Take a deep breath. Hold it. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5. Now, release it through your mouth. Don’t you feel a bit lighter now? Or imagine you have an exam tomorrow. You have a huge chunk left to study. Panic is rushing through your veins. Seeing your condition, someone tells you, “Stop! Take a deep breath!” This is a common practice to feel calm. But why does this normal process work differently, when we make a conscious effort?
Here arises another question. Does meditation or deep breathing actually work? Let’s dive deep into the science behind all of it.
In this write-up, I will refer to the widely used and most popular method of meditation- “Mindfulness Meditation.” It is the action of paying attention to our inhale-exhale and being in the present. It sounds simple, but human brains tend to wander off.
So, when we meditate, we put an anchor, and we consciously make our mind to focus on one specific thing. That practice strengthens our concentration. We take breathing for granted, but it has an immense impact both on our mind and body. Researches proved that deep breathing reduces stress levels, lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and many more. No wonder it is used as a powerful tool in the realms of meditation.
Meditation also increases the density of gray matter. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated a study in 2016 that mindfulness meditation helps develop decision making. Other than relieving stress, anxiety, depression- meditation also helps to increase self-esteem and self-awareness. There is a popularity of meditation to use as a therapy, too.
But a few fallacies are lying underneath the above benefits.
- Definition and Process of Mindfulness Meditation are Vague
Scientific research has solely focused on the secular practice of mindful meditation overlooking the fact that it is influenced by many ancient religious traditions, norms, and cultural aspects. It has so many variations that it is difficult to choose one specific style.
Moreover, no clear evidence on how long it takes to reach the highest level, or what is the highest level.
- Uncertainty with Available researches
The studies that proved the increase of gray matter through meditation, has limitations. The brain indeed gets strong, but what it means is yet to be discovered. The sustainability of meditation is also questionable. Does the brain stay strong even after stopping meditation?
An article named “Mind the Hype” expressed 15 scholars’ take on this matter. They said people think meditation is efficient as a therapy. In a meta-analysis, meditation has shown moderate, low, or no efficacy depending on different disorders. There has been no extensive study on efficiency yet. So, meditation can be a part of therapy but not fully.
- Not Enough Researches in Broad Spectrum
Most researches are conducted on a limited number of people and under a controlled environment. Those were also taken data over two months or so. People say that meditation tends to show results or help better with practice over an extended period. Which is why researchers must incorporate data for longer time points.
One good news can be drawn here. Researcher Gaelle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology and a neuroscientist at Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, is interested in understanding mindful meditation’s impact on depression. She believes identifying the effective elements of meditation can refine therapy even more. She is also interested in compassion meditation, a different variation that aims to increase caring for those around us. In brief, her work focuses on a few areas outside the conventional research.
Meditation has been in practice for thousands of years. Yet scrutinizing its dimensions is rare to find. So even though it has loads of sparks in our life, we must explore it more to extract the maximum benefits.