Meditation and the Brain
A few months ago I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy with Dr. Mark Hyman, in this particular podcast the topic was meditation. Dr. Hyman was talking with Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation, and their discussion really got the wheels in my head turning. Meditation wasn’t something I had ever really thought about doing until I heard all of the benefits it has to offer. I now recommend it to a majority of patients because almost every human on the planet can benefit from some form of meditation. Who doesn’t need to sleep better, decrease their anxiety, decrease chronic stress, boost up their immune system, focus more and increase their productivity? And those are just a few of the benefits.
*Disclaimer, I am by no means an expert on meditation. There are many different forms of meditation, I am familiar with and utilize the Z Technique, an adapted version of the Ziva Technique. I have found this method of meditation to be very effective for me personally and to others that try it and stick with it.
The science behind meditation
- Different forms of meditation will affect the brain in different ways. Levine et al. (2017) reports.
- The American Heart Association put out an informative scientific statement in regards to meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction. There is data showing modest benefit on the outcomes for cardiovascular related issues utilizing meditation as secondary prevention. Further research is still needed in regards to meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction (Levine et al., 2017).
- A two-month mindfulness meditation program resulted in increased left‐sided anterior brain electrical activation. This is associated with a pattern of positive affect and emotion. Whereas, loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation practices have been shown to alter the amygdala and ventral striatum in the brain, these areas of the brain are directly related to a person’s emotional processing system.
- There have been multiple MRI studies that show increased gray matter in multiple brain regions in individuals who meditate versus individuals that do not meditate. Most of these studies are looking at individuals who practice mindfulness-based meditation (Hölzel et al., 2011).
- According to Hölzel et al. (2011), several studies have shown mindfulness-based meditation to be positively effective in regards to symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is due to the fact that the serotonin system and norepinephrine system are optimally modulated through mindfulness-based meditation.
The Brain and Stress
We all know about stress and while stress isn’t all bad it certainly isn’t all good either. Having a little stress in life is a good thing, I mean we have to make our sympathetic nervous system work sometime, right? But what is dangerous and causes issues is staying stressed all of the time. Chronic stress can be a root of many chronic illnesses we see on a daily basis.
If a person walks around their entire life in a state of chronic stress, due to work, school, family, poor food choices, etc. more than likely they will end up with some health issue such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and the list goes on. Meditation is a great tool to combat chronic stress and help the body deal with stress and get rid of it.
Why would we not want to meditate and encourage our patients to do the same? Meditation is safe, comes with no harmful side effects and it’s virtually free (it cost me $13 to learn how to effectively meditate). Many companies around the world have seen how meditation can increase an individual’s performance and they are offering it to their employees. Fletcher (2019) reports that one of the world’s largest insurance companies, Aetna, offered mindfulness courses to employees. The employees that participated gained an average of 62 minutes a week of productivity and saved Aetna $3,000 per employee every year.
This is exciting stuff! I encourage all of you to consider meditation and its benefits for not only you but your patients, as well.
- Fletcher, E. (2019). Stress less, accomplish more: Meditation for extraordinary performance. William Morrow.
- Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011).
- Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36–43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
- Levine, G. N., Lange, R. A., Bairey-Merz, C. N., Davidson, R. J., Jamerson, K., Mehta, P. K., … American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; and Council on Hypertension (2017). Meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(10), e002218. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.002218