How Meditation Works | The Science Of Meditation
By Tyler Woodward
Meditation is defined as, “a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state”. Meditation has become an increasingly common practice for people of all ages, shapes and sizes for it’s seemingly ever expanding lists of health benefits. So this begs the question, what really is meditation, what are it’s benefits and how does it work?
What Is Meditation?:
Meditation is generally viewed as an exercise of focusing or mindfulness. It aims to hone in one specific thing, feeling or body part . While there are many different types of meditation and ways to go about it there are generally two key characteristics that apply to most forms of meditation.
I’d argue that the manner in which these two quintessential features of meditation are performed are the reason for so many of the benefits that come along with it. Here’s why…
Part I - The Breath
A large portion of the percentage of people in the world today are mouth breathers, in-fact one self-reported survey of 1,000 people found that 61% of Americans are mouth-breathers. Another survey found that 71% of beds across America were homes to mouth-breathers. This might not seem like a big deal, but when combined with the hectic, stressful lifestyles many of us live today it quickly can add up!
Mouth breathing displaces larger amounts of carbon dioxide from your lungs than nasal breathing. This can be necessary during more intensive activities like exercise. However, it is not necessary and far from optimal to do so while sitting around the house. Carbon dioxide or CO2 is actually extremely important in the body and is equally as necessary for breathing as oxygen.
In order for your cells to absorb oxygen from your blood, the red blood cells must “trade” carbon dioxide produced from the cells with the oxygen breathed in from the lungs. In the lungs the opposite happens, the carbon dioxide in your red blood cells is “traded” for the oxygen in your lungs. Here’s where it gets interesting, the more carbon dioxide produced by your cells the more oxygen your red blood cells can give off and therefore the more oxygen your cells can absorb and utilize. The same principle applies to your lungs, the more “filled up” or saturated your red blood cells are with carbon dioxide from your cells, the more oxygen they can absorb when they return to your lungs.
Long story short you need carbon dioxide to use oxygen. The more carbon dioxide you have, the more efficiently your body is able to use oxygen.
This brings us to the second part of the breathing equation, the slow and controlled breaths. Normally, we don’t intentionally take a pause between breaths or count the number of seconds for an inhale or exhale, but this is a common practice in meditation. When you pause between breaths, holding the air in, and then take a low exhale you’re allowing more carbon dioxide to build up in your body. This in turn increases the amount of oxygen your body can absorb and utilize for energy production.
If you want to try this for yourself grab a paper bag and breathe in and out of for 1 minute. Taking nice, slow, and deep breaths. As you breathe out the bag gets more densely packed with carbon dioxide, but there is still enough oxygen in the bag to breathe (although this will diminish if done for longer periods). After about a minute assess yourself and see how you feel. You might feel very relaxed or at ease, your body temperature warming or just more energetic.
In contrast, you can compare this to hyperventilating. Hyperventilating is a type of drastic overbreathing. This means you are taking in way too much oxygen and losing way too much carbon dioxide in the process. As a result, despite all the oxygen you take in you actually feel out of breath.
Carbon dioxide has a second, but lesser known benefit that it is also a potent vasodilator. This means that it helps to relax and widen or “dilate” your arteries, so more blood can flow through at a lower blood pressure. This is most likely where the blood pressure lowering effects of meditation comes from!
This increase in blood flow also plays a role in increasing the amount of oxygen delivered and utilized by the cells. Additonally adding to the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the cells.
This combination of vasodilatory effects and the increased utilization of oxygen from the larger amounts of carbon dioxide results in an increase in metabolic rate or energy usage. If you’ve ever tried meditating you may have experienced the energizing effects that it can induce, this likely play a huge role in this!
Part II Relaxation:
Another huge part of meditation is the relaxing environment you subject yourself to during it. While you can meditate anywhere whether you’re sitting in traffic or on a bus, the main intent of meditation is to induce a relaxing state in your body. Most people very rarely dedicate a portion of time to just relaxing and taking in a few deep breaths. I believe this state of both mental and physical relaxation is the “psychological” key to the many benefits of meditation.
Read More: The Science Of Stress & How To Manage It
The Benefits Of Meditation:
The amount of benefits meditation has seems to be continually increasing as they learn more and more about meditation. Here are some of meditations purported benefits:
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Reduce Stress & Anxiety
- Improved Attention Span
- May Improve Sleep
- Can Increase Neuroplasticity
- Can Help Reduce Depression
- May Improve Memory
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My goal in writing this article is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions. I really hope you found this article interesting. If you have anything to add to this article, feel free to reach out to me via our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good