Some methods of meditation use a word or phrase repeated over and over to help focus and block out distracting thoughts. In meditative prayer, our approach is different. We allow all thoughts to appear and then we let them go. And we use the sacred word to bring us back—to re-center us—when we notice we’ve been thinking. About anything. Including God. If we’re thinking about God, we’re not experiencing His presence.
A greater gain that meditation can bring is the long-term resilience that can come with regular practice. Research has shown that those who practice meditation regularly begin to experience changes in their response to stress that allow them to recover from stressful situations more easily and experience less stress from the challenges they face in their everyday lives. Some of this is thought to be the result of the increase in positive mood that can come from meditation; research shows that those who experience positive moods more often are more resilient toward stress.
Over the past decade mind and body practices, such as yoga and meditation, have raised interest in different scientific fields; in particular, the physiological mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects observed in meditators have been investigated. Neuroimaging studies have studied the effects of meditation on brain structure and function and findings have helped clarify the biological underpinnings of the positive effects of meditation practice and the possible integration of this technique in standard therapy. The large amount of data collected thus far allows drawing some conclusions about the neural effects of meditation practice. In the present study we used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) analysis to make a coordinate-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging data on the effects of meditation on brain structure and function. Results indicate that meditation leads to activation in brain areas involved in processing self-relevant information, self-regulation, focused problem-solving, adaptive behavior, and interoception. Results also show that meditation practice induces functional and structural brain modifications in expert meditators, especially in areas involved in self-referential processes such as self-awareness and self-regulation. These results demonstrate that a biological substrate underlies the positive pervasive effect of meditation practice and suggest that meditation techniques could be adopted in clinical populations and to prevent disease.