It may be difficult to believe that meditating can have a profound effect on our mental well-being. Yet the scientific literature on the many benefits of meditation appears definitive as experts continue to study this ancient, fascinating and powerful practice.
Dr. Jan McBarron, an award-winning bariatric Medical Doctor, nationally syndicated radio show host, writer, and public speaker, considers meditation (or prayer, with which it shares many similarities) to be one of the most important things a person can do to improve their health and well-being.
The proven benefits of meditation extend well beyond just mental well-being to include enhanced longevity, bolstered immunity, weight loss, and improved brain connectivity and functioning.
However, in an era of escalating rates of depression, especially among teens and young adults, the fact meditation can improve mental well-being may be its most important function.
Meditation Tames the Amygdala, Lowers Stress
In the deepest recesses of our mind is its “fear center”, the amygdala, which lights up when we hear negative news. The amygdala was essential to the survival of humanity and our evolutionary ancestors for millions of years, ensuring we rightfully feared the unknown dangers all around us.
In modern times, the amygdala has instead become somewhat of a thorn in our side says Dr. Jan McBarron, filling us with anxiety over every trifling matter in our hectic lives rather than protecting us from threats.
One of meditation’s most potent effects is its ability to completely quiet and even shrink this region of the brain, as demonstrated in a study conducted by researchers from Boston University and Harvard.
Regular meditation also lowers the production of the stress hormone Cortisol by as much as 50% according to a study out of Rutgers University. That is an incredible benefit, says Jan McBarron, who says that Cortisol not only ravages our minds with stress and an overly active fight or flight response, but our bodies as well, increasing inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and the prevalence of disease. Research also shows Cortisol stimulates the appetite leading to weight gain.
Meditation Boosts Several “Feel-Good” Chemicals
Meditation does not just stop at lowering stress and quieting our brain’s fear center, it also actively boosts the production of multiple chemicals that make us feel good.
One of the most important is serotonin, the so-called “happy” neurotransmitter that interacts with nearly every cell in our brain. Another is gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of calmness and mental clarity, while also lowering anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Different studies have found that mindfulness boosts the production of both of those neurotransmitters.
A 1995 study found that meditation also boosts the production of endorphins, a neurotransmitter that Dr. Jan McBarron says is responsible for the “runner’s high” effect of elevated mood, motivation, and confidence. That study found that meditation was even more effective than running for triggering the release of endorphins.
These represent just a small sampling of the incredibly diverse benefits of meditation on the mind and body. Another advantage: it is completely free to practice and can be done just about anywhere and at any time, even if only for a few blissful minutes of absolute stillness.