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Meditation is like a wonder drug without undesirable side effects. Research shows it can reverse DNA damage, improve brain structure, drop heart disease risk, boost immunity, increase energy and reduce inflammation. A meditative mind may instill immensely improved health.
Over the years, published research has demonstrated that the practice of regular meditation can increase brain density, boost connections between neurons, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, provide clarity of thought and increase positive mood endorphins. Other published studies have shown meditation can improve physical functioning, decrease chronic disease risks and enhance overall quality of life. These studies demonstrate that regular meditation effectively supports mental, emotional and physical health in numerous tangible ways. In building upon this strong body of evidence, researchers are continuing to deepen our understanding of the profound and inspirational benefits offered by regular meditation practice in everyday life.
UCLA Researchers Uncover Brain Benefits Of Meditation
Most recently, neuroscientists at UCLA have shown another fascinating neural effect of regular meditation: the ability to increase “cortical gyrification” of the brain. Cortical gyrification refers to the folding of the cerebral cortex, a function that allows the brain to process information faster. The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of neural tissue in the brain and serves an important role in controlling memory, consciousness, thought processing, decision making, attention and awareness. During cortical gyrification, the tissues of the cerebral cortex fold, creating indented fissures and creases called sulci and gyri, which increase neural processing and neurotransmitter communication. Increased gyrification enhances the brain’s capacity for computing information, maintaining focus and attention, creating and retrieving memory, processing logic, forming decisions, and performing other mental tasks.
The neuroscientists at UCLA compared meditators who possessed various levels of experience and frequency of practice to people who never meditated. Among the meditators, they found significant increases in cortical folding across a wide area of the brain responsible for numerous functions beyond rapid information processing and retrieval. Additional areas of the brain that are shown to be markedly affected by meditation involve emotional and mental health capacities, ability to control emotions, heightened awareness, introspection, and more. This finding supports some of the more noticeable results of regular meditation: increased compassion for self and others, enhanced self-awareness and introspection, and greater emotional stability.
Researchers also found significant increases in cortical gyrification among more experienced practitioners. In other words, the longer a person had been practicing regular meditation, the greater the beneficial changes in his brain.
As a holistic physician and meditation practitioner with more than 25 years of experience, I have always believed strongly in the mental and emotional benefits of regular mindful meditation practice. And the physical payoffs are equally impressive. We all know that reducing stress can dramatically improve health on a number of levels. Regular mindful meditation has been shown to protect against and reverse DNA (telomere) damage, boost immune function, reduce cardiovascular disease risks, decrease inflammation, improve outcomes in cancer, reduce side effects of conventional treatment, increase vital energy and expand physical capacity.
As regular meditation practice becomes better understood and more widely practiced, more and more doctors and health practitioners are recommending these ancient disciplines to their patients. If you’re a health provider, meditation can help you become a better healer and clinician, increasing your diagnostic and therapeutic skills significantly and allowing you to connect in more meaningful ways with your patients and community. And if you are looking for some extra healing energy to improve your own health, regular meditation can provide a powerful solution.
As evidenced by this UCLA study, meditation is most effective when practiced regularly. Even just 10 minutes a day can offer significant and noticeable benefits over a short period of time.
Tips For Getting Started
While there are countless styles of meditation practice, one of the most profound is the ancient Tibetan practice of Shamatha meditation. Shamatha is Sanskrit for “calm abiding.” This form of meditation is intended to help people access a natural state of tranquility and clarity. The technique involves focusing the breath on a specific object and letting go of all other thoughts, as attention is consistently trained on the process of breathing.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, and pick a small object such as a rock to place on the ground in front of you. Focus your eyes and your breathing on the rock. As thoughts inevitably arise, simply acknowledge and then release them, letting them slip away with each out-breath. When your mind wanders off, gently bring your attention back to your breathing and the rock, visualizing each inhalation and exhalation going to and from the rock.
Meditation And Healing Retreat
I frequently teach meditation techniques to health practitioners, patients and the general public, to help expand people’s understandings of these simple yet profound practices. With a strong focus on Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy and practice, these in-depth meditation workshop retreats are approved for 28.5 CEUs for acupuncturists in California and nationwide. For more information about these events, visit www.dreliaz.org/events.
As you become more practiced at meditation, you will likely notice significant improvements in your energy, health and mental/emotional balance. You may find that as distractions and obscurities are peeled away during mindful meditation practice, the space between thoughts becomes greater and more profound. As we slowly turn down the constant chatter of our minds, we can begin to access deeper aspects of consciousness for growth and healing. This peeling process can make room for your true inner nature of love, compassion, peace and tranquility to arise and expand naturally, benefiting yourself and those around you exponentially.
To me, one of the most beautiful and profound aspects of meditation is that this process of growth and unfolding (as well as cortical folding) can continue throughout our lives. After all, we can never have too much love, compassion and clarity.