By Marc Courtiol
Anyone who has seriously tried meditation knows that it can be beneficial in a number of ways, but these benefits are not always easy to pinpoint. According to Buddhist thought, it is wrong to meditate specifically to benefit oneself, and practitioners are taught not to have goals in mind during meditation, as goals keep you from getting a clear mind. Yet even though we are taught not to look for benefits of meditation, there is no denying that they are there. People who meditate daily feel calmer, more driven, and more ready to handle the ups and downs of life. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this.
Muddying the waters even further is a recent UCLA study finding that meditation has measurable benefits for brain health. When you add this to the mental and physical health effects that meditators already know about, this simple practice becomes essential to any naturally healthy lifestyle.
The findings of the UCLA study are simple: Meditation helps foster white-matter fiber cells in the brain. These are cells that aid in all-around mental functioning, including everyday cognitive processes. While these fibers tend to wear down as we age, they can be preserved through good health and, as the study finds, meditation.
But it is not only that meditation prevents cognitive decline. It also encourages growth of the brain cells, which are notoriously stubborn to regenerate. So if you feel your mind growing more sluggish with age and are worried that it is all downhill from here, try meditation. If you do it properly and keep the daily habit going for the long term, you should eventually begin to notice a sharpening of your mental faculties and an overall greater clarity of mind.
But where meditation really does its heavy lifting is in the mental health realm. Unfortunately, too many people in today’s fast-paced world neglect to take time away from the stressors and the overactive through processes that keep us going all day long. Meditation gives you the chance to take a break from all these thoughts. Any time you feel stress, taking some time away to quiet your mind is the best way to calm yourself down and refresh your mind. Afterwards, you return to your normal life with a new outlook.
And meditation does more than just reduce stress. It also produces a general sense of well being that can carry into all aspects of life. While people with serious clinical depression often need more serious treatment than meditation on its own, meditation in addition to other measures can go a long way toward fighting depression, anxiety, and self-defeating thoughts. It is not exactly an antidepressant, but the clarity meditation lends to your life helps put all the good and bad things into perspective.
Often understated is meditation’s positive effects on one’s physical health. It is not as physically beneficial as yoga or other types of exercise, but the simple act of sitting with a strong posture for a stretch of time does help strengthen the spine and neck muscles. Meanwhile, many meditators make an effort to carry their meditation posture into the rest of their lives, and good posture has considerable health and mood benefits.
At the same time, it is believed throughout the natural health community that meditation goes great along with all types of health treatments. For example, if you are undergoing physical therapy or treatment for an illness, meditation can help your body’s systems run smoothly, which helps you recover more quickly. Also, by reducing stress and improving your mental and brain health, meditation gives a boost to your immune system and helps encourage you to live healthfully in other aspects of life.