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Meditation and its Effects on Youth and the Brain

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It has been said that the millennial and gen z are the most stressed group of individuals in recorded history. A common form of relaxation is yoga and has impacted many people around the United States. Although another practice that seems to be overlooked in certain groups is meditation. Meditation has been portrayed in the media as chanting and staying completely still for hours, weeks, months, even years on end while trying to find nirvana. While this is a practice it is not the meditation that will be discussed in this paper. For those students, activists, hard workers, or just about anyone else, loving kindness and mindfulness meditation are perfect choices that can be practiced in your everyday lives.

There are many forms of meditation but the two that seem to be important or used in therapeutic practices are loving-kindness, also known as LKM, and mindfulness. (King, 2016) The two are not the same but are used to reach similar goals and outcomes; since the point of meditating is to “attain a peace of mind where one is mindfully present to their thoughts and feelings, but they are not consumed by them.” (King, 2016) Many youth have turned to practicing meditation as it shifts their attitudes to their daily lives and how they interact with their peers, “Furthermore, mindfulness meditation with urban youth has been shown to help with goal achievement and interpersonal relationships.” (Schussel, 2013) This is a safe and effective way of helping young adults and adolescence to cope with a problem before it becomes detrimental to the rest of their health and lead to future life-long issues.

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Mindfulness meditation is eliminating distractions, focusing on posture, breathing rhythmically, and then being situational aware. (King, 2016) It is in this form of meditation where one will be able to acknowledge their thoughts but not completely focus on them thus being consumed by its effects. “Mindfulness-related meditation has been integrated into psychological approaches to treating stress, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, binge eating disorder, insomnia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic symptoms.” (Leppma, 2012) By incorporating mindfulness meditation into ones life it can create a shift into how they approach their daily actions and feelings. As an added bonus one will be able to feel better as an individual and keep an open mind about their feelings as well as the feelings of others.

Loving-kindness meditation is accepting yourself and the people around you. (King, 2016) One starts out by constant positive reinforcement on the self and then on others. This will then promote self-love for you and can help shift the views one would have on the world and on other people, “Loving-kindness teaches people not to identify with negative emotions and self-judgments and to recognize their own essential nature. According to the Buddha, ‘you can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserves your love and affection’.” (Leppma, 2012) For people who have anxiety or depression this form of meditation will help to improve their mindset on how they view themselves and the world around them. This practice seems similar to mindfulness meditation but the only difference is that their focus is truly knowing ones self worth and this will turn into a ripple effect that promotes love towards everyone else. In studies about loving-kindness meditation as well as mindfulness meditation, it shows that “A meta-analysis of mindfulness-based stress-reduction programs concluded that this type of intervention is efficacious for individuals coping with a variety of physical and mental health issues including pain, cancer, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.” (Sears, 2009) Methods as simple as meditation can improve ones mind in order to create peace with themselves and others. “Empirical evidence suggests that practicing loving-kindness meditation can enhance positive emotional states, as well as increase personal resources (e.g., social support, purpose in life, mindfulness) and social connectedness.” (Schussel, 2013) Meditation has been proven to work and should be noticed more often by all age groups as well as encouraged for those who often refuse medication in order to help with whatever emotional or physical problems they might have.

Research has been conducted to take a closer look at how meditation affects the brain. “These studies have reported various positive effects of mindfulness meditation on emotional processing, such as a reduction in emotional interference by unpleasant stimuli, decreased physiological reactivity and facilitated return to emotional baseline after response to a stressor film, and decreased self-reported difficulties in emotion regulation.” (Tang, 2015) This means that mindfulness meditation has shown positive results and helps people to shift to a calmer approach of stressful situations. As more people use meditation to relieve psychological issues it is also shown that “Growing evidence also demonstrates changes in the functional properties of the brain following meditation.” (Tang, 2015) People are improving their function in the mind and environment around them. “Some further studies have investigated correlations between brain changes and other variables related to mindfulness practice, such as stress reduction, emotion regulation or increased well-being. Most studies include small sample sizes of between 10 and 34 subjects per group.” (Tang, 2015) With this evidence we can see that there are healthy and positive affects to meditation. It is important that when practicing meditation that one should begin with either a counselor or a licensed professional because if done improperly the affects of mediation will not always result in expected changes.

There is still skepticism as to whether or not meditation is effective or is outdated practice but all meditation is, is to become relaxed and focus on either yourself or acknowledging an issue in a healthy manner. Schussel explains that while one meditates the mind is “In deeper relaxed states such as those induced by meditation, hypnagogic imagery has been shown to be more effective at stimulating the part of the brain related to pain compared with normal imagined activity, suggesting imagery in a hypnogogic state is more powerful than imagined activity alone.” (2013) Our mind is in the processes of helping us to relieve pain and get rid of negative thoughts, it will slowly shift our mindset into becoming more positive which will in turn help any mental disorders an individual may have. It is not to say that taking any prescription medication is not going to be helpful or beneficial, because for some people it most definitely is, but this is another form of a hallucinogen that some may find to be more appropriate for them.

A very important step for people who have depression, anxiety, or any other psychological issue after they seek help is doing what they can to help or eliminate the problem. Those who choose to meditate and seek a counselor work to face the problem together, “The primary goal of both counseling and LKM is to alleviate suffering. Other outcomes psychotherapy and LKM may share are decreasing pathology, improving mental states, and promoting healthy human development. Moreover, like cognitive- behavioral therapy (CBT), a primary goal of all meditation is to train the mind to disengage from habitual reactions and ways of thinking.” (Leppma, 2012) As previously discussed it is important to find solutions to any problem and treating a mental illness should be as serious as a physical one, with meditation we are reprogramming our mind to find a healthy way of reacting in our environment and with ourselves. This being said because research on meditation and how it affects the brain is still fairly new scientists are currently able to see the positive affects in the brain that is caused by meditation, “Knowledge of the mechanisms that underlie the effects of meditation is therefore still in its infancy. However, there is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness.” (Tang, 2015) The goal of meditation is to not completely cure ones mental disorder, but to help it and begin the process of healing, as long as there are changes in the way people seem to feel because of meditation, then it is a practice that should continue to occur. With counseling it is important to understand that an important goal that most people would like to achieve is to visualize an ideal state, “Visualizing an “idealized self state” or best self through a guided meditation was thought to be useful for establishing a “coherent self” during the course of therapy. This practice has been informed by recent developments in neuroscience research on visualization and related cognitive pathways.” (Schussel, 2013) Using meditation to achieve this goal could possibly be one of the most effective methods for youth as well as older groups.

As people continue to seek solutions to help their mental health it is clear that meditation is effective and can improve the well being of folks, “Although mindfulness meditation is not goal-orientated in itself, the clarity and acceptance it cultivates may, in turn, increase the likelihood of identifying and pursing tenable goals and effective pathways to achieve them.” (Sears, 2009) It is important to ask for help, and to keep in mind that not each method of relief will always be the most effective. Meditation has been proven to work but it will not completely cure any mental disorders because in order to do that you must also include any variable necessary to accomplish that goal.

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