MEDITATION AND EATING DISORDER RECOVERY

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why meditate?

some general research on meditation

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Sleep Better: More Sleep at Night Means Better Days

Sleep isn’t just relaxation for eight hours a day—it’s essential to our cognitive functioning. Meditation gives you all sorts of benefits, like enhanced REM sleep and increased levels of melatonin.

Turns out it can even help serious sleep problems. Researchers conducted a study to see if mindfulness meditation would benefit those struggling with chronic insomnia. After eight weeks, those in the meditation training had less total wake time during the night, were more relaxed before going to bed, and reduced the severity of their sleep problems. Plus, in a follow up study six months later, the insomnia sufferers had maintained a better quality of sleep.

Stress Less: Make Room for More Happiness

It’s a little-known secret that Wall Street execs, famous artists, and Silicon Valley whiz kids are some of the biggest advocates of meditation as a way to manage stress.

A 2005 study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation increases the thickness of your prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain associated with attention and self-awareness.

Furthermore, we now know it even reduces employee stress and burnout. A study on teachers at a school for children with severe behavioural problems who were treated to a Transcendental Meditation program had less stress, less depression, and overall lower burnout than other teachers.

Reduce Pain and Heal Faster: Relieve Pain by Changing Your Mind

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who heads up the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, proved back in the ‘80s that meditation and mindfulness could significantly improve pain symptoms and quality of life in chronic pain patients, even up to four years later. His program, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is practiced widely.

Recently, we’ve also gotten a look at how the brain might be involved. When researchers had people participate in four days of mindfulness-based training, participants reported less pain intensity and unpleasantness. What’s more, MRIs showed reductions in pain-induced cerebral blood flow during meditation sessions.

Beat Anxiety: Send Worries Packing

Focusing on all the terrible things that might happen to us—but usually don't—takes us away from the present, and causes our bodies a lot of stress.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, found that meditation could even help those with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability.

Smile More: A Happy Pill, with No Side Effects

Meditation helps us gain awareness of our minds, so we can see negative thoughts and say “those thoughts are not me.” Becoming less identified with our emotions and thoughts helps those thoughts lose power.

A Harvard study found that mind-wandering, which often means drifting to these negative thoughts, was linked to unhappiness. And recently, Madhav Goyal, who led a study by Johns Hopkins researchers, said that for depression, “we found a roughly 10 to 20 percent improvement in depressive symptoms compared to the placebo groups. This is similar to the effects of antidepressants in similar populations.”

Relax: Don’t Let the Little Things Get You Down

Relaxing your body and mind with meditation helps you to stay centered when you inevitably encounter those everyday stressors—rush hour traffic, anyone?

Investigators from the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital found that practicing meditation causes what is called the “relaxation response,” the opposite of the “fight-or-flight” response—what happens to our bodies when we get stressed. Their studies showed that the relaxation response alleviates anxiety and also has positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity.

Enhance Your Love Life: Your Relationship Will Thank You

Your partner will thank you. By learning to better recognize your own emotions, and those of others, you’ll more easily experience lasting harmony in your relationships.

Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco taught 82 female teachers, all married or living with a partner, how to meditate. Compared with a control group that hadn’t learned meditation, the women gave fewer negative facial expressions during a marital interaction test. Good news, because studies at UC Berkeley showed that people who demonstrate negative facial expressions toward their partners are more likely to divorce.

Maharishi International University in Iowa found that women who practiced meditation reported significantly greater marital satisfaction than those who didn’t. Those who meditated regularly saw the greatest benefits.

Lead a Successful Life: A Clear Path to Achieving Your Goals

Maybe you’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be great at something. The Beatles played 1,200 concerts together before becoming internationally known. Bill Gates started programming in eighth grade. But new research shows there’s a different formula for success.

World-class athletes, top managers and world-class performers, when tested, have all shown high levels of what’s called brain integration. This means that their brains are wired with strong connections between the different areas, they have heightened attention, and they’re able to think quickly to deal with problems.

This is the new key to success, as noted by U.S. neuroscientist Dr. Fred Travis, because it’s the fire starter behind the creativity that often leads to success.

Luckily, a study from Harvard Medical School demonstrated that meditation causes changes in brain waves that actually improve the brain’s functionality. You can find success in any area of your life, and just think of all the time you’ll save!

Here's psychologist Jeremy Dean on the benefits of regular meditation:

1. Lasting emotional control

Meditation may make us feel calmer while we’re doing it, but do these benefits spill over into everyday life?

Desborders et al. (2012) scanned the brains of people taking part in an 8-week meditation program, before and after the course.

While they were scanned, participants looked at pictures designed to elicit positive, negative and neutral emotional responses.

 

After the meditation course, activation in the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, was reduced to all pictures.

This suggests that meditation benefits lasting emotional control, even when you are not meditating.

2. Cultivate compassion

One of the meditation benefits long thought central is to help people be more virtuous and compassionate. Now this has been put to scientific test.

In one study participants who had been meditating were given an undercover test of their compassion (Condon et al., 2013).

