Meditation is a practice that involves training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. It has been around for thousands of years, but it has gained popularity in recent years as more people discover its many health benefits. Meditation can help you increase your awareness of yourself and your surroundings, reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood and well-being, enhance your cognitive and physical performance, and even slow down the aging process of your brain.
But how does meditation work? And what does science say about its effects? In this article, we will explore some of the evidence-based benefits of meditation and explain how it can benefit you in different aspects of your life.
Meditation Reduces Stress and Anxiety
One of the most common reasons people try meditation is to reduce stress and anxiety. Stress is a natural response to challenging or threatening situations, but when it becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can have negative consequences for your health and happiness. Stress can cause increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which can trigger inflammation, disrupt sleep, impair immune function, increase blood pressure, and contribute to depression and anxiety.
Meditation can help you cope with stress by activating the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response involves lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and muscle tension, and increasing your feelings of calmness and well-being. Meditation can also help you become more mindful of your thoughts and emotions, and less reactive to negative or stressful stimuli.
Several studies have shown that meditation can reduce stress and anxiety in different populations, such as employees, students, patients with chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). For example:
• A review of 47 studies with over 3,500 participants found that mindfulness meditation programs can effectively reduce stress and anxiety (1).
• An 8-week study with 89 employees who used a mindfulness meditation app showed that they experienced improved well-being and decreased distress and job strain compared to a control group (2).
• An 8-week study with 93 people with GAD found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program that combines meditation with yoga and other practices, helped reduce anxiety symptoms and improve positive self-statements and coping skills (3).
Meditation Improves Memory and Cognitive Functioning
Meditation can also benefit your brain structure and function by enhancing neural connections, increasing gray matter volume, boosting blood flow, and slowing down brain aging. These changes can improve your memory, attention, creativity, problem-solving, and learning abilities. The Benefits of Meditation: A Scientific Perspective.
Some of the evidence for the cognitive benefits of meditation includes:
• A study with 50 meditators and 50 non-meditators found that meditators had better performance on tests of attention, working memory, verbal fluency, and executive functioning than non-meditators (4).
• A study with 16 participants who completed an 8-week MBSR program showed that they had increased gray matter density in brain regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness, and perspective taking (5).
• A study with 100 older adults who practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation for 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed that they had improved blood flow to the brain regions responsible for memory and cognition compared to a control group who listened to relaxing music (6).
• A study with 27 long-term meditators (average age 52) and 27 age-matched controls found that meditators had less age-related decline in cortical thickness than controls (7).
Meditation Enhances Well-Being and Happiness
Meditation can also help you cultivate positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, compassion, love, and peace. These emotions can boost your well-being and happiness by increasing your satisfaction with life, strengthening your relationships, fostering altruism, and reducing suffering.
Some of the evidence for the emotional benefits of meditation includes:
• A study with 139 adults who practiced loving-kindness meditation (LKM), a type of meditation that involves sending positive wishes to oneself and others, showed that they had increased positive emotions, life satisfaction, social support,and reduced depressive symptoms compared to a control group who did not practice LKM (8).
• A study with 60 undergraduate students who practiced compassion meditation
With our fast paced society, meditation may appear to some very time consuming, but we can be deliberate and allow this to become a part of our life despite the demands of our lives. You have the time, make the time. Meditation and mindfulness practices may have a variety of health benefits and may help people improve the quality of their lives. Recent studies have investigated if meditation or mindfulness helps people manage anxiety, stress, depression, pain, or symptoms related to withdrawal from nicotine, alcohol, or opioids.
MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION emotions and memories in a completely different manner Mindfulness and meditation allows an individual to suppress secondary reactive forces of avoidance and resistance. Mindfulness and meditation are also effective in treatment of sexual addictions. They create a sound prevention relapse program that makes an individual aware of emotions, urges and thought processes that precede a sexual activity. Their awareness of all the inner body processes including those that trigger a relapse is increased.Furthermore, mindfulness and meditation helps victims of sexual addiction to free themselves from fantasies and fears, helping the mind to attain a higher sense of equanimity. It gives a person the ability to reflect on themselves instead of chasing external sources to help them cope with their fears andfantasies.It helps the addict to have a higher sense of self esteem leading to gradual reduction of weird behaviours. These two practices are also effective in management of depression. Mindfulness and meditation can moderate emotional arousal intensity when one is stressed. They also increase the levels endorphins, serotonin, DHEA, GABA and HGH,secretions that reduce the effects of cortisol, which is the main stress .These beneficial brain chemicals combat the effects of depression. Mindfulness and meditation are also effective in management of drug addiction recovery because it alters some cognitive processing in the brain reducing the potency of withdrawal symptoms. Mindfulness and meditation practices equip drug addicts with better coping skills. They also make them more aware of drug abuse triggers, helping them in their recovery. Finally, mindfulness and meditation are effective in treatment of eating disorders. They help people with eating disorders to develop non judgemental attitudes towards the sensations, emotions and thoughts in their bodies.Mindfulness and meditation increases their ability to notice fullness and hunger cues. It also enhances their ability and willingness to deal with unpleasant emotions that trigger eating disorders. All in all, mindfulness and meditation have proven to be highly effective therapeutic practices that can have a positive impact on human health