Science and spiritual practices such as meditation are not usually associated with one another. However, exponentially growing scientific research on meditation shows that it has many proven benefits for both the mind and the body, therefore, improving your well-being and everyday performance.

Matthieu Ricard, a Ph.D. in molecular genetics, decided to forsake his scientific career and devote his life to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalayas. Ricard has been called the “happiest person in the world.” This, ironically, brought him back to science once again as he came to appreciate the science at the heart of his chosen spiritual path.

In his bookBeyond the Self: Conversations Between Buddhism and Neuroscience,” Ricard discussed with a skeptical neuroscientist the scientific approach to meditation. He clearly explains that meditation students are being assessed by their teachers following a scientific method and their experiences are consistent among all students.

Most importantly, he says, “in the end, what really matters is the way the person gradually changes. If, over months and years, someone becomes less impatient, less prone to anger, and less torn apart by hopes and fears, then the method he or she has been using is a valid one” (1).

On a personal note, I’ve experienced that, during meditation, I practice letting go of my monkey-mind thoughts by “pressing the reset button” everytime I become aware of those thoughts. This not only helps me relax and calm my mind but enables me to apply that same skill to let go what doesn’t serve me in my everyday life.

"in the end, what really matters is the way the person gradually changes"

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION AND NEUROSCIENCE

To date, there are over 1700 published research studies on the health benefits of meditation for both the body and the mind. Over the past two decades, scientific research has increased exponentially showing that mindfulness meditation exerts many beneficial effects on physical and mental health and cognitive performance.

While the exact molecular mechanisms are still unclear, there is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion, and self-awareness.

The brain regions affected by mindfulness meditation are those involved in attention control (the anterior cingulate cortex and the striatum), emotion regulation (multiple prefrontal regions, limbic regions, and the striatum) and self-awareness (the insula, medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex and precuneus).

These studies have reported various positive effects such as a reduction in emotional interference by unpleasant stimuli, decreased physiological reactivity and facilitated return to emotional baseline after response to stress.

In one study, neuroimaging of the meditative brain showed that meditation practice induces functional and structural brain modifications in expert meditators, especially in areas involved in self-awareness and self-regulation (2).

Further research showed that, after 8 weeks, mindfulness meditation increased gray matter (brain cells) in different regions of the brain and correlated with self-reported decreased stress, anxiety, mind-wandering, and insomnia, as well as increased quality of life (3).

There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion, and self-awareness.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Besides improving attention, emotional state, and awareness, and basically, the quality of our life, meditation has many proven health benefits, as a bonus to the practice.

Biologically, meditation affects the subiculum of the hippocampus, which regulates stress. In a high-stress job, techniques like meditation not only help with stress but with mental health in the long run.

In addition to helping practitioners cope with stress, meditation also enables to be more forgiving – which can be so very helpful when dealing with other people who are experiencing high levels of stress and acting out!

Scientific research shows that meditation can help maintain telomeres (the protective ends of our chromosomes) and, as a result, reduce cellular aging and increase lifespan. Regular meditation increases telomere activity, which indicates less cellular and oxidative damage.

Contemplative meditation also decreases heart rate and blood pressure, while transcendental meditation can reverse heart disease since it reduces blood pressure, neck artery thickness, and heart attacks.

Meditation also helps with chronic inflammatory conditions by reducing inflammation in the body.

Advanced meditators have higher levels of serotonin, the happiness molecule, than those who do not meditate. Serotonin decreases after an hour of meditation, making this drop an indicator of rest and relaxation.

Meditation also increases melatonin levels and, consequently, improves wellbeing and sleep (4).

It’s undeniable that meditation has numerous benefits across multiple aspects of our lives. As Self Craft co-founder Cairo Rha, notes, “Research has shown that among the many things that people can do to progress developmentally meditation is the most powerful tool for creating simultaneous advancement across multiple lines of development.”

“Research has shown that among the many things that people can do to progress developmentally meditation is the most powerful tool for creating simultaneous advancement across multiple lines of development.”

HOW TO MEDITATE: SOME PRACTICAL TIPS

Meditation requires practice and patience. Similar to any other new thing that you learn, your brain needs several learning instances to create new neural pathways that will stick and became a habit.

Our brains are much more flexible than we believe, and we are the ones who choose which brain connections or habits we want to develop, strengthen or even weaken. Regardless of what you want to achieve, your brain has the capacity to change and adapt towards your goal.

Meditation, as I define it, is all about letting go. You cultivate the power of surrender. This gives your body deep rest. When you give your body the rest that it needs, it knows how to heal itself. This happens when you’re accessing a state of consciousness that is different from waking, sleeping, or dreaming.

It even gets better! You don’t need a fancy spiritual place or to climb the Everest in order to meditate. If you want to experience the benefits of meditation, there are a few useful Apps (Buddhify, Headspace, Calm, and 1 Giant Mind among others) that you can use without any further training required.

There are a myriad of different ways to meditate and the best one for you, is the one you will actually practice.

Here is one of our favorite meditations at Self Craft, which marries techniques sourced from Buddhist and Native American traditions.

OPEN CENTRE MEDITATION

Open Center meditation works by moving from contraction to expansion. When we do this, we shrink our thoughts back down to size. As we realize that our thoughts or beliefs are only one aspect of a much vaster moment we move from identifying as the contents of our mind to being able to relate to them with a sense of spaciousness. And into this space, we can bring our creative power (5).

The open center meditation has its origins in Vipassana style somatic awareness and a Native American prayer based on offering gratitude in seven directions: east, west, north, south, earth below, sky above. Bringing it all back to the center of the heart (6).

In Creator Coaching, we use the open center meditation to become fully present, access deeper levels of listening and insight, and to activate our creative power.

Here’s a basic guide:

The Practice

Allow yourself to go well and truly off script! The essence of the practice is to create a friendly, welcoming, generous and expanded orientation to life.

  • Rest your attention on your breath for a few cycles.
  • Allow your awareness to move through the various streams of consciousness. Bring your attention to your physical senses, to your emotions, thoughts, energy and attitude.
  • Bring your awareness to the front of your body. Become awake, aware, alive through the front of your body and being. Allow yourself to open to the space in front of you. Welcome all that is front of you. Offer yourself to the space in front of you generously and joyfully. Befriend the space in front of you.
  • Bring your awareness to the back of your body and allow yourself to open to the space behind you. Befriend the space behind you.
  • Bring your awareness to the sides of your body and allow yourself to open to the space to either side of you. Befriend the space to either side of you.
  • Bring your awareness to the base of your body and allow yourself to open to the all that lies below you. Befriend the Earth below you.
  • Bring your awareness to the crown of your head and allow yourself to open to the space in above you. Befriend the space above you.
  • Bring your attention to your being as a whole and allow your sense of expansion to be omnidirectional. This is Open Center.