In this blog-article, i will review multiple ways that holistic meditation changes the brain for the better. (Section A). Thereafter, I will analyse the role of meditation practice in the extension of healthy lifespans (Section B) and conclude on clinical practice (Section C).
There are multiple types of meditation techniques, not all are equal in therapeutic benefits and equanimity lasting effects. The H.M. Institute can guide you both on choosing the right form of meditation as well as on the modus operandi. If interesetd, consider scheduling a coaching session via this link.
Despite originating in Eastern contemplative traditions, mindful as well as mindless meditation has become the object of scientific research.(2) In the U.S., many meditative practices have been increasingly introduced by researchers as interventions for various psychological and behavioral disorders. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has promised a myriad of health benefits for children and adults alike. (3) Whether pursued as a clinical intervention or as an approach to self-development, mindfulness meditation bestows upon the meditator many benefits.
Once the right form of meditation has been identified and mastered, the health and Life benefits are numerous. Below, a partial list of these evidence-based benefits. First off though, it may be useful to preliminarily examine what is Holistic Mindful Meditation ?
Holistic Mindfulness Meditation
Holistic Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that prioritizesconscious living or being, summarized in the quality of mind-body awareness called mindfulness and joie de vivre(enjoyment of life). It’s a little like when a cat purrs. The basis of mindfulness is simple: avoiding unconscious or mechanical activity, tuning in to the present moment, and becoming fully aware of one’s inner sensations and the ambient environment. (4)
Mindfulness meditation does not consist of any special ideologies or belief systems. In fact, it does not need to be a time-consuming ritual that is performed at the same time every day. Rather, it harnesses the innate human capacity forself-awareness and attentiveness.Even stopping for a couple of minutes to bring attention to one’s bodily sensations, breathing, and thought patterns qualifies as a valuable act of mindfulness. (ibid)
Mindfulness meditation is far from being a passive practice. This skill demands mental discipline, intention, and wakefulness on the part of the meditator. Part of this discipline involves adopting a non-judgmental attitude toward thoughts and emotions, which means observing them objectively and without becoming absorbed in or unconsciously reactive to their content. It is also important to observe internal sensations without trying to change whatever is present, including potentially difficult thoughts and feelings. (5) There are different forms of mindful meditation,some of which have more profound effects. (Need to get coached for the details).
Multiple Physiological Benefits from Meditation
1. Meditation keeps the hippocampus healthy to enhance learning and memory.
In 2011, researchers at Harvard were among the first to demonstrate that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training caused significant increase in the thickness of the hippocampus, one of the key brain organs. (1)
2. Meditation tells the amygdala, the emotion part of the brain, to chill out and helps to lower stress levels.
In this perspective, the same team of Harvard researchers also found that mindfulness meditation decreases brain cell volume in the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
These changes matched with the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, demonstrating how changes in the brain correlate with subjective perception and feelings as well.
3. Meditation builds a faster, fatter and fitter frontal cortex, helping to improve focus, concentration and attention.
Since focusing our attention on an object (ex: breath or mantra) is one of the central practices of meditation, it’s no surprise that meditation should help improve our ability to focus and be less susceptible to distractions.
Improved concentration and attention is one of the most well-studied benefits of meditation. That’s why i try to meditate before getting involved in something important like driving. So many vehicle drivers get into a car accident just because of distraction. We need to nurture vigilance at all times, if only to avoid an unexpected danger, like a comet, aggression or accident.
The mechanism of this technique is straightforward. When meditators focus their minds, the frontal cortex (which is the “third brain”) is activated, thereby increasing the blood flow to this area. If we do this enough times, we start to see that enhanced blood flow activity become more stable. This activity leads to the growth ofgrey matter (known as cortical thickening) and can be seen in the brains of meditators. The more grey matter, the better. Just like with belly fat. The more grey fat, the better. It’s the while fat that’s the killer.
4. Meditation increases gray matter and lengthens telomeres helping to slow the effect of the aging in the brain.
The human brain starts to decrease in volume and weight as we age, but research has shown that long-term meditators have better preserved brains that non-meditators, as they age. They have more grey matter volume and while older meditators still had some volume loss, it wasn’t as pronounced as the older non-meditators.
Meditation also helps to protect our telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. Among many others, apublished study proved this for a group of cancer meditators versus cancer non meditators. Telomeres are longest when we’re young and naturally shorten as we age. Shorter telomeres are associated with stress and higher risk for many diseases including cancer, and depend on the telomerase enzyme to enable them to rebuild and repair. But this aging process can be considerably slowed down with holistic techniques, including, but not limited to meditation.
In this perspective, researchers at the University of California were the first to show that meditators have significantly higher telomerase activity than non-meditators. Their findings have since been replicated via other published studies. Dr Blackburn in her video (see Mission page) speaks about 10,000 such studies. The evidence is therefore overwhelming,notwithstanding conventional medicine’s stubborn insistence that synthetic drugs are better.
5. Meditation activates the insula, enhancing empathy and compassion.
Meditators also show enhanced activity in the insula and greater cortical thickness in this region. (1, b) More recent studies have also shown that meditation increases compassionate responses to the suffering of others.
Empathy is about reading others, it’s defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another. Compassion is a different phenomenon, it’s about sympathetic concern for the suffering of another or oneself. In the past 10 years, research has consistently shown that meditation enhances both of these qualities. These benefits are traced to a brain region known as the insula.
