Meditation (dhyana) origins from the vedic times of ancient India. However our culture is not the only one to practice meditation. The practice of meditation has been prevailing throughout human history among diverse cultures. The word meditation as defined by Latin meditari, means “to engage in contemplation or reflection” however the same is defined as “medicine” in Greek language.
As it is said this practice is not new and its use in healing and enlightenment has been known over ages.. In fact, all religious traditions practice some forms of meditation and generally associated with healing, spiritual growth, and enlightenment.
Since there are innumerable practices or forms present all over the world, it is very difficult to summarise it in one definition. And lack of this operational definition or demarcation hinders its standardised use in clinical practice.
In recent study, however, a set of criteria for a working definition of “meditation” considering both traditional and clinical parameters is defined.
Any practice is defined as meditation if it
- Utilizes a specific and clearly defined technique
- Involves logic relaxation
- A self-induced state
- A state of psychophysical relaxation (muscle relaxation) somewhere in the process
- Use of a self-focus skill or anchor for attention
It may also involve
- An altered state or mode of consciousness, mystic experience, enlightenment or suspension of logical thought processes
- To get embedded in a religious/ spiritual/ philosophical context
- An experience of mental silence
Visible effects of Meditation
Considering, meditation is a mental activity and hence present several psychological effects. Just keep on counting how many!
- Perceptual Ability:
Do you wish to possess supernatural abilities such as able to hear sounds from all around you, ability to see even in dark, able to run fast as wind? Well we really can’t make it happen in real but there are certain abilities that you will surely get refined on meditating.
The efficiency with which any sensory stimuli is received, perceived and responded to is counted as the perpetual ability. Meditation has shown to decrease visual threshold and increase auditory acuity. Also an increased visual imagery ability, enhanced attentive ability, reduction of perceptual noise, increased reaction time and enhanced perceptual motor speed.
Saying in short meditators are more attentive and fast in every work.
Memory and intelligence:
Tired of not able to memorize lot of stuff ? Meditation can be a way. It has potent effects on both short and long term memory, cognitive functions of the brain, intelligence and learning abilities. But as it is said it’s not a one day process.
Pain can be in many aspects be bothering in daily activities, and the first remedy we think of is painkillers. But don’t we know the side effects it creates. A shift to a more effective and harmless practice can be considered. Although meditation is not curative but it can diminish the sensations of both physical and psychological pain to a great extent.
Anxiety, depression and associated insomnia; in many ways are related to the mental and emotional stress accumulating in our brain. Why not beat them, even before they approach? Yes, meditation will leave you stress free, peaceful and calm. Also transcendental meditation (a form of silent mantra meditation, with a goal of “pure awareness”) is clinically being practiced on patients with depression and anxiety disorders in some places. And it is found to be much aidful to cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT). Decreasing the time for treatment overall.
Can you think of some other technique that can serve so many purposes? Are you still not mesmerized with the magic of meditation? Then you should consider these physiological or systemic effects too.
An increase in oxygen metabolisation and carbon dioxide elimination. Also helps in maintaining a controlled breathing pattern.
There can be a momentarily increase or decrease depending on the type of meditation practiced however significant decrease in heart rate is observed in long term practitioners.
Meditation can lower the blood pressure by a bit in normal and mild hypertensive people however its effect readily disappears once the practice is discontinued.
Meditation has shown to lower the levels of cortisol and epinephrine in the blood. It is also helpful in maintaining a normal menstrual cycle in females. Above all it can relieve symptoms occurring due to pre menstrual syndrome and post menopausal syndrome.
Maintaining peace over mind hence explains the effect of preventing sympathetic overstimulation and its fatal consequences.
All types of metabolism are affected in one or other way and leads to an overall health improvement such as decreased cholesterol levels, increased oxygen availability, increased energy levels and a healthy mind.
A bingo for all over here. Meditation can not only slow the process of ageing but can also stop or reverse it. So even if you are realizing this fact only now it is never too late. You can start today and be how beautiful and young you were before, holding no regrets!
By now you must be surely mesmerized by the magic meditation possesses. But are you not curious about what’s actually making it happen?
Neuroscience behind meditation
A wide variety of researches have been performed all over the world to decode the process causing these great effects on the body. Several observations are noted in different researches but no definitive process is described or validated yet. We would like to throw light on the possible mechanisms and changes happening inside the brain during meditation and the probable effects they can create.
Increased and changed pattern of blood flow in cerebral regions. Saying more specifically, an increased blood flow in frontal and anterior cingulate regions.
Frontal lobe of cerebrum holds important cognitive functions such as memory, intelligence, problem solving ability, language and judgment. It is considered to be the control panel of our personality and ability to communicate.
The same goes for anterior cingulate region, it is too involved in cognitive functions such as decision-making, impulse control and emotions.
Long term practitioners show evidences of increased outer brain thickening i.e. the gray matter thickening. It is also considered to be a possible mechanism in preventing aging. Since aging shows a decrease in grey matter of the brain. An another physiology suggestive of preventing aging is the improved telomerase activity and increased telomere length.
Evidence from several studies tell about an increase in alpha wave intensity during meditation. Also an increase in theta wave activity in long term practitioners is observed which provide peaceful and pleasant experience with intact self awareness.
Alpha waves are slow and high amplitude brain waves with frequency ranging from eight to thirteen cycles per second. Alpha activity is generally indicator of deep relaxed state of mind.
When comparing activities of both hemispheres the left hemisphere is first activated but a shift to right hemisphere activity is observed later. In contrast to this an inhibition or suppression of cortical activity of both hemispheres is observed in long term practitioners.
Talking about effects on different parts of the brain, meditation is shown to have increased cortical arousability and decreased limbic arousability which lead to heightened perception and reduced emotional activity. Its most potent effect is seen on the activity of amygdala, which decreases on meditation practice, therefore a less emotional fluctuation is seen.
Neural activity continuously evolves during meditation practice and is dynamic.
An article by team 2, writers:
Akshansh Prasad ( Institute of medical sciences, BHU)
Vaishnavi Raj (Institute of medical sciences, BHU)