-- By Darshan Goswami, M.S., P.E., Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Scientific evidence suggests the health benefits of meditation include improved memory, increased ability to focus, improve health, and more.
Meditation is a centuries-old practice of getting in touch with oneself, observing thoughts without judgment, and finding peace within. But what does science say about it, and how can we benefit from it in our busy modern lives? Could something as simple as meditation be a realistic alternative to pharmaceutical drugs? Science has an answer.
Scientific studies now validate that regular practice of meditation has a profound physiological effect on the human body and can actually change the way our brains work. Short- and long-term benefits of meditation include reduced stress, anxiety and depression, decreased blood pressure, strengthened immune system, and enhanced happiness. In addition, numerous research studies have identified specific benefits that extend beyond one’s imagination, including a global rise in compassion, increased generosity of spirit, positively transformed societal attitudes about age, diseases, and economic status.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is a proven scientific technique for relaxing or quieting of the mind to focus and redirect your thoughts to improve health and well-being. It is the ability to sit still and block out all thoughts, while listening to your inner spirit and speaking directly to the Higher Source. Meditation is a scientific approach to understanding us as human beings, as well as understanding deeper, mystical truths about God and the nature of reality. When done deeply, it also connects you with God and His infinite joy. There are many methods to meditate and even few minutes can make a big difference to the way you feel and think. Meditation practice can take you inside for an out-of-the-world experience. Meditation is an “Art of Doing Nothing.”
HOW TO MEDITATE?
Starting a meditation practice is very simple. Meditation can take many forms, whether it’s a breathing exercise, use of a mantra, or a guided visualization. For beginners, I suggest that you start practicing meditation through a deep diaphragm breathing exercise.
Try to do meditation first thing in the morning. Wear loose/comfortable clothes and choose a place where you can sit calmly without any disturbance. You can meditate in a chair, on the floor, lying down, or walking. Sit down in a comfortable position, relax and rest your hands on your lap and close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose with mouth closed (diaphragm breathing), paying attention to your breath. You can hear your breath. Diaphragm breathing pulls air to the bottom of your lungs. Exhale slowly blowing air out through your nose. Focus on your breath each time.
If you lose focus and your mind starts to wander, don’t be discouraged. This is not uncommon. Simply return your focus to your breathing. If you’re a beginner, start with just 5 to 10 minutes – then gradually increase your time as you get more comfortable. Make a commitment to meditate daily, to get in touch with deeper consciousness and awareness.
Meditation can be done alone or in a group or guided by a trainer in person or online video. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. The practice is unique to each person and can be tailored to meet one’s needs and personality. There is no “perfect” place to meditate, and one can meditate virtually anywhere.
TYPES OF MEDITATION
There are different types of meditation. A few of them are described below:
Mindfulness Meditation: Pays attention to the present moment and acknowledges current circumstances without judgment.
Deep Breathing Meditation: Focuses on controlling your breath.
Transcendental Meditation (TM): TM is a form of mantra-based meditation. Mantra means a sound, word or phrase repeated silently throughout the meditation.
Zen Meditation: Buddhist based spiritual practice that promotes awareness and presence of mind.
Loving Kindness Meditation: Uses words and images to invoke love and kindness to us and others.
Guided visualization Meditation: Uses positive images, ideas, symbols, and mantras to help calm the mind while the body is in a relaxed state.
SCIENCE OF MEDITATION
Exploring the science of meditation presents some very unusual challenges because it is not like a drug where a specific amount can be given and compared with a placebo-like a sugar pill. This unique discipline varies in practice from person to person and it is difficult to measure and compare the results. 
Meditation is an ancient discipline but is being increasingly embraced within traditional medical circles as a powerful healing tool. What actually happens to the brain when we meditate? Meditation allows our mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought. This is called pure awareness or inner consciousness.
Scientists have recently discovered methods to see what goes on inside the brain during meditation. For example, neuroscientists observed that meditation strengthens the brain by reinforcing the connections between brain cells. Meditation causes the brain to undergo physical changes, many of which are beneficial. These scientific studies have documented the many physical and mental health benefits of meditation, including decreased pain, less anxiety and depression, better immune function, a heightened sense of well-being, greater happiness and emotional self-control.
Today, medical professionals, scientists and psychiatrists universally endorse meditation. Over 18,000 available scientific studies have validated meditation for its positive impact on overall well-being.
