Meditation and the Science. Science proves that meditation works

Mindfulness meditation and the science are now aligning and proving the value of a practice that's been around for hundreds of years. Meditation helps build EQ.

James Godwin

10 minute read

Meditation and the Science. Science proves that meditation works

According to a study, the top six competencies that distinguish star performers from average performers in the tech sector are;

  • [EQ]  Strong achievement drive and high achievement standards
  • [EQ] Ability to influence
  • [IQ] Conceptual thinking
  • [IQ] Analytical ability
  • [EQ] Initiative in taking on challenges
  • [EQ] Self-confidence

Science also suggests that regular mindfulness practice, through meditation, is an effective support for stress, worry, lack of focus, relationship problems and more.

Now scientists are finding evidence supporting many of these claims. You can read about their discoveries below.


How meditation helps with stress

FEELING STRESSED?

According to neuroscientists as you continue to meditate your brain physically changes, even though you’re not aware of it re-shaping itself. Meditation activates part of our nervous system helping with stress management.

Do you feel pressured from problems with work, relationships or your personal finances? Doctors call it stress when mental and emotional pressures builds up.

Stress can be harmful. It distracts you from getting on with enjoying your life. It gets in the way of your attempts to sort out the problems causing it. If you let it get the better of you, it can even make you physically ill. So dealing with your stress is important.

WHY DO WE GET STRESSED?

Stress is primarily designed to help us get out of physical danger. When we feel threatened, a part of our brain called the amygdala sets off an alarm bell which triggers the “fight or flight” response of our nervous system, making us ready to respond. Our blood is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as our respiration. This allows us to transport oxygen to our muscles quickly so we can “act fast”.

While this heightened state once helped us with the physical threat of, say, a sabre-toothed tiger, it does little to help us with today’s worries, such as when we’ve forgotten to hit “save” on a word document. But the response is still the same.

WHY IS IT SO DAMAGING?

Stress stops the normal functioning of our body. The body assumes there’s a physical threat at hand, so it channels energy into getting out of immediate danger. To do this, it shuts down non-essential systems which are taking up energy. Our digestive processes, immune system, growth and reproductive processes are inhibited (no time for eating or sex when we’re being chased!)

A bit of stress in short doses is useful in improving our memory and enhancing performance. However, too much, too regularly, is extremely damaging to our mental and physical well-being. It can lead to stomach ulcers, heart problems, illnesses, lowered libido… the list goes on.

HOW CAN MINDFULNESS HELP WITH STRESS?

Simply put, meditation for stress soothes our nervous system. While stress activates the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system, mindfulness meditation activates the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, helping with stress management. Our heart rate slows, our respiration slows and our blood pressure drops. This is often called the “relaxation response”. While chronic activation of the fight or flight response can be extremely damaging to the body, the relaxation response is restorative, so meditation benefits our wellbeing.

IT CHANGES THE BRAIN

People who practise mindfulness meditation regularly report feeling less stressed and more emotionally balanced. According to neuroscientists, as you continue to meditate, your brain physically changes, even though you’re not aware of it re-shaping itself. They’re also beginning to understand why meditation is effective for managing stress. Using brain imaging techniques, they’ve observed changes in the threat system of the brain. The response kicks-off in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for triggering fear. People who suffer from chronic anxiety have a more reactive amygdala, and this leaves them feeling threatened much of the time.

…evidence that meditation served as a realistic and maintainable stress management technique.

A study performed at Stanford found that an 8-week mindfulness course reduced the reactivity of the amygdala and increased activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex that help regulate emotions, subsequently reducing stress. Similarly, researchers from Harvard University discovered corresponding changes in the physical structure of the brain with a similar meditation course; there was a lower density of neurons in the amygdala and greater density of neurons in areas involved in emotional control – evidence that meditation served as a realistic and maintainable stress management technique


How meditation can boost your creativity

BOOST YOUR CREATIVITY

Research has found meditation to promote ‘DIVERGENT THINKING’ a type of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. Also affects awareness and the FILTERING out of other mental processes during creative tasks.

Whatever you do, whether you’re an artist, inventor, a sales assistant or have a job you don’t think is “creative” – creativity can help you. Living a full life is a creative act in itself, and creative thinking has the power to help you open doors and take advantage of all your opportunities. When you’re faced with problems – whether that’s with a relationship, a broken appliance or an issue in your work – a touch of creativity can often help you find the solution.

So it’s good to know that scientists have found evidence that meditation helps people to be more creative.

HOW CAN MINDFULNESS MEDITATION BOOST YOUR CREATIVITY?

In 2012, scientists from the University of Groningen and North Dakota State University tested the theory that mindfulness affects awareness and the filtering out of other mental processes during creative tasks. Studying a large number of volunteers, the researchers found that mindfulness practice predicted and improved “insight” problem solving, which is “seeing” and solving problems in a novel way. This study was the first of its kind to document a direct link between mindfulness and creativity.

