Meditation, for many, is a visualization of a cross-legged individual with closed eyes, straight body, chanting lips, and a mind at peace with themselves. But meditation is more than what meets the eye. It is an ancient mind and body practice estimated to have started around 5,000 BC in India.

Today, meditation has evolved to reduce stress and anxiety and has become a widely held method of relaxation. It is about training the mind to induce a state of consciousness that promotes a sense of serenity and increases concentration. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) meditation is practiced by around 18 million adults in the U.S., or approximately 8 percent of the total American population.

How does brain work during meditation?

Human brain, which is made up of 100 billion nerve cells, has its own way of working when exposed to certain activities. During meditation, the brain functions in a significantly different manner. There are several meditation methods like mindfulness, mantra, guided meditation, etc. But Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo in Norway, and his team define it in a different way. They classify all types of meditation into two groups – concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation. They define concentrative meditation as a technique that focuses on breathing or on certain thoughts, which in turn blocks out other thoughts. Nondirective meditation is described as a method that focuses on breathing or on a meditation sound.

The team conducted a study to find out if the brain really functioned differently when a person meditated. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2014 and were highlighted by The team conducted the study on 14 participants undergoing Acem meditation – a nondirective meditation technique.

The participants had to undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the time they were resting and when they were practicing one nondirective and one concentrative meditation technique each. The researchers found that the participants practicing nondirective meditation had higher brain activity in areas associated with processing self-related thoughts and feelings than when they were resting. However, when the same people practiced concentrative meditation, their brain activity was nearly identical to their activity levels at rest.

According to Davanger, these findings suggested that nondirective meditation “allowed for more room to process memories and emotions than concentrated meditation.” He also said that it was noteworthy to see a mental task like nondirective meditation resulting in even higher activity levels than indulged in when the brain was resting. Davanger stated that it has become important for his team to derive further conclusions that determine the underlying mechanism of meditation. Such analysis will help in outlining the benefits of meditation in other areas where it has not been practiced.

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How is meditation helpful?

Meditation is practiced to get inner peace, a sense of freedom from anxiety, depression, and stress. However, the effects of meditation have gone beyond the usual and have been beneficial for other mental and physical shortcomings. Meditation can improve sleep quality, help in reducing substance use, is effective in reducing high blood pressure, and also helps in greater processing of memory and emotions.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation, also known as present-focused awareness, is the art of focusing on body and breath sensations. This is usually practiced by concentrating on an internal or external stimulus, such as a visual scene, breathing, or a particular word or phrase.

This ancient practice promotes tranquility, improves mental balance, accelerates recovery during any kind of ailment, and enriches mental and physical well-being. Additionally, meditation, as an alternative therapy, encourages a positive interaction between the mind and body, which assists in understanding the reasons behind one’s unpredictable behavior.

Efficacy of mindfulness meditation

Even though numerous studies have endorsed the productiveness of meditation in promoting mental and physical health, most of them have focused only on addressing the symptoms of mental health conditions rather than addressing the underlying cause. However, researchers from Johns Hopkins University probed roughly 19,000 studies on meditation to find 47 trials that met the requirement of a well-designed study. The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggested that meditation programs can assist in reducing a multitude of small and moderate psychological afflictions, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

Another study, which delved into the effect of meditation on the brain and the specific mechanisms responsible for alleviating anxiety, suggested that meditation reduced anxiety at the neural level. After scanning the brains of the participants using brain imaging, the researchers found that meditation activated the regions of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and anterior insula. These brain regions control worrying, thinking, and emotions and they displayed symptomatic relief following meditation sessions.

In addition, other studies have discovered that mindfulness meditation can assist individuals with conditions like high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis, certain psychological disorders, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia, improving overall mental and physical health.

Mindfulness meditation is considered as a complementary practice that assists in alleviating anxiety. Due to the involvement of the body and physical movement, some individuals with physical restrictions may not be able to take part in some forms of mindfulness meditation. Therefore, individuals with physical limitations and health conditions are advised to inform their health care providers about their condition before engaging in meditative activities.

Benefits of meditation in recovery

Due to the mounting evidence of effectiveness of meditation, both health practitioners and people are adopting it as an alternative therapy. Moreover, its growing popularity is accredited to its ability to discourage anxiety, stress, and other stress-related health problems without the complications of side effects of medication.

If you or someone you love is battling a mental disorder or an addiction and is looking for inpatient mental health or addiction treatment centers, then get in touch with the Invictus Health Group. Our network of reputed mental health and addiction treatment rehab centers is staffed by credible therapists that combine the benefits of alternative therapies like meditation with conventional medication management and psychotherapies to achieve lasting results. For more information about the facilities affiliated with our network, call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 or chat online with a representative.

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