Understanding the science behind meditation can help one to understand why regular practice of meditation is integral to long-term well-being.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
Meditation is one of the best ways to improve and maintain one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It’s also an important coping skill for people with depression and anxiety and a way to balance out the stresses of daily life. The benefits of meditation can be experienced very quickly. While there are many different types of meditation, here are 10 different health benefits of meditation:
1. Meditation reduces stress and disease
Stress reduction is perhaps the best known, and most widely accepted, benefit of meditation. Meditation decreases stress by downregulating cortisol and adrenaline creating a state of deep relaxation in which our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and metabolism are decreased. Numerous studies to date proving these benefits, which include, making one feel less lonely, more compassionate and productive, and boosting one’s self-control and memory.
2. Meditation can lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
Meditation leads to relaxation. This spurs the production of nitric oxide in the brain and reduces blood pressure over time in people who meditate regularly. Meditation has a significant and positive effect on heart health because it reduces the strain on the heart and blood vessels and helps prevent heart disease. Preliminary research has found just 15 days of practicing pranayama meditation can improve cardiovascular functions – regardless of the person’s age, gender, or BMI.  The connection between heart health and meditation is very encouraging.
3. Meditation can improve depression.
Meditation interrupts the cycles of ruminative thought that can lead to depression. There is significant scientific evidence supporting the use of mindfulness as an adjunct treatment for depression. Mindfulness meditation is as effective as physical exercise in its antidepressant effects.
4. Meditation improves brain function
While meditation is best known to help ease stress and anxiety, it can also improve our attention span and memory. Meditation improves cognitive function and the ability to sustain focus by increasing gray matter and cerebral blood flow. Neuroscientists have studied mindfulness and discovered that meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain and even those who briefly practice mindfulness meditation tend to experience significant improvement in working memory.
5. Meditating can increase compassion.
Meditation helps us better understand our self, and increases positive feelings and actions towards strangers, and improves levels of love and effective compassion. A growing amount of research illustrates the effects of meditation on our interpersonal relationships including increased feelings of love and compassion in the brain.
6. Meditation promotes emotional health and well-being
Meditation is associated with a variety of health benefits, all of which may contribute to an individual’s overall well-being. When we meditate, we get a clear picture of our mind to promote positive thinking and become aware of the thoughts that drive our emotions and actions at the moment. Studies have shown that meditation improves self-image and self-worth.
7. Meditation can slow down aging.
Perhaps one of the most impressive benefits of meditation that it can slow down, or even prevent age-related memory loss like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Meditation can help improve sleep
Meditation brings relaxation responses that are conducive to sleep. Research suggests meditation helps one fall asleep quicker and improves sleep quality and duration. It also boosts melatonin levels, necessary for sleep induction.
9. Meditation can help pain management
Meditation can help one relate differently to unpleasant feelings and provides an effective tool in pain management. Together with medical care, this may help treat chronic pain. Several studies confirm that people who meditate regularly experience less pain than those who don't meditate.
10. Meditation can boost relationships
Meditation has been proven to help us across a range of social situations: it makes us less judgmental, increases empathy, and positively affects how we relate to others. In addition, increased self-awareness and non-judgmental acceptance associated with meditation lead to better communication of feelings and reduced social anxiety. 
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and the positive effect it has on people’s lives and well-being. Whether you say a mantra or just focus on breathing, meditation can help with many physical and mental health benefits.
Meditation is a powerful tool to take you beyond the limitations of body and mind. Scientific studies have documented that regular practice of meditation can boost health by increasing function of the immune system for healing, stress reduction, boosting brain function, increase happiness, and emotional self-control, and improve overall health.
Finally, in life, we can’t always control what happens to us. Through meditation, however, we can control our attitude and our response to these critical situations. Meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional responses. Meditation also improves one’s ability to focus even when one’s not meditating. I encourage you to enjoy one of life’s most valued treasures - Meditation. Why? Because meditation works. It’s free, can be done anywhere, and typically requires only a small amount of time. So, what are you waiting for? Start meditating and transform your life. Enjoy your meditation journey!
About the Author:
Darshan Goswami has more than 40 years of experience in the energy field. He worked as a Project Manager for Renewable Energy, Micro-grid, and Smart Grid projects at the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in Pittsburgh. Earlier, he retired as Chief (Head) of Renewable Energy from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC. Mr. Goswami is a registered Professional Engineer (PE) with a passion and commitment to promote, develop and deploy Renewable Energy and the Hydrogen Economy. In dedication to his life serving humanity and poor people, the author supports the India Foundation for Children Education and Care, Inc. (http://www.ifcare.org/).