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A recent article in Psychology Today again supports the thesis that continues to receive support from all medical, medicinal, and well-being arenas: meditation improves mental, emotional, and physical health. And at least some research indicates that the benefits meditation provide are superior to standard relaxation and strengthen with practice. Attorneys stand to gain much, perhaps more than the general population, from a regular meditation practice. Here, according to the Psychology Today article, are the three major benefits mediation provide (check out Get Wise: Mindfulness for Attorneys):
1. Meditation improves breathing quality.
Breathing as a centerpiece of meditation was taught by authorities as revered as the Buddha and today remains a critical component of all major meditation practices. Most people take their breathing for granted, yet it plays a greatly underappreciated role in cognitive function, emotional regulation, and many health processes. The type of controlled, relaxed breathing skills developed with regular meditation practice produces both immediate and long-term benefits. For example, studies show that even a few minutes of meditative breathing can reduce inflammatory cytokines levels measurable in saliva samples. Blood pressure and muscle tension also rapidly decline. And thinking processes slow, enabling increased focus and concentration. Longer-term, the regular practice of these breath-induced benefits through meditation help explain research showing that regular meditation practice improves medical conditions such as chronic pain and hypertension, and mental health conditions such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
2. Meditation improves nervous system function.
The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system makeup two important branches of our autonomic nervous system. In practice, the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches work, respectively, like a gas pedal and a brake to help us respond to the demands of our internal and external environments. The sympathetic system regulates responses such as inflammation and arousal whereas the parasympathetic system regulates the anti-inflammation process and promotes relaxation. Although the sympathetic system–playing a more visible role in stress and illness–receives considerable bad press, it is more accurate to consider the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems as the yin and yang of your autonomic nervous system providing complementary functions that are essential for life. In modern times, however, the yin-yang balance necessary for optimal health is too often replaced by a state of “sympathetic dominance” where a person may become chronically stressed, poorly nourished and rested, and more vulnerable to illness.
3. Meditation improves emotional regulation.
Whereas the autonomic nervous system coordinates activities between the brain and lower body, the central nervous system functions as the overall command center in the brain and spinal cord. Until recent decades, it was difficult to measure the impact of behavioral practices such as meditation on the function and structure of the brain. The increasing availability of tools such as functional MRI in research, however, now make it possible to detect both short-term and long-term changes that occur in the brain in response to meditation. Areas of the brain critical to the fight or flight response such as the amygdala, for example, appear to decrease on average in size with regular meditation practice. These amygdala region reductions may explain why meditators show reduced reactivity to emotional stimuli and reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms. These same central nervous system changes improved by meditation are also important to physical health through their influence on blood pressure, inflammatory processes, stress hormones, and other biological processes linked to cardiovascular disease, as supported by a 2017 statement from the American Medical Association.
(Thomas Rutledge Ph.D., How Meditation Improves Emotional and Physical Health, Aug. 4, 2019.)
Counsel ready to start a mindfulness and meditation routine, or the practiced attorneys who wants a refresher and some CLE credits to boot, should sign-up for Creative's streaming course, Get Wise: Mindfulness for Attorneys.