The Scientific Reason why Meditation should be Integrated into your Practice

In case you missed it (ICYMI), we are currently in an exciting period of time known as “the age of the brain”. Maybe I am just biased towards this; I am a graduate student at Rutgers working in a neurobiology lab. Either way, with the advent of BRAIN initiative (costing an estimated $3 billion), I think it is important to educate ourselves about this topic. After all, some of our tax dollars are going to fund this research.

Before I get into the subject of this blog, let me quickly qualify myself and tell you how this blog dea came about. In 2011, I was forced to enter into recovery for the first time for a slew of self destructive behaviors ranging from addiction to extreme exercising. After deciding silver bracelets and anklets were not a good look for me, I entered a rehab facility where I was diagnosed with addiction, PTSD, anorexia, depression, ADD, GAD, and OCD (I think that’s it?).

I was pretty mentally f*cked up and was incapable of making sound decisions.
It was recommended in this facility that I start practicing yoga and meditation in order to be successful in the real world and a functioning human being. Of course I didn’t listen, at first. After a couple years of relapse and misery and trying things my way, I decided that I may actually be wrong (hard to believe, I know) and began to incorporate meditation into my “recovery tool box”.

Meditation turned out to be a game changer, so much so that I felt the need to buy a ridiculously priced meditation pillow. After one meditation session, I was able to find what I had been looking for this whole time. This lead to me yoga and then to this amazing/beautiful SHINE community.

Sometime during the summer, our fearless leader Wanda told all of us who work here to write a blog on the topic of their choosing. Being a type A perfectionist, I had to come up with an amazing topic. After a crazy first semester teaching demanding students while working on my thesis/publication that I began to realize the benefits that yoga and meditation provided for me. Of course being a scientist, I wanted to explore whether or not yoga and meditation have been researched by neuroscientists. After conducting a quick search, there are scores of articles about both topics. Rather than give you guys a headache and try to decipher the jargon that us egomaniac scientists love to use, I will KISS (another of my many challenges).

One of the first people to scientifically test the effects of meditation and mindfulness was Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar. In her first study, she compared long term meditation practioners and yogis to a control group who never meditated. What she found was that the long term meditators had increased gray matter in specific regions of the brain and they either had stronger or weaker neuronal connections between them.

That is the scientific reason as to why meditation works. Science also recently began conducting similar studies in regards to yoga practice and the results are quite similar.

Although science may have proposed a mechanism for how meditation and yoga are helpful, does it actually work? From my personal experience, the answer is a resounding yaaaasssssss!!! Here is how (in relation to the scientific findings):

*Meditation has placed my PTSD into remission (along with other methods) and I can definitely attribute my low dose of antidepressants to meditation. Thanks increased gray matter!

*I am no longer on anxiety medications, don’t overreact to situations (most of the time). This is especially true in my relationships with other people. Meditation has allowed me to become calm and therefore present to my reactions.The stronger connection between regions of my brain allows me to pause and think before I act and understand others in a way I was incapable of. I believe a big reason I am capable of getting along with difficult people at work and being non-reactive of others is because of my meditation and yoga practice.

*Meditation and finding breath in yoga allows me to think rationally through difficult situations where my brain tells me the only way out is something destructive. I can meditate on the problem and think of a solution rather than feel stuck.

*Meditation and yoga allow me to UNBECOME all of the things I told myself I have to be. This is life changing. The water pourer at the sweat lodge I go to as well as my yogi friend Capt CJ Keller always talk about how these practices allow us to unlearn behaviors that no longer serve us. Meditation breaks down my old beliefs in order to become my true self.

This past December. One of my students was literally freaking out that she was going to fail the class because she had a 71 average. I suggested to her to do a guided meditation every day before the final exam. After 7 days of meditation, my student was able to get a 96 on her final and end up with a B in the class.

If you don't know how to start your meditation journey, your next Savasana or YouTube are great places to start. YouTube offers a plethora of short guided meditations that I have found to be useful. To me it seems pretty obvi as to why meditation is so important; I say try it!!! The worst thing that happens is that you wasted 10 - 30 minutes of your life, which is NBD, right?!