Meditation is no longer some new-age mystery activity practiced by hippies. It has been embraced by celebrities, CEO’s and stay-at-home moms alike. Why you ask? Stress and anxiety are on the rise. But also, meditation provides a solution with little to no side effects.
You don’t need any equipment to meditate. You don’t even need to spend a penny in order to clear your mind.
Meditation is accessible, and it works. But these aren’t just empty claims. They’re actually backed up by science. Read on to find out for yourself the many benefits of meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a form of mental and mindfulness training. It is capable of creating a connection between the body, mind, and spirit. Meditation is a form of complementary and integrative medicine, which comes from spiritual traditions but is now a form of psychobehavioural therapy. It involves habitually training your mind to focus and redirecting your thoughts.
You can use meditation to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings and it can help you to develop other health habits. This includes positive mood, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and increased pain tolerance.
Types of meditation
- Zazen meditation is performed in the seated position. The goal here is to calm the body and mind.
- Tai chi is kind of like meditation in motion. It is based on energetic martial art performances.
- Yoga is a form of exercise that often involves meditation practices.
- Focused attention meditation involves concentrating on an object, sound, thought, or visualization. Rid your mind of distractions, and instead focus on breathing, a calming sound, or a certain mantra that resonates with you.
- Open monitoring meditation is yet another type of meditation. This type of meditation involves having a broad awareness. This awareness includes all aspects of your environment, your train of thought, and your sense of self. You may become more aware of thoughts, feelings, or impulses that you have been suppressing.
If you’re starting out meditating, try taking some deep breaths. Focus on your breath. Use that as your anchor. Thoughts may come along, but do not let them enter your mind. When you feel thoughts coming on, think of them as clouds. They will come, but they will pass overhead. They will not hover for a long time.
One of the great things about meditation is that it is accessible anywhere. You don’t need extra equipment or extra space. You don’t even necessarily need a lot of time. Just a few minutes a day can have benefit.
If your home or work environment doesn’t allow for any quiet or alone time, you can think about joining a meditation class. Joining a class comes with the added benefit of a sense of community and support.
Some people like setting their alarm earlier in the morning so that they can have some quiet time before the rest of the house is awake. This can also help to encourage a consistent habit of daily meditation. It also gets you to start the day off on a positive note.
What are the benefits of meditation?
1) Stress reduction
Meditation can help to have relaxation, balance, and self-control in your life. Meditation can also help to develop consciousness.
One study looked at 48 healthy volunteers between the ages of 39 and 50 years old. These subjects were divided into Zazen, Tai Chi, and non-meditating groups. Both the Zazen and Tai Chi groups found that they had more openness to experience. This enhanced openness of experience was associated with improved strategies for coping with stress. People who meditated were less likely to use avoidance approaches in response to stress.
Meditators also had a better mood compared to the control groups. Researchers concluded that different types of meditation can be helpful for mental health. They do this by improving general well-being, helping to manage stress, and lead to a better vigor of spirit. Meditation can make a good form of treatment to use in conjunction with psychotherapy for stress.
Another study looked at college students for eight weeks. They used a mindfulness meditation mobile app. Researchers then evaluated the participants’ stress, mindfulness abilities, and self-compassion. The results showed significant differences in stress, mindfulness, and self-compassion between the meditation and control groups. These effects were also present at follow-up. Participants reported that meditation helped to reduce stress and would use this meditation app again in the future.
Mindfulness meditation programs can help to improve stress and quality of life in relation to mental health. Researchers want clinicians to be aware that meditation programs can lead to reductions in psychological stress.
Stress reduction is actually one of the most common reasons that people try meditation in the first place. Mental and physical stress can lead to high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol leads to the release of inflammatory cytokines. This can result in sleep disruptions, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, fatigue, and brain fog.
One eight-week-long study showed that mindfulness meditation could reduce the inflammation response that stress causes.
Research shows that meditation can improve symptoms of stress-related conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome (called IBS for short), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and fibromyalgia.
2) Improves cognitive performance
Meditation improves the regulation of emotions and attention. There is also some evidence to show that meditation is associated with higher integration of brain networks.
One study looked at 16 novice meditators and 16 experienced meditators. The novice meditators did a basic meditation daily practice. This meditation training involved effortless awareness. This is an important quality of mindfulness practices. Their EEG (brain waves) were recorded while doing these meditations.
