The Science Behind the Practice of Meditation


Meditation is one of the oldest spiritual and mind-altering practices known to man. It has been practiced for literal millennia by yogis, Buddhists, and spiritual individuals of all types. The effects of meditation are innumerable. The practice is said to provide peace of mind and relaxation in your body. It can open you up to new feelings and experiences while also helping you understand yourself and your place in the universe.

The benefits of meditation are well-documented by its practitioners, but the realm of modern science has taken a while to catch up. Studies on the benefits of meditation are still in their infancy. Clinical studies, however, have proven surprising to many scientific skeptics. The spiritual journey of meditation may offer some tangible benefits after all.

Reduced Negativity

In two clinical studies by doctors at UCLA, meditation and overall mindfulness were said to reduce an individual’s general negativity. The doctors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to take a look at the brain patterns of various subjects. One study indicated that simply by naming a negative emotion, the subjects were able to reduce the effects of that emotion.

The doctors studied the amygdala, which is a section of the brain that is responsible for the intensity of strong emotions like fear, anger, or sadness. Activity in the amygdala skyrockets when you feel any of these emotions. Doctors noticed, however, that when the subjects ascribed a name to the emotion they felt (rather than just feeling the emotion), activity in the amygdala slowed down considerably.

In meditation, you are effectively identifying stressors and emotions and becoming more attuned to your inner thought processes. Ascribing a name to your emotions is very similar to becoming mindful of those same emotions. Thus, when you become mindful of your state, you are more willing to work through your issues instead of just wallowing in the emotions.

Promoting Relaxation

As part of those same studies, doctors also found that an overall sense of mindfulness was responsible for the promotion of calmness in one’s life. Doctors asked their subjects to identify themselves as more or less mindful of the inner-workings of their emotional state. Subjects who identified themselves as more mindful showed a surprising increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex when presented with stress-inducing factors. The prefrontal cortex is known for its ability to mitigate strong emotional responses. Subjects who identified themselves as less mindful, on the other hand, were more apt to show activity in their amygdala when exposed to stress-inducing factors.

What this all means, of course, is that if you can identify the emotions you’re experiencing, then you are more capable of producing a positive and calm response. If you practice meditation, then you probably already understand the power the practice has on your well-being. Fostering happiness isn’t easy and negative emotions are always going to be present in some capacity. But having the ability to be tied into your internal state of mind offers proven (and now scientific) benefits.