How to meditate with a mala & the powerful benefits of mantra meditation
Have you ever wondered how to meditate with a mala? Or why is mantra meditation so effective? This post will teach you everything you need to know about using mala beads for mantra meditation, so you can begin this simple yet profound practice today!
Mantra meditation as the name suggests, is a form of meditation used to focus the mind and replace the endless, internal chatter of our thoughts. This ancient practice has been used for thousands of years yet it has remained off the radar of the western world until now. Thanks to technological breakthroughs and cutting-edge studies in the field of neuroscience, researchers have recently discovered that mantra recitation produces actual health benefits.
During mantra meditation (also called mantra recitation) normal brain function is interrupted as the practitioner narrows their focus to a single task—repeating the mantra while using a mala as an aid to keep track of the speed, rhythm, and number of recitations without losing focus on the mantra itself.
Let’s talk science for a minute.
Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden measured brain activity in a system of regions referred to as the default mode network (DMN)– the part of the brain responsible for mind-wandering even when we are at rest.
Researchers found that activity in the DMN significantly decreases during mantra meditation; a phenomenon now dubbed the “mantra effect.”
During two separate studies, researchers found that mantra meditation can significantly increase activity in the parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self and emotions. The first study measured brain activity in people who had an extensive background in meditation. In the second study, participants had no experience with meditation. In both studies, tests were conducted before and after the practice period to measure brainwave activity. The researchers investigated brain activity during mantra meditation and found that alpha waves, which usually indicate a person is awake but relaxed, were strongest in the frontal lobe, an area associated with attention, concentration and other “higher” cognitive functions. They found that mantra meditation stimulates parts of the brain that are believed to be linked to consciousness and sense of self.
Researchers have found that people who have a strong meditation background have a larger volume of grey matter in several areas of the brain such as the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions. They also found increased grey matter in the frontal cortex, the area of the brain linked to decision-making and working memory. A component of the central nervous system, Grey matter is composed of neurons (commonly called brain cells) which serve to process information in the brain.
Why is this important?
Most people experience shrinking in the frontal cortex as they age but for experienced meditators that is not the case. In fact, research indicates the opposite; people aged 50+ who have an established meditative practice had the same amount of grey matter in their brains as people who were half their age.
That is incredible for long term meditators but what about people with no meditation experience?
To see if phenomenon was limited to long-term meditators researchers launched a second study of participants without experience in meditation and the results were astonishing. Participants were instructed to meditate for 40 minutes every day for 8 weeks.
In just 2 months, the participants had experienced a monumental change for the better. Imaging showed a thickening in several brain regions, including areas involved in involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation, empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives. Participants experienced a reduction in stress levels caused by a shrinkage of the amygdala, the region responsible for fear, anxiety, and aggression.
This does not come as a surprise to life-long meditators who have experienced these profound benefits first-hand but in the field of neuroscience and psychology, this is only the beginning. Pursuing alternatives to pharmaceuticals for treating mental disorders is a growing interest which is why studies like these are so important especially because it can be done anywhere and anytime; plus, it is absolutely free!