GENERATE MORE IDEAS

In a 2012 study at Leiden University, Netherlands, scientists reported that “open monitoring” meditation (non-reactive observation of your thoughts over time) promoted “divergent thinking”, a type of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated.

Other recent research, in Israel, yielded similar results. Scientists there experimented to see if there was a connection between mindfulness practice and “cognitive rigidity” (an inability to think of different possible solutions to a problem) by using a creative task.

They found that experienced mindfulness meditators scored much lower in rigidity – that is, their minds were freer to come up with new ideas – than non-meditators who had registered for their first meditation retreat.

The researchers concluded,

“that mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be ‘blinded’ by experience”.

Their results reflect “the benefits of mindfulness practice regarding a reduced tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience, both in and out of the clinical setting.”


How meditation can improve your focus

UNABLE TO FOCUS?

Neuroscientists have also found that, after just 11 hours of meditation, practitioners had structural changes in the part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self control.

Whether we’re an Olympic athlete or just learning to play football, a concert violinist or an amateur guitarist, a surgeon, mathematician, builder – whatever our pursuit – our performance and ability to learn new things is dependent on our ability to focus.

But it goes beyond this. Focus can have far reaching consequences in many areas of our lives. Being able to focus and resist distraction is also linked to our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve long-term goals.

SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE ARE MORE FOCUSED

Studies have found that children who are better able to regulate their attention and impulses are four times less likely to have a criminal record, three times less likely to be addicted to drugs, have more satisfying marriages and have significantly lower body mass indexes as adults. The ability to control our impulses and focus our attention has even been found to be a better predictor of academic success than IQ. No point in having an amazing brain if you can’t focus its power and put it to use

Research suggests that people use a range of “smart drugs” – from prescribed types to illicit ones – to boost their work or academic performance. Wouldn’t it be safer and healthier, to develop focus more naturally through training the mind, and mindfulness meditation?

HOW CAN MINDFULNESS IMPROVE YOUR FOCUS?

A 2012 US study examined how meditation training affected individuals’ behaviour in multitasking at work (if you’re an employer or an employee, this is well worth your attention). Researchers tested three groups: (1) those who underwent an 8-week training course on mindfulness-based meditation, (2) those who endured a wait period, were tested, and then underwent the same 8-week training, and (3) those who had 8-weeks of training in body relaxation.

The researchers found that, compared with the people who didn’t meditate,

“those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance.” 

Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can improve our ability to sustain attention. The ability to concentrate on our breathing for long periods of time transfers over to other pursuits. If we can focus on a subtle object like our breath for 20 minutes, think how easy it will be to focus on sports, work, our partner, or anything else for that matter.


How meditation can help your relationships

COULD MEDITATION IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

Meditation can improve relationships with everyone you meet. You become more comfortable with yourself, which makes it easier for others to get on with you.

If you’re in a relationship, you naturally want it to succeed, so that both of you are happy, in tune, and growing together. Inevitably though, conflicts happen. Sometimes you may not see eye to eye and your expectations of each other differ. You might find fault with your partner, or vice versa. Or you might be unhappy with yourself, and that makes you difficult to be around. Meditation for relationships might help you to be a little easier on yourself, and on your partner too.

One of the many proven benefits of regular mindfulness meditation is that it improves relationships. Not just with those nearest to you, but also with everyone you meet. You see yourself, your world and the people in your world in a new light. You become more comfortable with yourself, which makes it easier for others to get on with you, and you find it easier to accept them as they are. In fact meditation for relationships can be valuable gift, not just to yourself, but the people around you.

HOW CAN MINDFULNESS HELP YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

A 2007 study by researchers at The University of Rochester revealed that mindfulness practice was associated with greater relationship satisfaction. It was also related to better communication quality during relationship discussions.

Another study, at the University of Leuven, found that couples who meditated displayed more mindful observation and more empathy toward each other. They were inclined towards more mindful description, acting with awareness, and non-judgmental acceptance. With those changes, couples were better able to identify and describe their feelings, more satisfied with their bodies, less anxious socially, and they were less likely to share any distress.


I was fortunate enough to have started Tai Chi a moving meditation at a very early age. Practising Tai Chi for over 25 years has allowed me to build a solid foundation to support the most important aspect of EQ development, which is attention training.

If you are interested in supporting yourself or helping the teams you manage, the links below can help you learn more about EQ training.

  1. What is EQ?
  2. Emotional Intelligence Training Course
  3. Learn to meditate with the Just6 App
  4. Meditation and the Science
  5. 7 reasons that emotional intelligence is quickly becoming one of the top sought job skills
  6. The secret to a high salary Emotional intelligence
  7. How to bring mindfulness into your employee wellness program
  8. Google ’Search Inside Yourself’