With growing evidence that meditation has significant health benefits, a 2016 study by a team of researchers from the United States, Spain, and France sought to explain how and why meditation actually works.
The study investigated the difference between “mindful meditation” in a group of experienced meditators vs. “quiet non-meditative activity” in a group of untrained control subjects. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditation group showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
According to researchers, this is the first time a study has documented a rapid alteration in gene expression within meditating subjects. Interestingly, the researchers observed these changes in the SAME genes that anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drugs target! Thus, they speculate that mindful-based training may benefit patients with inflammatory conditions! This and prior studies have prompted the American Heart Association to endorse meditation as an effective cardiac preventative intervention.
Meditation has been found to be helpful for many conditions including stress management, lowering high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. You can incorporate meditation into your life with three simple meditation exercises! The initial advice is “…go slow and be compassionate and gentle with yourself.” Your mind will try to wander (called our “default mode”) which consumes about half of our day, so try to focus (called “focus mode”)!
1) WALKING MEDITATION: At a slow to medium pace, focus on your feet. Notice how your heel hits the ground and then feel the roll of your foot followed by the big toe pushing off prior to the swing phase. Feel for stones under the foot and other interesting sensations. If your mind starts to wander (default mode), gently bring your attention back to your foot (focus mode). You WILL get better with practice, and you’ll soon find it much easier to “focus” during stressful situations!
2) NOVEL EXPERIENCES: It’s much easier to lose focus on the people you see everyday vs. those seen only one time a month. The next time you arrive home from work, pretend you haven’t seen your spouse/friend in 30 days. Give them your undivided attention. Then, try this on co-workers and other people you see every day. Believe me, they WILL notice a difference!
3) GRATITUDE EXERCISES: When you’re not in their presence, focus on a person’s face and send them a “silent gratitude” for being in your life. Try this on family members, friends, co-workers, and others!