While many of us know meditation as a relaxation technique, the benefits of it go far beyond just that. As this ancient practice gains popularity all over the world, more investigation into what it can do for us is happening every day. Below are some promising findings of the benefits of meditation and some resources to help develop your practice.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a mind-body practice that allows us to feel increased calm and relaxation. Through the use of breath awareness, bodily sensations, or mantras, we can find a single point of reference to help still the mind. As we practice this technique, we experience many mental, emotional, and physical benefits. Here are the benefits of meditation that can have a great impact on our overall well-being:
- Increased attention span: Meditation encourages a quieting of the mind and a single point of focus that can retrain us to stay focused on one thing for an extended period of time. One review found that meditation may even reverse patterns in the area of the brain associated with mind-wandering, and can actually help create structural changes in the brain to improve focus and concentration.
- Reduced age-related brain degeneration: As we age, our brains shrink in volume causing memory loss, decreased ability to focus, and impaired problem-solving ability. One study showed that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Recent research also confirmed through brain scans that 50-year-old meditators had comparable brain volume as 25-year-olds in various parts of the brain. Additionally, a review of 12 studies found that multiple meditation styles may offset age-related cognitive decline and may increase cognitive capabilities in older adults.
- Stress reduction: Meditation gives us a moment to be still during the course of a busy day. That small break can help us reduce our stress levels. One study showed that meditation was as effective as physical activity in reducing stress levels. Additionally, in occupational settings, people who regularly practiced transcendental meditation showed improvement in stress levels and general health. They also showed a decrease in anxiety, job tension, insomnia, fatigue, and cigarette and hard liquor use.
- Reduced anxiety: A decrease in stress often leads to a decrease in anxiety. As meditation quiets the mind, the racing thoughts of anxiety can be relieved. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is associated with lower levels of anxiety even three years after introduction to the technique. A review study also found that the use of mindfulness meditation is comparable to the effects of medication to treat anxiety.
- Increased social connection and emotional intelligence: Practicing meditation techniques such as loving-kindness meditation has been shown to increase daily experiences of positive emotions, leading to increased mindfulness, purpose in life, and social support. Even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation can increase feelings of social connection and positivity toward other individuals. A review of 22 studies also found that kindness-based meditations increased self-compassion and compassion for others.
- Increased body satisfaction: After a brief three-week exposure to self-compassion meditation training, women experienced reductions in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and contingent self-worth based on appearance. They also showed gains in self-compassion and body appreciation.
- Improved sleep: Mindfulness meditation, used within either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI) programs, can be successfully used as a treatment of insomnia with potentially long-lasting results. MBTI, especially, has shown long-term improvement in the time it takes to fall asleep, and total sleep time for people who practice it.
- Improved pain management: In one study, mindfulness meditation reduced all subjects’ pain intensity from 11 to 70%, and pain unpleasantness ratings from 20 to 93% after just four days of training. A review of 47 trials also found a reduction in complaints of chronic or intermittent pain when practicing mindfulness meditation.
The benefits of meditation are hard to ignore, and with so many ways to explore meditation, it is a great practice for anyone to use. If you are new to meditation, check out these meditation techniques for beginners. If you are experienced with meditation, try these 3 ways to deepen your meditative state.