In the book Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, David Goleman and Richard Davidson presented a research carried on beginners and long term meditators at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The studies from beginners took notice of changes between 7 and under 100 total hours of practice and were conducted by a multidisciplinary team.
The benefits of meditation for beginners were:
Beginners’ brains show less amygdala reactivity to stress.
After two weeks of practice, the immediate meditation benefits included better focus, less mind-wandering, and improved working memory.
With 30 hours of practice, markers for inflammation lessened a bit.
Some benefits in the early stages of meditation practice can be attributed to people expecting a boost in well-being.
According to Davidson’s Lab research, many benefits from beginner meditators could be related to expectation, social bonding in the group, or the instructor enthusiasm, for example.
A research at the Massachusetts General Hospital found that study participants who took the MBSR course and practiced mindfulness meditation for approx. half an hour a day for eight weeks grew more gray matter in regions of the brain associated with attention and memory, stress management, empathy, and emotional integration.
On the other hand, the amygdala, the seat of stress and anxiety in the brain, shrank in size.
Another study, after four days of mindfulness meditation training, consisting of “meditating in the presence of noxious stimulation” reduced participants’ pain unpleasantness by 57% and their pain intensity by 40%.
Researches found reduced activation in regions of the brain associated with pain and increased activation in areas of the brain involved in regulating and reframing emotional intensity.
Forming a Meditation Habit
In its early stages, forming a meditation habit is another benefit, focusing your attention helps you have a calmer and more balanced life. Three things will happen on a physical level while creating the habit of meditation:
1. You’ll acquire the habit of sitting still to meditate a certain time. It’ll feel more RIGHT to do it than no to do it.
2. Your body will begin to adapt to the sensations, neural patterns, and all that implies sitting in a meditation posture.
3. You have created this space of daily practice in your schedule.
One of the immediate benefits of a regular meditation habit is that you give yourself a time every day to SLOW DOWN.
How to Respond to the Thoughts That Come up as You Meditate
As explained by John Arden, don’t try to avoid your thoughts or you will over activate your right frontal lobe causing the opposite effect. You’ll produce those thoughts and feeling that you’re trying to avoid.
Accept your thoughts and don’t become attached to them. According to John Arden, one way to do so is to label your thoughts as they come up. If you see pink flamingos, for example, think “Oh, there’s another pink flamingo. It’s no big deal.” By doing this, your thoughts about pink flamingos will become less present in your mind.
You can label your emotions to neutralize negative ones too. Labeling emotions seems to calm the amygdala. You can label a feeling like, “here is anger”, for example.
Approach your meditation practice with an open mind, completely free from all preconceptions and expectations. Try to practice the meditation technique you’ve chosen with the “innocent, open, don’t-know spirit of beginner’s mind.”
The beginner’s mind characteristics:
Experience your practice meditation without trying to change it.
Free your daily meditation practice from expectations. Address each section with “the confidence that the open, ready awareness you bring to it contains all the qualities you seek.”
When you experience your meditation practice as it is you reach the space in your mind from where you respond to the practice in a spontaneous way.
Be aware of the primordial quality of mind where the beginner’s mind becomes beginningless.
Meditation practice brings immediate benefits, even with a few hours of practice. However, the benefits are fragile in the early stages of meditators practice.
The regular practice of meditation, that allows the mind and body to slow down, creates traits to sustain permanent meditation benefits as long as you keep practicing daily.
Goleman, D, Davidson, R. (2017). The Science of Meditation: How to Change Your Brain, Mind, and Body. Penguin. ISBN 978-0399184390.
Hill, A. (2002). Meditation 101: A Clear and Friendly Guide for Beginners of All Persuasions. Writers Club Press. ISBN 0595250343
Arden, J. (2010). Rewire your brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life. Wiley. ISBN 0470487291