By Molly O’brien

Mindfulness meditation­­ — with its focus on breathing, body awareness and grounding in the present moment — has been found to have emotional benefits beyond the well-known physical benefits. The technique is particularly effective at combating anxiety. Meditating helps us shift our attention from troubling issues beyond our control toward the present moment and events we can control. Studies at the University of Montreal report that meditation helps to replenish serotonin, a key neurotransmitter linked to feelings of well-being. Known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin is vital in maintaining our overall sense of contentment.

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Eases chronic stress

Researchers at Rutgers University found that people who meditated regularly enjoyed a 50 percent reduction in levels of cortisol, one of the two main hormones associated with stress. The release of cortisol is a natural response to any stressful event. However, constant stimulation by this hormone as the result of chronic anxiety can cause long-term body damage, including wasting away of muscle tissue and bone. Meditation also has physical effects on the body that counter the long-term effects.

Increases self-awareness

The demands of the outside world keep us focused on external events as we respond to environmental cues. In doing so, we often deprive ourselves of rich information generated by our bodies and spirits. Meditation allows us to focus on our internal functioning. Breathing techniques, such as attention to the simple inflow and outflow of air, are a major component of meditation. This quiets the mind and gives us access to the intuitive parts of our brain.

Helps with addictive behaviors

The use of addictive substances overstimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex, called “the happiness center.” When the elevation in mood wears off so does the brain hyperactivity, leaving the individual in a gloomier mood than before. Researchers at Harvard University found that meditation provides natural stimulation of the prefrontal cortex. It trains the brain to self-activate feelings of contentment. Moreover, the technique helps a person manage thoughts of craving through neutral observation and a nonjudgmental attitude.