The benefits of meditation have been touted for decades now, with seemingly a new scientific study coming out as fast as you can say ‘Aum’. Harvard has proven that meditation rebuilds the grey matter in our brains in as little as 8 weeks, and according to University of Toronto psychiatrist, Steven Selchen, “There’s more than an article a day on the subject in peer-reviewed journals now.” With such vast research into the study of mindfulness, how do we know if we are really practicing meditation?
Fortunately, researchers unearthed some astounding discoveries about the brain’s functioning in ‘real’ meditation as opposed to ‘fake’ meditation.
Dr. Creswell, working with scientists from a handful of additional universities, managed to fake mindfulness, in order to observe physiological changes in the brains of participants. Their findings have now been published in Biological Psychiatry, a Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience.
35 men and women were recruited who were experiencing unemployment, and arguably, high levels of daily stress. Prior to being divided into two groups, one practicing real meditation, and the other a sham experience that looked like meditation, their brains were scanned and blood samples were taken.
Both groups did stretching exercises, but one group was taught a traditional form of mindfulness meditation whereupon they were to pay close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The second group went along doing their stretches without the same formal meditation instructions, while their instructor made jokes. This group was also allowed to chatter and ignore all bodily sensations as they stretched.
None of the participants knew if they were in the ‘real’ meditation or ‘sham’ meditation group.
Upon finishing a three-day ‘meditation’ session, both groups reported feeling refreshed and less stressed, however, follow-up brain scans told the real truth about ‘fake’ meditation.
The group who had practiced real mindfulness meditation showed higher communication in portions of their brains that are associated to calm and focus than those who were in the sham meditation group.
Shockingly, four months later, the real meditation group also showed a much lower level of a blood marker called Interleukin-6, which is known to cause inflammation, and subsequently, disease in the body – even though very few were still meditating.
That means in just three days of meditating mindfully, an entire group of people experienced prolonged calm, focus, and reduced markers for disease.
Dr. Creswell is rather certain that the meditation is what caused the reduction in Interlukin-6, but he has no idea how it actually works, or what ‘dose’ of meditation is needed to keep inflammation down long term.
Anecdotal accounts have given people great motivation to meditate for just a few minutes every day. People who have even a brief, but regular meditation habit have reported experiencing greater clarity, reduced feelings of overwhelm and greater resolve to accomplish their goals.
In fact, one study led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School taught mindfulness to a group of people with clinical levels of anxiety and found that 90% experienced significant reductions in anxiety and depression.
Now that we even have a study proving that ‘real’ meditation works better than ‘fake’ meditation or a placebo, isn’t it time to carve a few minutes out of your day for this life-changing practice?
Sure, your family members might be noisy, or you travel too much, or you are sick, but there really is no reason NOT to meditate. Here are some tips to get in a ten-minute meditation for the busiest people:
- You can meditate on a plane without anyone even knowing. Just close your eyes and mindfully feel every sensation that arises in your body.
- If you live in a busy household, try waking up just fifteen minutes before everyone else to practice a few moments of calm awareness before the hectic day begins.
- If you are sick – what better way to help your body recuperate, than by focusing on your breath, and allowing the magic of mindfulness to start healing you?
- Got family in town? Let them know you have to run out for an errand, and practice 10 minutes of mindfulness in your car before you grab that loaf of bread or drop off the dry cleaning.
See if you can keep up a 10-minute meditation practice for 30 days. By then you’ll have created a habit, and you can add momentum to your accomplishments by slowly sitting in mindfulness for longer stretches. If your attempting the ‘real’ thing – you will see improvements in your focus, mood, and even your health!
Image credit: Lazamunda.org