The Meditation Link to Happy Chemicals, Cell Repair & Tissue Regeneration

Most of us have been told at one point or another in our lives to “take a deep breath and relax.”  Turns out, there is scientific evidence in the context of meditation to back up that advice.

But what exactly is meditation anyway? There are different ways to meditate, and because it is such a personal practice, there are many ways to go about meditating. When I write about meditation, I am referring to the act of relaxing with your eyes closed or open in a downward gaze, and focusing on the flow of your breath; if a random thought arises, acknowledge the thought and then non-judgmentally let it pass by gently bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath. It may sound easy, but keep in mind that it is a practice, it takes time and effort and to cultivate this psychological stance. Some days, and with certain emotions, it will be easier than at other times to meditate. During those difficult times, remember to take a compassionate stance towards yourself; your struggle is perfectly okay.

Most of us are familiar on a general level with the powerful effects of meditation on the mind and body. Physically, it can reduce blood pressure, bolster the immune system, and enable the body to thrive (Schneider et. al., 2012).  This state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of happy chemicals, such as serotonin, and to the growth hormone that repairs cells and regenerates tissue.

There is a growing body of research that has found brief periods of meditative practice helpful in reprogramming the mind (Moyer et al., 2011). Regular meditation can lead to structural changes in the brain, specifically, changing the way that neurons communicate with each other, creating new neural pathways for how we process emotions.  

Meditation can also increase gray matter in the brain, increasing the cortical thickness of your brain, associated with decision making, attention, and memory (Kurth, MacKenzie-Graham, Toga, and Luders, 2014). This leads to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability, and enhanced focus. A meditation practice can reduce the impact of aging on the brain. This means that our cognitive functioning declines at a slower pace by greater protection of our “telomeres,” which are the ends of our chromosomes.

Psychologically, a meditative stance can be helpful in achieving emotional balance. Emotional balance is being able to remain grounded and healthfully cope with our own neurotic behavior and challenging emotional states.  As we work through our own emotionally-laden memories and experiences, we can achieve greater freedom and greater balance. Our responses to events in our lives are then not as tainted by the burdens we carry, but are more true, direct, and appropriate to the situation.

Another psychological benefit of meditation is a greater state of calmness. In a meditative mind, upsetting thoughts can occur and be witnessed, rather than taking over entirely. Upsetting feeling states occur in all humans; however, through more self-awareness, old feelings that become triggered no longer have to consume the person. In some cases, therapy can be a wonderful place to help cultivate these mindfulness skills and learn how to tolerate and work through difficult feelings.

A greater state of calmness and emotional balance is scientifically referred to as neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain's ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input.

In reality, you don't need hundreds or even dozens of hours of meditation training to have an impact on brain functioning. And that is welcome news for people who are intrigued by the benefits of meditation, but find the intensive practice undertaken by life-long meditators to be a daunting time commitment.  

Remember, seemingly small acts can have a great impact. The more compassionate you are with yourself along this meditative journey, the greater the effect of this relaxation practice.

References

Kurth, F., Mackenzie-Graham, A., Toga, A. W., Luders, E. (2014). Shifting brain asymmetry: The link between meditation and structural lateralization. Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience.

Moyer, C. A., Donnelly, M. P. W., Anderson, J. C., Valek, K. C., Huckaby, S. A., Wiederholt, D. A., Doty, R. L., Rehlinger, A. S., Rice, B. L. (2011). Frontal electroencephalographic asymmetry associated with positive emotion is produced by very brief meditation training. Psychological Science.

Schneider, R. H., Grim, C. E., Rainforth, M. V., Kotchen, T., Nidich, S. I., Gaylord-King, C., Salerno, J. W., Kotchen, J. M., Alexander, C. N. (2012). Stress reduction in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: Randomized, controlled trial of transcendental meditation and health education in Blacks.  Circulation Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.


4/29/2015 7:00:00 AM
Dr. Alexandra Emmons
I am a psychologist in private practice. Facilitating self-discovery to live a more free and inspired life. Psychotherapy for health, healing, and fulfillment.
View Full Profile Website: http://www.dralexandraemmons.com/

Comments
I meditate by sitting quietly and praying g. Daily. Reciting my favorite bible verse or hymn. Really helps. Be one with our creator.
Posted by marjorie
This is Hinduism and the cost can be very great. You can be opening up your mind to all sorts of evil. The Bible which offers us peace that surpasses all understanding never tells us to shut down our minds but to always be on the alert!
Posted by Jeanne
This is slightly misleading..."A greater state of calmness and emotional balance is scientifically referred to as neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain's ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input"

Neuroplasticity can cause bad things also , like chronic pain, depression and post traumatic stress disorder
Posted by ted
Thank you for the article. I know I seem to feel better when I take time to slow down and meditate. Its nice to find out that the feeling is "real", with real health benefits. Life is busy but I try to take time for relaxation/meditation at least once a week. This article has motivated me to make it a more regular part of my life.
Posted by Eric
I "get" the benefits of meditation. I've tried meditation at various points in my life. I seem to always lose my way when it comes to letting the distracting thoughts pass and continue to concentrate on breathing. Usually at that point I just give up trying and go for a short walk and let my brain wander where it may.

In a time when we are so used to our brains being occupied and busy, what suggestions do you have for someone who can't seem to block out the distracting thoughts?
Posted by Bryan Moore
Thank you Dr. Alexandra. I've always meditated when I'm feeling anxious or trying to relax, but after reading your article, I see there are numerous potential payoffs to doing multiple short sessions. I think I might actually set a couple reminders on my mobile to do a few short sessions during the day.
Posted by John Valenty
Wellness.com does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor do we verify or endorse any specific business or professional listed on the site. Wellness.com does not verify the accuracy or efficacy of user generated content, reviews, ratings or any published content on the site. Use of this website constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use.
©2018 Wellness®.com is a registered trademark of Wellness.com, Inc. Powered by Earnware