Experienced meditators chose a meditation technique that also used effortless awareness. Researchers then looked at and analyzed network integration. The results showed that functional networks are better integrated with experienced meditators than novice meditators during meditation.
There are several neurodegenerative diseases that involve grey matter atrophy in the brain. Meditation may have an impact on this. One meta-analysis looked at several studies. All studies reported significant increases in the volume of grey matter in people who meditated. Researchers concluded that meditation could offset grey matter atrophy.
People with regular meditation practices display structural and functional changes in their brains. This is also true of people who complete mindfulness-based stress reduction programs.
Meditation has several benefits on cognition, including on your ability to concentrate. Meditation increases activity in the theta and alpha waves of the brain. This means that meditation can actually create changes in your brain activity!
Improvements in your cognition can help to keep your mind young by improving attention and mental clarity. Studies done on people with age-related memory loss can improve their performance on neuropsychological tests through meditation.
One study found evidence that different meditation styles can increase your attention, memory, and mental quickness. This was true of elder participants as well.
Meditation can also improve memory in patients with dementia. As a result, it also helps to manage stress and improve coping mechanisms in people caring for family members with dementia.
3) Improves pain
Systematic reviews of mindfulness-based stress reduction show improvements in pain scores. Research shows that daily meditation is more effective than exercise in reducing chronic neck pain. One study looked at the evidence on the efficacy and safety of mindful meditations for the treatment of chronic pain. Researchers found that meditation is associated with a decrease in pain compared with control groups.
4) Improves symptoms of depression and anxiety
Studies have found that meditation decreases depression symptoms and quality of life in a statistically significant manner. Research also supports the use of meditation in anxiety disorders.
Studies demonstrate that mindfulness-based meditation has positive effects on depression. And the even better news? These effects can last for six months or more. Researchers have concluded that the general health benefits of meditation justify its use as adjunctive therapy for depression and anxiety disorders.
So how does meditation do this? One simple theory is that meditation helps to reduce stress levels. This then leads to less anxiety.
One meta-analysis looked at 1300 adults and found that meditation can reduce anxiety. Interestingly, this effect was strongest in the subjects with the most anxiety.
Another study found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training helped reduce anxiety in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (called GAD for short). This meditation also helped to increase positive self-statements in these patients. Mindfulness meditation also helped to improve their reactions to stress and their ability to cope.
5) Lowers blood pressure
Research also shows that meditation can improve blood pressure control and the prevention of heart disease. This might be because of meditation’s effects on the regulation of emotional and biological responses to stress. Meditation can also help to regulate the autonomous nervous system.
If you have chronically high blood pressure, this causes the heart to work harder than it should to pump blood. This can contribute to poor heart function. High blood pressure leads to atherosclerosis. This is the medical term for narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can contribute to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
One study found that meditation helped to reduce blood pressure. They also found that this effect was heightened among older people and among those who had high blood pressure before the study.
Meditation can help lower blood pressure by relaxing nerve signals that coordinate heart function. Meditation also helps to relax blood vessel tension. It also affects the fight or flight response that heightens alertness in stressful situations.
6) Increases telomere length
Telomeres are kind of like little caps at the end of your chromosomes. Short telomeres are a sign of worsening health and earlier death. One study found that people who meditate have longer telomeres than control groups. Researchers in this study concluded that meditation-based interventions can prevent telomere shortening and even increase the length of telomeres.
7) Promotes emotional health
Certain types of meditation can lead to a better self-image and a more positive life outlook. One systematic review looked at mindfulness meditation treatments in over 3500 adults. Researchers found that mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of depression.
Another review of 18 different research studies showed that patients receiving meditation therapy had fewer symptoms of depression compared to control groups. A different study discovered that those who completed a meditation exercise had fewer negative thoughts after viewing negative images compared to controls.
Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals released in response to stress. The release of cytokines can affect mood and lead to depression. A systematic review looked at several meditation studies. They found that mediation can decrease levels of inflammatory cytokines, thus reducing depression.
8) Enhances self-awareness
Certain forms of meditation can help you to develop a better relationship with the most important person in your life: you! This can help you to grow into the best version of yourself.
One of these forms of meditation is called self-inquiry meditation. The purpose of self-inquiry meditation is to develop a greater understanding of yourself. It’s also to improve how you relate to other people in your life.
