The Various Benefits of Meditation
We’ve talked a good bit about mindfulness meditation before – but mostly based on the idea of stress reduction. There are many, many more benefits to taking the time for your body and mind to have the break, rest, and restoration from a practice like meditation, and the one we’re going to talk about today is one of my favorite subjects – hormones.
Mindfulness meditation can be one of the key factors for getting your hormones rebalanced without drastic chemical measures. By resetting your system through things like this, along with a good diet and careful supplementation, you could get set on a better, healthier, happier path for the rest of your life!
1. Meditation keeps cortisol and adrenaline in check.
Thousands of years ago, if we were being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, our bodies would release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give us an extra dose of strength and speed. This fight-or-flight reaction is hard-wired into our bodies so that we can defend ourselves or get away from danger. Once the danger has passed, our levels return to normal.
But today, this same hormonal reaction can be triggered by several different (and less severe) circumstances, such as a car alarm, our boss dropping a last-minute assignment on our desk, or screaming kids in the kitchen.
There may not be any man-eating beasts in the area, but there are countless situations in today’s world that are going to keep you stimulated and dump those stress hormones into your system.
When this happens, adrenaline works to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol increases the sugar in your bloodstream, lowers your immune system, and suppresses your digestion. This all stresses your body out and undermines your health.
But when you meditate, you lower cortisol and adrenaline levels in your body and normalize your blood pressure and your heart rate. It’s like the antidote to the stresses of the modern world!
2. Meditation improves your mood with serotonin and oxytocin.
Meditation releases those “feel good” hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin is responsible for maintaining mood balance and is commonly used in many of the antidepressants available. But our bodies actually manufacture this hormone on their own when we meditate.
Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, increases our bonding, romantic attachments, and levels of empathy. Therefore, meditation allows you to feel more love and relate better to the people in your life!
3. Meditation increases your melatonin levels, helping you sleep better.
Melatonin is a hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycles, and your body has its own internal clock that controls how much is produced.
When we are stressed out, our melatonin levels decrease. This is why it’s harder to sleep when we’re stressed out. Fortunately, we can increase our melatonin production with meditation and get that badly needed shut-eye.
– via mindbodygreen
But Does It REALLY Help?
Is there any proof that mindfulness meditation actually has a physical effect on your health and stress level?
Absolutely yes! This is a great intro to a study done recently that compared the cortisol levels of people dealing with stress – some practicing mindfulness meditation, while others used other techniques to cope. What did they find?
Focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis.
The ability to focus mental resources on immediate experience is an aspect of mindfulness, which can be improved by meditation training.
“This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain and first author of a paper describing the work, published this week in the journal Health Psychology.
High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems.
The new findings are the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.
Led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, the Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.
In the new study, Jacobs, Saron and their colleagues used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers’ saliva.
During the retreat, Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies trained participants in such attentional skills as mindfulness of breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness. Participants also practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity.
At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.
– via UC Davis
Have you ever meditated?