Most of the people who visit Sahaja are there for deep spiritual benefits. But every now and then it’s great to know that a powerful form of meditation like Sahaja has several scientifically proven benefits and to understand the intricacies of meditation within us.
One such fascinating area is the influence of meditation on our neurochemicals.
The average adult human brain weighs around 3 pounds. and contains around 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Our emotions and feelings are formulated at the cellular level through the behavior of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters that are released at the synapses (nerve connections). Over 100 neurotransmitters have been identified.
Neurochemicals are involved in meditation’s ability to induce an altered state of consciousness in a very positive way.
Neuromodulators, which are heavily influenced by meditation, are neurotransmitters that modulate or adjust the normal effects of a particular neurotransmitter (e.g., increase or decrease the effects of another neurotransmitter; shorten or lengthen its activity).
We sprout new neural connections every day. And by influencing the effects of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, meditation can become a constant stimulus to create permanent changes in the brain and nervous system, thereby affecting our mental health and wellbeing.
So what exactly does meditation affect when it comes to neurochemicals?
Meditation encourages positive emotions, bonding, and social skills.
Arginine vasopressin (AVP) is a hormone that has been shown to increase dramatically during meditation (2.6 to 7.1 times normal plasma levels) (O’Halloran JP, et al, 1985). It was found that AVP helps maintain positive emotions (Pietrowsky R., 1991), significantly improves self-perceived fatigue and the consolidation of new memories and learning (Weingartner H. et al., 1981).
A large increase in AVP can also help improve the meditator’s memory of his or her experience, which may explain why meditative experiences are often remembered and described in vivid terms. Talk to a Sahaja practitioner and you will almost inevitably hear some amazing stories about their experiences with meditation that are burned into their minds.
It has recently been shown that AVP significantly influences social behavior by mediating the secretion of the neurohormone oxytocin (Ebstein RP, et al, 2009). Oxytocin is critical to bonding, trust and socialization skills, and a deficiency in this hormone has been shown to be implicated in the social deficits of people with autism spectrum disorders (Ebstein RP, et al, 2009).
Meditation lifts our spirits along with heightened feelings of joy and pleasure.
Dopamine is involved in the regulation of alertness and has been associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. It is the primary neurotransmitter involved in motivation and motor activity. Dopamine is also involved in the release of natural feel-good endorphins, which act as natural mood enhancers and have a calming effect on us. Researchers found that meditation resulted in an approximately 65% increased release of dopamine in limbic or emotional areas of the brain.
It may come as no surprise that people love to stay in this state of deep meditation and give up worrying about their problems.
Serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, is the main neurotransmitter that affects mood. Serotonin was found to increase after meditation, and overall higher levels were measured in long-term meditators (Newberg, A., Iverson, J., 2003; Bujatti, 1976).
Meditation cuts the stimulator off from stress and anxiety.
Adrenaline is both a neurotransmitter (works in the brain) and a stress hormone (works in other places such as the heart or glands). It stimulates our sympathetic nervous system to produce fight-or-flight responses such as increased heart rate, increased blood sugar levels, and increased blood flow to the muscles.
Studies have found reduced adrenaline levels during meditation (Walton, KG, et al., 1995; Infante, JR, 2001). During meditation, the hypothalamus can block the adrenaline secretion from the adrenal medulla, which reduces anxiety. Decreased adrenaline, coupled with the deep state of relaxation during meditation, enables the hypothalamus to calm down (Chugh, D., 1987).
Meditation promotes relaxation.
We all already know that, but how exactly? During meditation, the activation of the right amygdala in the brain leads to a stimulation of the hypothalamus. This process stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with a feeling of relaxation and deep calm.
Meditation increases concentration and improves overall mental health.
Several studies have shown an increase in serum GABA during meditation, which improves your focus by limiting distracting external stimuli in the visual cortex. It also has a number of important mental health benefits.
GABA has a calming, anti-anxiety effect on the brain by modulating or regulating the activity of other neurotransmitters that are critical for mental health. Its activity is inhibitory – it helps keep other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, adrenaline, and dopamine in check and balance. An inability to produce and circulate adequate amounts of GABA has been linked to conditions such as anxiety, tension, insomnia, and epilepsy.
Meditation improves happiness and well-being.
We’ve known this benefit of meditation for quite some time, but you should be glad it wasn’t based on just any quacks, strange autosuggestions, or a mere feel-good factor.
One study in men found that Sahaja meditation induced a 70 percent increase in beta endorphins as measured by blood plasma levels (Mishra, R., Barlas, C. & Barone, D., 1993).
Endorphins create an all-encompassing feeling of happiness and wellbeing known in athletes as “runner’s high”. Endorphins can help lower blood pressure, suppress breathing, reduce anxiety, relieve pain, and create feelings of joy and euphoria.
Do you often see meditators feeling youthful and fresh? Regular meditators have significantly lower levels of cortisol, an age-accelerating hormone (Sudsuang R., Chentanez V., Veluvan K., 1991; Newberg, A., Iverson, J., 2003).
Meditation improves the quality of sleep.
Meditation is believed to increase melatonin levels by increasing its synthesis in the pineal gland (Massion et al., 1995). Sahaja meditation techniques direct the flow of energy through the energy centers or chakras of the body and can selectively activate or suppress various glands that are connected to these energy centers. The pineal gland corresponds to the Sahasrara chakra, which is located at the top of the head.
In Sahaja meditation, the Sahasrara is associated with the achievement of the state of thoughtless awareness, the integration of the energy from all chakras, the unity with the collective consciousness and feelings of joy.
So how can you maximize your benefits from meditation?
Meditation does much more than just superficially calm down or just relieve stress. Scientific evidence shows that it can bring deeper benefits by affecting the neurochemicals in our brain. Here are some key steps you should take in Sahaja meditation to maximize its benefits:
- Plan to meditate at least twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes. First thing in the morning, choose one of these sessions.
- Try to attend as many common meditation sessions online as possible; These improve the quality and control of your attention and give you better results much faster.
- Focus on your experience and improvement in every aspect of your life. It is not enough just to gain knowledge of meditation.
- Delve deep into the benefits by trying to identify and experience them first. Then we are here to offer you a great deal of knowledge about how and why these great things happen to you when you meditate.
- Don’t expect magical or instant results from meditation – the effects of neurochemicals affected by meditation gradually invade our nervous systems. You will see progressive but steady improvement in many aspects of your health and wellbeing. But of course you have to put in some work to do it – meditation is not a pill that you can take and wipe out.