Did you know that meditation is one of the most frequently studied areas of science? This is due to the fact that the benefits of meditation can’t be seen, so it still remains one of the most controversial techniques. Let’s check the benefits of meditation from the scientific point of view.
The only problem with meditation is that it is difficult to see real benefits from it. With other good habits, everything is much simpler. You began to eat less – You lost weight, you began to work out in the gym – you gained muscle mass. Began to meditate – so what?
The absence of a visible result is the reason that we give up meditation. Although this habit practically does not take time, even 10-15 minutes a day is enough.
In this article, we will understand the benefits of meditation and how it affects the human brain and its body as a whole.
The word “meditation” was first mentioned in the XII century by the monk Gigo II. Of course, meditation as a spiritual practice appeared much earlier, but the word meditation was first named just then. The technique became popularized only in the 1950s, starting with India and ending with the USA and Europe.
This interest was understandable: the gurus of meditation talked about the almost magical transformations of thinking, improving memory, rejuvenation, and cessation of aging. Of course, it was hard to identify the lie because of the placebo effect and the inability to see the real benefits of the process.
Who is Elizabeth Blackburn?
One of the first who connected meditation and science was Nobel laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn. In the 1980s, Blackburn found telomeres in the human body. Telomeres are repeating sequences of the genetic code that protect the genetic code from information loss. Telomeres can change the size. The smaller they are, the higher the risk of various diseases: diabetes, obesity, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease.
Returning to her research only in the 2000s, Blackburn decided to look at telomeres from another point of view and found that their size is proportional to the amount of stress received by a person. The more stress we experience in our lives, the fewer telomeres become.
Blackburn and her colleagues examined the DNA of victims of child abuse, people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and depressed ones. Comparing the length of their telomeres with the telomeres of ordinary people, they once again confirmed their case.
This study shocked the scientific world, while other scientists also rushed to study telomeres and their effects on our health. Later it turned out that telomere length is not only reduced due to stress and hard life but also increases due to exercise, proper nutrition and social support.
However, Blackburn got ahead of everyone again. In 2011, another study came out that linked telomeres and meditation. Previously, no one tried to combine these two concepts.
It turned out that meditation is the most effective way which slowing the destruction of telomeres and contributing to their increase.
As part of the study, a group of participants went to a three-month meditation course. The level of telomerase in their DNA after the end of the course was 30% higher than that of the second group.
How the brain changes after meditation
It’s amazing how many new things can be found out if you want to. In 2003, an American scientist, psychology professor Richard Davidson conducted a study, trying to figure out whether meditation affects the brain physically.
The study was long-term, and 25 people took part in it. Researchers measured the level of electromagnetic activity in experimental subjects three times:
- before the eight-week course of meditation;
- immediately after the course;
- four months after the end.
Participants were divided into two groups, one of which took an eight-week course, and the second was not. After the course, scientists injected a small amount of influenza virus into both groups.
The amplitude of alpha waves in the meditating group was higher. Moreover, the body of this group isolated more antibodies for the influenza virus.
Alpha waves are a graphic representation of the electrical processes that occur in the brain. The greatest amplitude of the alpha waves is in a state of calm wakefulness, especially with closed eyes in a darkened room. The greater the amplitude of the alpha waves, the less a person is subject to stress, anger, and bad mood.
In addition to the amplitude of the waves, the experimental also investigated the physical state of the brain. It turned out that in the meditating group the brain areas responsible for learning, memory, and emotions became denser.
Is it possible to stay awake for 40 years?
Examining the effect on the brain and DNA, you can go to a more interesting topic – sleep. Sleep is an integral part of our life – more than a third of the total time lived. But you can’t do otherwise. Or you can?
Paul Kern was a Hungarian soldier who participated in the First World War. In 1915, in one of the battles, he was wounded by a Russian soldier in the temple. The bullet hit the frontal lobe and separated it. After such a wound to the brain, a person cannot survive, but Paul succeeded. With only one strange consequence: he could no longer sleep.
From the moment of his injury in 1915 until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep and, in his own words, did not experience any difficulties. Scientists investigated Kern’s brain many times, but they didn’t find the cause of the anomaly.
Scientists have not been able to figure out what you need to do so you will not sleep for so long. But they did a number of other studies that showed that it is still possible to reduce the need for sleep.
During the experiment, 30 people were divided into two groups. In the first group, there were novices in meditation, in the second – those who were engaged in meditation for a long time. All participants measured the reaction rate to PVT 40 minutes before meditating, after meditating and after a short sleep.
PVT (psychomotor vigilance task) is a special task that measures the speed of a person’s reaction to visual irritation.
The results showed that the reaction rate was accelerated after meditation (even for beginners) and slowed down in both groups after a short sleep. The study also revealed that participants in the second group needed less sleep for a good rest.
Final thoughts on if its worth to meditate and why it can change our life
The long-term benefits of meditation are still there, and, as you understood, this is proved not only by the words of people who practice it but also by numerous studies on this topic. It is scientifically proven that meditation:
- Increases the length of telomeres, reducing the amount of stress, bad mood, and depression.
- Increases the amplitude of alpha waves.
- Contributes to the consolidation of the brain parts responsible for learning, memory, and emotions.
- Reduces the number of hours of sleep required by the body for rest.
Just give it a chance! Meditation will not hurt you anyways!
Cover photo by Linh Le on Unsplash