6. Meditation Enhances your cognitive abilities & intuition
Mindfulness meditation may be able to improve brain function due to brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to be changed over time. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicineevaluated the effects of an 8-week mindfulness meditation program on brain function. Results demonstrated for the first time that meditation can increase activity in the left anterior, or the front left, side of the brain. This region of the brain is associated with greater resilience toward negative or stressful events, suggesting that mindfulness training may be able to mitigate the cognitive effects of stress. (8)
Meanwhile, a 2005 study published in Neuroreportfound that meditation practice also increases activity in the cerebral cortex, located in the front of the brain. Regular meditation practice may lead to increased thickness in the regions of the cortex that process visual and auditory information. (9) The cortex also plays an important role in maintaining present-moment awareness and regulating emotions, so meditation training may be able to enhance attention and self-control. (10)
Although evidence for a causal relationship between meditation and changes in brain structure remains tenuous, studies have consistently linked MBSR training to increases in the concentration of gray matter in the brain. A 2014 meta-analytic review published in the Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews found that such neuroplastic changes can be induced even after just a few hours of meditation practice. (11)
7. Meditation Reduces symptoms of depression
As a combination of MBSR and cognitive therapy techniques, MBCT may be a powerful tool in reducing relapse for patients with recurrent depression.(7) Studies published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychologyin the years 2000 and 2004 discovered that MBCT reduced relapse rates for patients with 3 or more previous episodes of depression by almost 50%. (12-3) In addition to reducing depression relapse, mindfulness meditation techniques may counter depression by decreasing negative ruminative thought, which involves repetitive reflections on one’s assumed faults or shortcomings. (10)
8. Holistic Meditation Boosts the immune system
In addition to improving cognitive function, mindfulness meditation may be able to enhance the vitality of the immune system, specifically by increasing antibody production. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in order to destroy viruses and other harmful substances, and stressful events can decrease antibody production. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicinefound that participants who completed an 8-week mindfulness meditation program experienced a greater increase in antibodies to influenza vaccine than a control group, suggesting that mindful meditators may be less vulnerable to the effects of stress on the immune system. (8)
9. Meditation Treats binge eating and substance abuse
Due to its emphasis on greater self-awareness and self-control, mindfulness meditation may be effective in treating eating disorders marked by binging. Evaluating a 6-week mindfulness intervention on obese women, a 1999 study published in the Journal of Health Psychologynoted a significant drop in the number of binges reported by participants after mindfulness training. The study revealed that mindfulness meditation may increase the ability to recognize and respond to normal satiety cues, thereby decreasing the tendency to binge. (14) Mindfulness-based interventions may also be able to improve emotional eating and reduce external eating frequency. By mitigating maladaptive eating behaviors, mindfulness practice can constitute an effective means toward weight loss and weight maintenance. (15) Likewise with substance abuse. (17)
Mindful Meditation and Longevity
Slows down cellular aging
Mindful meditation was shown to significantly activate the enzyme telomerase. As a result, the body’s telomeres got longer and rejuvenation was established. Telomerase is an enzyme that mitigates the age-related loss of genetic material, thus contributing to greater cell longevity. Its activity decreases with age, age-related diseases and an unholistic lifestyle, but it can increase with a correct form of meditation practice.
To corroborate this above-mentioned claim, consider the following: A 2010 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinologyinvestigated the effects of a 3-month meditation retreat on participants’ telomerase activity. According to the results,the retreat contributed to a significant increase in the activity of telomerase, suggesting that meditation training can reduce the likelihood of cell death and age-related diseases within three month or less. (10, 16)
See also the Nobel laureate Professor Elizabeth Blackburn’s testimony on this subject, in the Institute’s workshop. Prof Blackburn is one of the discoverers of the telomerase.
When and Where to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be pursued independently, as part of a course, or as part of a clinical intervention. There is no magical formula for cultivating mindfulness, and meditation techniques can be modified to individual needs and goals. Since mindfulness involves consciousness of internal and external stimuli, a quiet environment is needed. Nonetheless, depending on the person, mindfulness meditation can be practiced almost anywhere.
The H.M. Institute trains participants to be proficient with meditation in both a group context as well as individually and within the setting of Nature.Meditators are encouraged to practice mindfulness during ordinary activities such as walking, standing, and eating. Mini blitz meditations are also possible, allowing individuals to take a few moments to stop where they are and tune in to their thoughts and feelings. (5, 14)
Mindfulness Meditation Exercises
As a form of integrative and complementary medicine, mindfulness meditation has the potential to support routine medical practices, be it in a private medical clinic or at the hospital. (6)
Holistic Mindful Meditation can also help lots to reduce the sensation of pain, thanks to which the patient can avoid anti-inflammatories was well as anti-depressants, hard alcohol and other drugs.
After decades of institutional disbelief with regard to this “hippie” and “hindu” practice, various therapeutic programs now exists in the Mainstream. Two of the most publicly recognized of these are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). (Op. cit, 5)
MBSR, originally developed for the management of chronic pain and stress-related disorders, is the most frequently cited systematic training program for mindfulness meditation. (7 As an 8 to 10 week intervention, MBSR trains participants in stress and coping mechanisms as well as in meditation skills such as hatha yoga postures. (Op.cit 5)
MBCT,which involves a combination of MBSR and traditional cognitive therapy techniques, aims to prevent depression relapse. MBCT promotes anon-judgmental approach to emotions and bodily sensations, facilitating detachment through statements such as “I am not my thoughts.” (5)
The pool of research on mindfulness meditation has been increasing rapidly throughout the past few years. During the past decade alone, there was atenfold increase in the number of academic articles published on the subject of mindfulness. On Pub Med, the number of articles published on meditation reached over 5000 in 2018. On google, the “mindful meditation” led to 110 million links.
With regular moderate exercises, the Institute’s improved Mediterranean diet, light to moderate quality wine and other holistic lifestyle activities, meditation is key insofar as over-all health, happiness, neuro-plasticity and longevity are concerned.
Pr. Joubert (HMI director)
P.S. See the Institute’sWorkshopon this theme.