There are also other forms of meditation that teach you to recognize when thoughts are self-defeating or could be harmful. This can help you to steer your thoughts in a more positive direction.
Tai chi is one form of meditation. One systematic review looked at 27 different studies that showed tai chi may be linked with improved self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their own ability to overcome challenges. This is crucial for self-awareness.
A different study looked at 153 people using a mindfulness meditation app for two weeks. Researchers found that the participants in this study had less feelings of loneliness and more social contact compared to the control group.
Research also shows that experience in meditation can improve problem-solving skills and creativity.
9) Lengthens attention span
Did you know that there is actually a specific type of meditation called focused attention meditation? This form of meditation is kind of like weight lifting, but instead of for your muscles, it’s for your attention span. One study found that those who listened to a guided meditation had more attention and accuracy when completing a task compared to the control group.
A different study found that those who have a regular practice of meditation do better on a visual task. They also have a longer attention span compared to people with no meditation experience at all.
Another study found that meditation can actually reverse patterns in the brain. These are specific patterns that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying, and short attention span.
The good news is that you don’t need to meditate for very long each time in order to reap meditation benefits. In fact, one study found that meditation for 13 minutes daily improved attention and memory after eight weeks.
10) Can encourage kindness
Certain styles of meditation can increase positive feelings and actions towards yourself as well as towards other people. One of these styles is called Metta meditation. This is also known as loving-kindness meditation. In Metta meditation, you start by thinking kind thoughts and directing kind feelings towards yourself. Over time, you will eventually extend this kindness to others since kindness is contagious.
A review of 22 studies looked at Metta-type meditation. The results of this review showed that Metta meditation can increase people’s compassion towards themselves as well as towards others.
One study looked at 100 people who did loving-kindness meditation. The results showed that the benefits from this type of meditation were “dose-dependent.” This means that the more time people spent doing loving-kindness meditation, the more positive feelings they felt.
Another study looked at 50 college students. It found that doing Metta meditation three times per week improved positive emotions. It also helped improve their interpersonal interactions and understanding of other people. This was after just 12 meditation sessions. The benefits seemed to improve over time.
11) Can help fight addictions
One of the benefits of meditation is that it can help to develop mental discipline. This can improve self-control and trigger awareness. Research shows that meditation can help patients to redirect their attention. They can also better manage their impulses and emotions. People who meditate tend to have a better understanding of the causes of their addictive behaviors.
One study looked at 60 people in treatment for alcohol use disorder. Researchers found that doing transcendental meditation was associated with lower stress levels. It also was associated with less psychological distress, alcohol cravings, and even alcohol use three months later.
Food addiction is also a major problem in our society. Meditation may help with the control of food cravings. One review of 14 different studies found that mindfulness meditation helped to reduce emotional eating and binge eating.
12) Improves sleep
This is an important one since almost half the population struggles with insomnia at some point in their lives. One study looked at mindfulness-based meditation programs. They found that those who meditated stayed asleep longer compared with control groups.
Meditation is a simple activity that can have numerous benefits for your health. It can even have a major impact on your life. Based on your needs, you can choose a type of meditation that’s best suited to you.
Need some more positivity in your life? Sounds like the benefits of loving-kindness meditation would do you some good. Do you have an overactive mind? Then Tai Chi might be right for you. No matter what type of meditation you choose to engage in, it’s all about increasing your awareness. Awareness of yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, or your surroundings.
You may want to try meditation if you are looking for benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. If you are hoping to improve your performance at school or work, then meditation can be helpful for that as well. If you have chronic pain, then meditation can even help you there.
But, if you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, then practicing meditation can make up part of a healthy heart program. Since meditation can prevent the shortening of telomeres, it can help to increase longevity.
If you want to achieve inner peace and bolster your emotional intelligence, then morning meditation can be helpful there too. If you want to enhance your self-awareness and lengthen your attention span, then meditation may be a good option. Now, if you simply want to display kindness to yourself and others, then meditation can be an important component of that. If you struggle with addiction or insomnia, then meditation can be there for you through this as well.
Talk to your health care practitioner to see if meditation is right for you. Search for a meditation teacher. Or, you can simply start taking some deep breaths right now and start reaping the benefits of meditation today.