Need Motivation to Meditate? Here Are Some Unusual Benefits

They might make you want to finally try meditating.

The benefits of meditation are immense. If you read too much into it, it seems to be an equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme or one of those “Doctors Hate This Guy” commercials.

Yet, even more fascinating, is that all of them are true and backed by science.

Everything that saints, sages, and ancient scriptures tell us about meditation comes out to be true in some way or the other.

After starting my own meditation journey, I was anticipating the basic benefits everyone talks about — better awareness, focus, sleep, etc.

However, I got much more than that.

Meditation Silences Your Inner Critic.

One of the best analogies to describe meditation is as follows.

Imagine you’re sitting at a traffic light. You observe the cars, trees, bicycles, and the people going in a hundred different directions.

All the objects in the periphery of your sight symbolize your thoughts. And the place you’re sitting at is the* mind watching those thoughts.*

Your goal with meditation is to get into this state. Being in this state helps you realize the separation between you and your thoughts.

Often we cling to thoughts going inside our head. That’s what gives power to the inner critic.

Meditation teaches us to detach. Because that is your true reality. You aren’t your thoughts. You’re the one who’s watching them. Realizing this simple fact can be a tiny enlightening experience for most people.

When you understand this, you stop identifying with the negative thoughts inside your head.

Want a quick demo? Sit anywhere with your spine straight. Then focus on your breath — count from one to ten and then reset. I know it’s difficult. But this short practice can open up huge doors for you if you’ve never meditated before.

According to a study published by the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, individuals who were classified as self-critical were able to reduce these feelings and increase self-esteem and positive emotions about themselves using meditation.

The study further said that practitioners of loving-kindness meditation “showed significant reductions in self-criticism and depressive symptoms as well as significant increases in self-compassion and positive emotions.”

Again, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine said, “Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health-related quality of life.”

While I don’t practice the exact type of meditation that the study mentions, my experience is congruent with their results.

The more I meditate, the more confident I get — not because I improve my skills in an absolute sense but because I stop second-guessing myself at every step I take.

Reading my own writing, for instance, made me think about how bad of a writer I am and that I have a long way to go. Over time, I’ve been able to come to terms with who I am.

Instead of criticizing myself, I can now look at it objectively — “Even though my writing sucks, I shouldn’t stop writing. Eventually, it’s bound to improve.”

Albeit a small example, it perfectly illustrates how small changes in perspective can lead to increased performance and life satisfaction.

Meditation Slows Down Brain Aging and Makes It More Efficient.

Perhaps the most exciting benefit of meditation is it slows down brain aging.

According to a famous study in NeuroReport, *which I describe in detail in my book, *meditation is directly linked with increased cortical thickness in the brain.

The reason this study stands out to me is because of the nature of their participants:

  • 20 participants were recruited from local meditation communities. They were not monks but they had successfully incorporated meditation into their daily routine involving career, family, friends, etc.

  • 15 participants with no meditation or yoga experience were also included.

Unlike other studies that focus on analyzing the minds of monks, this study deals with regular people like you and me.

Again, in a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) increases the brain’s ability to process information.

While I cannot conduct fMRI scans of my own brain with the limited apparatus at my home, I can relate to the behavioral and psychological changes outlined by a Harvard study in 2011.

According to the research, eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing.

There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress — and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.

So if you think all this brain-talk is only important in theory, think again!

Meditation Improves Alertness and Focus.

Most meditation techniques are about concentrating on a singular object — the breath, a body part, a sound, a mantra, etc.

This continuous practice of bringing back your attention to the object of concentration is mental calisthenics.

The more you train your brain to focus on one thing, the better it becomes at it. You see, part of the reason we’re distracted is that we’ve trained ourselves to be this way — constant multi-tasking, compulsively checking social media, messages, and email, etc.

Ergo, we don’t have any concentration training, but we have tons of distraction training. This is why grown-ups still have trouble concentration, it’s not just the kids. And meditation can fix that.

A recent study found that a two-week mindfulness training course improved GRE results by 16 percentile points!

In addition to that, a complimentary finding or perhaps the reasons behind the increased score, was that participants had much lower levels of useless mind-wandering.

It’s not hard to see then, that the benefits of meditation not only help you crack standardized tests but also perform cognitively better in our professional and personal lives.

Meditation Helps With Pain Relief.

Well, I should’ve called it Suffering Relief. Why? Let’s understand.

Pain is an unpleasant physical sensation of varying intensity. Suffering, however, is the mental reaction to the pain.

Some kinds of pain can be cured by medicine. But chronic pains, which come and go regularly, can only be tackled by reducing suffering — since the pain isn’t going anywhere.

