We all know by now that meditation is good for us. Even if we limit our acceptance of its benefits to the fact that it just feels good, that’s okay — but the reality is, there’s science behind why it feels so good. The reason meditation feels good is because it’s physically altering your body in simple yet important ways. Here are just five of the ways a regular meditation practice can physically change your body for the better.
Slows Heart Rate
Numerous studies have shown that meditation and breath control are key components of managing stress and reducing the heart rate. One study published in the journal Heart Views measured the impacts of meditation and breath control on 50 subjects who were taught by a certified yoga teacher. After just 15 days, the individuals showed a marked reduction in heart rate during their practice.
But we hardly need studies to tell us that closing our eyes, controlling our breathing and ceasing to fret on everyday worries can slow our heart rate.
Changing Neurological Pathways in the Brain
The fact that meditation can physically alter your brain, and therefore your way of thinking, is an emerging science that has many psychologists particularly excited. According to Rebecca Gladding M.D., for Psychology Today, meditating has the potential to strengthen neurological connections that emphasize rationality.
This is because non-meditators tend to have strong neurological connections between the “Me Center” (the medial prefrontal cortex) of their brain and…everything else. Which means that they tend to take things very personally, including physical pain. This can lead to internalizing every little situation and getting worried and anxious unnecessarily.
But according to Gladding, when we meditate, we start to strengthen neurons that play a different role. Rather than internalizing situations and making them all about ourselves, we’re able to see things from a more rational, accepting perspective. This also has the effect of making us more empathetic.
Finally, by cultivating neurological pathways that signal calm and acceptance, we can learn overtime to become less reactive. When we’re triggered by perceived slights from loved ones, acquaintances and even people in the street, our brains are less likely to be sabotaged by the situation at hand. We’re able to react more calmly and rationally over time.
Building Pelvic Floor Strength
If diaphragmatic breathing is a part of your meditation practice, you can also build pelvic floor strength just by meditating. It’s true! When we breathe from our diaphragm, our abdominal muscles need to stretch out (lengthen) as we inhale, making room for the diaphragm as it descends into our lower torso. Then, they contract (tighten) subtly as we inhale. Over time, by breathing intentionally, we can strengthen these lower abdominal and pelvic floor muscles simply by breathing correctly.
Nourishing the Adrenal Glands
There’s much debate among health professionals as to whether or not adrenal fatigue is a real malady, but even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean that relaxation isn’t good for your adrenals.
The adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, can become stimulated all too often during everyday life, thanks to perceived stressors such as work, kids, technology and confrontation. Taking a few moments every day to truly relax can give your adrenal glands some time to relax and recharge, decreasing your levels of stress hormones in the process.
Lowering Blood Pressure
Along with all of these benefits is the related side effect of reduced blood pressure. Since stress and aggravation can increase blood pressure, meditation and other de-stressing activities can lower blood pressure.
The study in Heart Views didn’t just measure heart rate — it also measured blood pressure. After 15 days of meditating and practicing mindful movement, the subjects in the study showed marked reductions in blood pressure as well as heart rate and other health markers.