We all know on some level that meditation is good for us. But what’s the science behind this millennia-old practice? How does it work on the brain to bring us more calm and better health? Experts give us a peek behind the curtain.
“It helps you with memory and concentration, increases resiliency, helps you manage stress better (and) helps you have a positive impact on relationships,” said Monica Vermani, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto and author of A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas. “In relationships, if you’re busy in your mind, you’re reactive. And when you’re mindful and you’re grounded, you have a tendency to respond versus react, meaning to pause and reflect before letting things go out of your mouth that are sometimes hurtful, or negative or judgmental.”
Mindfulness has been shown to not only influence stress pathways in the brain but to help regulate the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary functions like breathing and heart rate. Sending more oxygen to parts of the body with controlled breathing could be the reason many people feel a release of stress and tension after they meditate.
Dr. Deepak Chopra, the founder of the Chopra Foundation and clinical professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, conducted a one-week meditation retreat with healthy women aged 30 to 60 to study the effects of meditation on their stress levels. “In that one week, all the genes that cause self-regulation, homeostasis – in short, healing – went up some 17-fold. All the genes that cause or complicated cancer, heart disease, autoimmune illness (and) accelerated aging went down,” he said.