Drugs taken for pain relief often cause dull awareness and prolonged consumption of medicines often have side-effects, making them a secondary choice for most people.

Another way of looking at suffering is to define it as the difference between what we are experiencing and what we want to experience. This difference, created by the mind going into the past or the future, is what’s the root cause of our problems.

And the cure is also simple. You guessed it, meditation.

Simple meditation practices like focusing on the breath can stop the mind from drifting into fantasies of the past or the future. This bridges the psychological gap between where you are and where you want to be, thus reducing suffering.

A few months ago, I severely bruised my knee against the wall while trying a handstand. While my mother was frightened to see the blood flowing and the depth of the wound, I couldn’t be calmer — this level of even-mindedness astonished me and I’m sure it came from my meditation practice.

In his 1985 study, Jon Kabat-Zinn trained 90 chronic pain patients in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Results indicated significant reductions of present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology, including anxiety and depression. Additionally, pain-related drug utilization was reduced.

According to a study from Wake Forest Baptist University, meditation can reduce pain by 40 percent. Yet, pain relievers like morphine only reduce pain by 25 percent.

The reason behind it is that meditation reduces activity in the primary somatosensory cortex responsible for creating the sensation and the intensity of the painful stimulus.

Meditation Improves Immunity.

I haven’t caught even a mild cold or any other disease since I’ve started meditating. Now I know this can be misleading because it’s only a correlation. Whether meditation was the direct cause of my improved health, is difficult to determine.

Two weeks ago I did experience mild sneezing and a tickling sensation in my nose. Since the coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the globe as I write this, I was worried.

Yet after my daily meditation practice and my breathing exercises, I already felt a lot better. Combined with a quick nap later in the day, I was back to normal.

While empirical evidence does suggest that, I also found a direct relation between meditation and the number of antibodies present in the bloodstream.

According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, participants trained in a standard clinical 8-week meditation course had a significantly higher number of antibodies than others who didn’t:

“We also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group”

Another study, in the journal Translational Psychiatry, split 94 women into two groups — they sent one to a vacation retreat and another to a meditation retreat for six weeks.

After studying 20,000 genes, they found:

  • Shifts in the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation, and wound healing.

  • Experienced meditators had particular shifts in genes related to fighting a viral infection.

  • They also had increases in telomerase activity — an enzyme that builds telomeres, the sections at the ends of chromosomes that help keep them from “unraveling.”

  • A change (for good) in the ratio of two kinds of amyloid-beta proteins, which is known to be linked to dementia and depression.

Meditation Helps Fight Addiction.

One of the most practical benefits of meditation, at least for me, was to fight addictions.

Fortunately, I wasn’t addicted to anything, at least in the way most people see it.

But I do know this — we all develop low-level addictions to various dopamine releases in our lives — food, TV, binge-watching, video games, pornography, music, etc.

These low-level addictions in some ways can be worse than others since we either don’t know about them or not admit that we have a problem with them.

I for instance, still have the tendency to switch on an episode of Friends when I’m bored or procrastinating.

Since we’ve already talked about how meditation increases focus and decreases activity in the amygdala (responsible for emotional reactions, stress, fear, anxiety, etc), it’s easy to see how it benefits in fighting addictions.

Yet, one study compared the success rates of recovery from smoking addiction using mindfulness and conventional training methods used by the American Lung Association’s freedom from the smoking program.

It found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training and at 17 weeks follow-up.

Most bad habits develop when we link the state of craving with a particular action. Meditation helps to break this link.

In the case of smoking addicts, it makes them realize that craving doesn’t always have to lead to the act of smoking, and with awareness and willpower, they can sit tight until the craving passes.

So, Will You Give It a Try?

The way I talk about meditation can make you feel it’s NZT from the movie Limitless.

While it’s not exactly that, but it’s the closest drug-free method to have the same benefits.

To summarize, here are all the unusual benefits I experienced:

  • It silenced my inner critic.

  • It helps my brain age slower and perform better.

  • It increased my focus and alertness to a new level.

  • It helped me develop a higher threshold of pain and embrace the inevitable suffering in life.

  • It improved my immunity.

  • It helped me fight low-level addictions and distractions.

Are you convinced enough to try meditation? You should be since it only takes a little bit of practice for a few weeks to start reaping the benefits.

Instead of turning to distractions in the mornings and/or evenings, try watching your thoughts for a few minutes.

Start today. Start now. Because the science is in — meditation will change your life for the better.

Are you serious about becoming the best version of yourself? Get your free 5-day email course to Master The Art Of Personal Transformation.

Written on October 20, 2020