I have been a hatha yoga participant for about 25 years and I can testify to its power. However, this article goes beyond anecdotal evidence like mine to the scientific studies that are so powerful in our culture. I don’t need them but many people need scientific proof to be convinced to even experiment with this life-changing discipline.
Anecdotal support of meditation abounds, especially on the internet and in yoga communities. While these personal tales of how the ancient mind-body exercise has helped improve concentration, alleviate pain or boost mood certainly have value, they may leave some skeptics feeling, well, skeptical.
But these critics should know that there has been an immense amount of clinical trials on meditation, most of which support the notion that the practice is good for the mind, body and spirit.
One example is a study from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. In this trial, a team of scientists discovered that people who frequently meditate have stronger connections between brain regions and are also less likely to experience age-related cognitive decline.
In order to reach their conclusions, the study authors examined brain images of people who meditated often and compared them to those of control subjects. They found that meditators experienced differences in several regions and networks of their brains, suggesting that the practice may have an effect on multiple bodily and thought functions.
“Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain,” said researcher Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, “We also found that the normal age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners.”
Another study conducted by a team of collaborators from Harvard Medical School and Justus Liebig University in Germany concluded that meditation may result in a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and improved mental performance.
This particular trial examined four areas of mindfulness: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion control and sense of self. The study authors noted that these four components work in conjunction to help the mind and body cope with stress.
Further research on the effects of meditation may “enable a much broader spectrum of individuals to utilize mindfulness meditation as a versatile tool to facilitate change – both in psychotherapy and in everyday life,” the study authors said.
Individuals who have a difficult time focusing on their work due to constant mental distractions may also benefit from meditation, according to a study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In this study, researchers measured the brain wave frequency of people who meditated and discovered that the practice resulted in a stronger ability to regulate alpha rhythms in the brain, which are known to help tune out distractions.
“Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts,” said Catherine Kerr, Ph.D., of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report.
Considering the evidence supporting the effectiveness of mediation and the apparent lack of side effects, people who want to strengthen their mind-body connection may want to think about giving the practice a try.