They were sat in a staged waiting area with two actors when another actor entered on crutches, pretending to be in great pain. The two actors sat next to the participants both ignored the person who was in pain, sending the unconscious signal not to intervene.

Those who had been meditating, though, were 50% more likely to help the person in pain.

One of the study’s authors, David DeSteno, said:

“The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous–to help another who was suffering–even in the face of a norm not to do so.”

3. Change brain structures

Meditation is such a powerful technique that, after only 8 weeks, the brain’s structure changes.

To show these effects, images of 16 people’s brains were taken before and after they took a meditation course (Hölzel et al., 2011).

Compared with a control group, grey-matter density in the hippocampus–an area associated with learning and memory–was increased.

The study’s lead author, Britta Hölzel, commented on meditation benefits:

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

4. Reduce pain

One of the meditation benefits is that regular meditators experience less pain.

 

Grant et al. (2010) applied a heated plate to the calves of meditators and non-meditators. The meditators had lower pain sensitivity.

Joshua Grant explained:

“Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to be underlie their lower sensitivity to pain.”

5. Accelerate cognition

How would you like your brain to work faster?

Zeidan et al. (2010) found significant meditation benefits for novice meditators from only 80 minutes of meditation over 4 days.

Despite their very brief period of practice—and compared with a control group who listened to an audiobook of Tolkein’s The Hobbit—meditators improved on measures of working memory, executive functioning and visuo-spatial processing.

The authors conclude:

“…that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”

Improvements seen on the measures ranged from 15% to over 50%.

6. Meditate to create

The right type of meditation can help solve some creative problems.

A study by Colzato et al. (2012) had participants take a classic creativity task: think up as many uses as you can for a brick.

Those using an ‘open monitoring’ method of meditation came up with the most ideas.

This method uses focusing on the breath to set the mind free.

7. Sharpen concentration

At its heart, meditation is all about learning to concentrate, to have greater control over the spotlight of attention.

An increasing body of studies now underline the meditation benefits for attention.

For example, Jha et al. 2007 sent 17 people who had not practised meditation before on an 8-week training course in mindfulness-based stress reduction, a type of meditation.

These 17 participants were then compared with a further 17 from a control group on a series of attentional measures. The results showed that those who had received training were better at focusing their attention than the control group.

The full article: How Meditation Improves Attention

8. Improve multitasking at work

Since meditation benefits different aspects of cognition, it should also improve work performance.

That’s what Levy et al. (2012) tested by giving groups of human resource managers tests of their multitasking abilities.

Those who practised meditation performed better on standard office tasks–like answering phones, writing email and so on–than those who had not been meditating.

Meditating managers were better able to stay on task and also experienced less stress as a result.

9. Reduce anxiety

Meditation is an exercise often recommended for those experiencing anxiety.

To pick just one of many recent studies, Zeidan et al. (2013) found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety by up to 39%.

More about anxiety: 8 Fascinating Facts About Anxiety

10 Fight depression

A central symptom of depression is rumination: when depressing thoughts roll around and around in the mind.

Unfortunately you can’t just tell a depressed person to stop thinking depressing thoughts; it’s pointless. That’s because treating the symptoms of depression is partly about taking control of the person’s attention.

One method that can help with this is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is all about living in the moment, rather than focusing on past regrets or future worries.

A recent review of 39 studies on mindfulness has found that meditation benefits depression (Hofmann et al., 2010).

Read on: Depression: 10 Fascinating Insights into a Misunderstood Condition

How to meditate

Since meditation benefits’ are so great, here is a quick primer on how to meditate.

The names and techniques of meditation are many and varied, but the fundamentals are much the same:

1. Relax the body and the mind

This can be done through body posture, mental imagery, mantras, music, progressive muscle relaxation, any old trick that works. Take your pick.

This step is relatively easy as most of us have some experience of relaxing, even if we don’t get much opportunity.

2. Be mindful

It’s a bit cryptic this one but it means something like this: don’t pass judgement on your thoughts, let them come and go as they will (and boy will they come and go!). When your mind wanders, try to nudge your attention back to its primary aim.

It turns out this is quite difficult because we’re used to mentally travelling backwards and forwards while making judgements on everything (e.g. worrying, dreading, anticipating, regretting etc.).

The key is to notice, in a detached way, what’s happening, but not to get involved with it. This way of thinking often doesn’t come that naturally.

3. Concentrate on something

Often meditators concentrate on their breath, the feel of it going in and out, but it could be anything: your feet, a potato, a stone.

The breath is handy because we carry it around with us. Whatever it is, though, try to focus all your attention onto it.

When your attention wavers, and it will almost immediately, gently bring it back. Don’t chide yourself, be compassionate to yourself.

The act of concentrating on one thing is surprisingly difficult: you will feel the mental burn almost immediately. Experienced practitioners say this eases with practice.

4. Concentrate on nothing

Most say this can’t be achieved without a lot of practice, so I’ll say no more about it here. Master the basics first.

Meditation benefits

This is just a quick introduction on meditation benefits but does give you enough to get started. It’s important not to get too caught up in techniques but to remember the main goal: exercising attention by relaxing and focusing on something.

 

One full cycle of breathMindfulness
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