effective way to release stress, and leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed, and it can help you remain calm, clear, and centered, even during the most trying times. Meditation is one of those things you have to experience for yourself to fully understand exactly how it can benefit you—and there are many gains to be had, physically, mentally, and spiritually. People who practice meditation regularly know all about the benefits it can bring, but it’s only in the last few decades that the scientific world has really started to catch up.

People who Meditate are Happier and Healthier

In the 1960s, researchers were starting to discover that meditation could actually improve both mental and physical health—reducing symptoms like high blood pressure, migraines, and pain, and depression and anxiety. Another study found that daily meditation could actually help people feel happier in their day-to-day lives. More recently, researchers at UCLA found that people who meditate regularly over the long term have larger brains, and not only that, but certain regions of the brain are better developed—including those that deal with control and attention. Not only that, but other studies have shown that people who meditate are more efficient at performing tasks that require attention and impulse control. This also serves to explain why other studies have shown that meditation reduces the urge to smoke, and can help people recover from addictive behavior.

The development of new research techniques has allowed researchers to make even more amazing discoveries about the effects of meditation on the body. While early research focused on documenting meditation’s benefits on a fairly broad scale, it’s now possible to look at the effects on a genetic level, to see exactly how meditation changes the body.

One noteworthy study was carried out by a team of researchers affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School. In this study, the researchers looked at how the body responds to meditation at the genetic level—something which had never been done before. They found that meditation increased the activity of genes involved in energy metabolism, and reduced the activity of genes involved in the stress response. As well as this, the researchers also found that these changes happen more quickly, and more strongly, in people who meditate regularly—so the benefits you get from meditating become more powerful over time. With better energy levels and less stress, it’s no wonder that people who meditate regularly are generally calmer, happier, healthier, and better equipped to cope with personal problems and stressful situations.

Meditation Provides the Boost you Need to Get through Difficult Times

Science is only just skimming the depths of what’s known about the benefits of meditation—there’s so much more to uncover. For people who practice meditation, however, it’s enough to know that it works, and it’s not quite so important to understand why it works. The fact is, mediation has some powerful effects on the ability to cope not only with the stress of everyday life, but also with the stress of traumatic events, and with recovery from illness, injury, mental illness, or addiction.

In biological terms, stressful situations cause you to go into a fight or flight response—where your body is getting ready to either escape danger, or confront it. Your heartbeat speeds up, your blood pressure increases, your mouth becomes dry, your muscles contract. At the same time, other, microscopic changes are occurring—in times of stress, anything “nonessential” is downgraded, which means the digestive, immune, and reproductive systems, among others, slow down to conserve energy. This is one reason why ongoing stress has such wide-ranging effects, and why, when you’re going through tough times, it’s so hard to cope. Not only are you experiencing the direct emotional, physical, or spiritual effects of whatever situation you’re going through, the stress is also taking its own toll on your body and mind.

With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see how incredibly important meditation can be, not only during everyday life, but especially during the most trying life situations. The effects of meditation are almost the exact opposite of the effects of the fight or flight response, which makes meditation a powerful countermeasure to all kinds of stress.

The effects of meditation aren’t only important in themselves, they’re also important because they’re exactly what the body needs to help counteract the stress of day-to-day living. Meditation is helpful for people who are going through personal problems, but even more than that, it can help anyone, no matter what their personal situation might be. Unfortunately, nobody is immune to stress—but on the plus side, everyone can benefit from meditation.

Writing Contributed by Jen Mayfield

References

Anastasia Stephens. “7 Health Benefits of Meditation.” Accessed July 29, 2014. How mediation improves general health.

Centers. “Rehab Centers.” Accessed July 29, 2014. Healing from addictive behavior.

Kozasa EH. et. al. “Meditation training increases brain efficiency in an attention task.” Accessed July 29, 2014. In NeuroImage, 2 January 2012.

Manoj K. Bhasin, et. al. “Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways.” Accessed July 29, 2014. In PLOS One, May 01, 2013.

Robert Puff. “Meditation Will Make You Smarter (And Happier).” Accessed July 29, 2014. Psychological benefits of meditation.

Yi-Yuan Tang. “Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction.” Accessed July 29, 2014. In PNAS Aug. 20 2013.