The Benefits Of Meditation As Established Through Scientific Research

Meditation is a form of mental training that has as its goal a state of “detached observation” in which practitioners are aware of their environment, but do not become involved in thinking about it. Mental training is often compared to muscle training, for instance, to illustrate that both can be exercised through various approaches. As such, there is no one practice of meditation, and it may include mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, yoga and tai chi.

The Benefits Of Meditation

Of all types of meditation, mindfulness meditation has received most attention in neuroscience research. Currently, there is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation causes (neuroplastic) changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in the regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness.

Attention, Emotions and The Self

Mindfulness meditation requires a degree of attentional control to stay engaged. Multiple studies have experimentally investigated that cultivating attention control through meditation improves the practitioner’s ability to focus.

Various studies have also reported the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on emotional processing. These studies generally report reduced experience of negative emotions after unpleasant stimuli, and a facilitated return to the emotional baseline. Consequently, practitioners experience negative emotions less frequent and less strong.

Mindfulness training is additionally associated with a higher self-esteem and higher self-acceptance. This is thought to be a result of a detached identification with the self as a static entity, and rather experiencing oneself (as you would experience another person).

How To Meditate?

Mindfulness meditation originally stems from Buddhist meditation traditions. Buddhist meditation practice goes back 2500 years, and has its source in the teachings of a young Indian noble-man named Siddhartha, who left the comforts of his home to find a solution to the problem of human suffering. Since no two people are the same, a variety of methods where taught, which can be divided into focused attention meditation and open monitoring (“in the moment”) meditation.

Focused attention involves maintaining sustained selective attention towards an object or feeling (e.g. sensation of breathing). In contrast, open monitoring involves no deliberate focus on one thing, but active monitoring and acceptance of internal and external sensations.

The essence of any kind of mindfulness meditation can then be described as non-judgemental attention to present-moment experiences, or in one word, awareness.

To try one form of meditation – focused attention – for yourself, close your eyes for one minute, and be aware of all the sounds around you, without forming an opinion. To sustain this focus, you must constantly monitor your attention. At first, the attention wanders away, and the typical instruction is to recognize the wandering and then restore the attention (listening to sounds).

A Good read

Ainsworth, B., Eddershaw, R., Meron, D., Baldwin, D. S. & Garner, M. The effect of focused attention and open monitoring meditation on attention network function in healthy volunteers. Psychiatry Res. 210, 1226–1231 (2013)

Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D. & Davidson, R. J. Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends Cogn. Sci. 12, 163–9 (2008).

Ospina, M. B.; Bond, T. K.; Karkhaneh, M.; Tjosvold, L.; Vandermeer, B.; Liang, Y.; Bialy, L.; Hooton, N.; Buscemi, N.; Dryden, D. M.; Klassen, T. P. Meditation practices for health: state of the research. Evidence report/technology assessment (2007). doi:17764203

Rinpoche, Y. M. & Swanson, E. The Joy Of Living. (Bantam, 2007).

Tang, Y.-Y., Hölzel, B. K. & Posner, M. I. The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 16, 213–225 (2015).