Sometimes I feel as though science is catching up with ancient truth. Studies on meditation and prayer continue to build upon what religious leaders have been saying for centuries.
Mindfulness is a mental state where a person is focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness includes a number of practices, but meditation is perhaps the most common form. Meditation includes many different types of techniques that help a person achieve a clear or calm state of mind. Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years in religious traditions, but recently it's had a rebirth in mainstream culture.
I think the rebirth of mindfulness is incredibly important for people today because we lead busier lives, saturated with stimuli which is arguably contributing to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve stress reactivity, and increase overall life satisfaction.
So if you want to feel happier and less anxious – it’s time you added mindfulness to your day.
What Does Science Say About Meditation?
In a 2018 study led by the University of California Davis, researchers found after following patients participating in meditation training for 7 years, that there were neurological and cognitive improvements across the board. These study participants experienced profound benefits in their daily lives.
Lead author, Anthony Zanesco stated:
“This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person's life.”
This means as you continue your mindfulness or meditation practice, your brain continues to benefit. What's more, those who regularly meditated reported the ability to handle stress better and an increased sense of well-being.
They also experienced cognitive gains such as decreased anxiety and depression, a deeper satisfaction with their life, and the ability to maintain focus. Perhaps the most fascinating conclusion of this study is that those who regularly meditated didn't show typical age-related cognitive decline.
This study powerfully suggests we could all use a mindfulness practice. All those people you hear raving about meditation aren’t just a bunch of hippies telling you to do so because it feels good – science continues to show that there are actual physiological benefits to these practices.
5 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Boosts Your Immune System
On a 2017 systematic review of mindfulness meditation on the body, scientists found that it had a powerful positive impact on immune system health. Mindfulness meditation specifically supported the immune system and 5 different related physiological benefits, including:
- Reducing circulating inflammatory proteins
- Cellular transcription factors and gene expression
- Boosting immune cell count
- Reducing immune cell aging
- Regulating antibody response
This review found that mindfulness meditation doesn't just feel great, it actually has effects on inflammation markers, cell mediated immunity, and biological aging.
How amazing is that? Your body and immune system loves mindfulness on a cellular level!
Mediation Has Lasting Positive Effects
In a 2011 study on the same participants that were followed up with seven years later in the 2018 study mentioned above, researchers found short term benefits of meditation. Researchers took measurements to assess what they called adaptive socioemotional functioning, which included:
- Avoidant attachment
- Ego resilience
- Openness to experience
- Difficulties in emotion regulation
- Psychological well-being
Patients who went on a intensive meditation retreat, experienced an improvement in their adaptive socioemotional functioning score, which was sustained 5 months after training. This means researchers were able to see benefits in the categories listed above, months after a meditation retreat.
Make Sure You Have Mindfulness Practice
The mindfulness movement is really a return to ancient practices. When you continue to train your brain to be more mindful, present, and conscientious of the world around you, you will feel the psychological benefits.
I can tell you from my own personal mindfulness and prayer practices, that they bring me a sense of calm, peace, and allow me to interact with the world around me in a more intentional way. Even more important is I grew up in a culture of prayer, which is a beautiful way I still use to daily talk to God, however, I realized that I am much more comfortable “doing” the act of prayer vs. sitting silently being present with God and hearing from Him in meditation… I have found this practice to greatly enrich my life as I learn to slow down and be present with the Lord. If you tend to be more comfortably “doing” than simply “being present”, I urge you to cultivate this practice, too!
While there's conflicting research on how long you should meditate to gain benefits, studies suggest that even 7-minutes a day induces changes that improve positive feelings towards yourself and others. It's hard to jump right into an hour of meditation each day, which is why I recommend starting with 7-minutes and building up.
It's all too easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives, going from one task to another and never really taking the time to put a mindfulness practice in place. But I assure you, things like morning routines and meditation rituals have a way of benefiting nearly every aspect of your life. I now wake up and try to pray and meditate before I do anything else, even before my first cup of coffee!
Everyone's mindfulness practice may not look like mine, so here are a few things worth trying:
- Transcendental meditation
- Tai Chi
- Body scans
- Gratitude practices
- Walking meditations
- Sound baths
When it comes to meditation, there are so many different kinds. There are even tools that help you get into a meditative state more easily, such as:
- *Insight Timer
- Muse headband
- Float tanks
*my personal favorites
So if one form of a mindfulness practice doesn't work for you, try another one.
Keep in mind that meditation just like any other skill, takes practice. You won't become a monk or a holy one overnight, so the most important thing to do, is stay consistent. Set aside time in your day for whatever practice you choose, and even if it goes poorly – keep at it!
I would love to hear from you what is working in YOUR life to cultivate a mindful presence…