I recently read a scientific research article which described the benefits of meditation ("Meditators Under the Microscope" by Hugh Delehanty). In it, Delehanty recounts how Daniel Goldman, author of the bestseller Emotional Intelligence, and his buddy Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist, set about to find the lasting traits that meditation produces which go beyond the heightened states you can experience in the actual meditation session itself. They decided to embark on this project after an encounter they had with the Dalai Lama who challenged them to take some of the time-honored meditation practices and test them in the lab. The Dalai Lama then suggested that if the results proved that meditation is of benefit to people, "then spread them as widely as you can," Goldman recalled the Dalai Lama saying. Upon conclusion of the study, they saw evidence that suggested that while meditation's impact on health and performance is certainly important, more intriguing was the role the practice plays in enduring qualities such as selflessness, equanimity and impartial compassion. Basically, what are the enduring internal changes that persist after your meditation session and in your daily life and relationships.
No surprise that some of the strongest areas of research centered on attention. Researchers at MIT and UC Santa Barbara found that merely eight minutes of meditation practice improved concentration and reduced mind-wandering. They also found that mindfulness had a dramatic effect on working memory - the facility we have to manipulate stored information in order to reason and make decisions. They even studied one group of students who participated in a two-week course in meditation training and found that it boosted their graduate school entrance exam (GRE) scores by more than 30%!
When I teach new students how to meditate, the first thing we discuss is how meditation reduces stress. We talk about how the chronic stress of our daily lives keeps us in a state of "fight and flight" which can ultimately lead to chronic illnesses and other disease if left untreated. A landmark study done through Emory University showed that meditation significantly lowers the activity in the amygdala, that part of the brain that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Imagine the difference in your day-to-day if you could reduce your daily stress through the simple practice of meditation.
A third area that showed solid results was in the study of compassion. According to Davidson, compassion practices work very quickly, sometimes producing effects in as little as eight days of practice. Deepak Chopra who I studied under, always says "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience", it's just that we have forgotten that. This study reminds us that the practice of meditation reacquaints us with the quality of compassion in ourselves that is already there so that we can make it more accessible in our daily lives. Other studies have found that compassion meditation strengthens the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the brain's circuits for joy and happiness.
But don't take my word for it! Join us sometime at Satsang House for an Introduction to Meditation, Community Meditation or a private session and begin your journey toward rediscovering the joy, happiness and compassion that's already within you. Click the link below to explore all of the course offerings at Satsang House or feel free to give me a ring to discuss your path or if you have any questions! 858-248-0488. I look forward to welcoming you into the beautiful community at Satsang House!