What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation is a practice that goes back thousands of years.
Often used to enhance spiritual enlightenment and connection, the practice basically involves quieting the mind and concentrating on a specific idea or thought.
“Meditation is generally used as a broad umbrella term that covers a wide array of contemplative practices, many of which are drawn from Buddhist traditions but have often been adapted and secularized for application in Western society,” said neuroscientist Wendy Hasenkamp, Ph.D., science director at the Mind & Life Institute.
Research on meditation has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every month to illustrate some new benefit of meditation.
Therefore, here is a list of 10 benefits of meditation backed by science:
#1 Meditation May Help Smokers Quit
A 2015 study established that people who smoked were able to cut down on their smoking after taking up mindfulness training.
Senior study author Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, said:
“Early evidence suggests that exercises aimed at increasing self-control, such as mindfulness meditation, can decrease the unconscious influences that motivate a person to smoke.”
#2 Meditation Increases Your Sense Of Connectedness And Empathy
Compassion/Loving Kindness meditation, or metta, as it is called in the Pali language, is a compassion-based meditation that has been shown to enhance brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy.
Empathy is an understanding and feeling of another’s emotions as if they were your own – “feeling at one” with how another person feels.
Boosting your compassion and empathy has several benefits, including the following:
- more professional and personal success;
- increased overall happiness;
- you learn from other people’s experiences, as well as your own;
- strengthened emotional intelligence;
- builds better rapport, with a more natural interest in other people;
- more understanding of others and yourself;
- deeper perspective into other people’s points of view;
- strengthens your trust of others and their trust for you;
- greater spiritual growth and a more fulfilling life;
- easier to have better relationships, make new friends;
- every social interaction becomes an opportunity to learn and grow;
- more natural respect for everyone;
- creates better teamwork and collaboration when solving problems;
- people are more forthcoming and open with you.
#3 Meditation May Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss
The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, thus, significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging.
According to a 2014 review of 12 studies, multiple meditation styles increased memory, attention, and mental quickness in older study participants.
#4 Meditation Lengthens Life Expectancy
In 2006, after an 18-year study, the American Journal of Cardiology reported that meditation reduces death rates by 23%. The rates include all causes of death, plus a 49%reduction from cancer and a 30% reduction in death rates from cardiovascular disease.
#5 Meditation Helps Treat Depression In Mothers To Be
Mental health disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or depression, may surface after or during pregnancy.
An estimated 6 percent of women, including up to 10 percent of women who are pregnant, will experience depression at some time during their lives. Also, young women today are 50% more likely to experience prenatal depression than their mothers were in the 1990s.
According to a University of Michigan Health System pilot feasibility study, high-risk pregnant women who participated in a 10-week mindfulness yoga training saw substantial reductions in depressive symptoms.
“Our work provides a promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression,” said lead author Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., an assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development and assistant professor of psychiatry.
Maria Muzik also said:
“This promotes both mother and baby wellbeing.”
#6 Meditation Reduces Stress
Stress results from our inability to handle adverse situations and the pressures of everyday life.
Prolonged stress leads to increased inflammation and a much higher risk of developing various health problems, such as:
- memory loss;
- heart disease;
- high blood pressure;
- type 2 diabetes;
- depression and anxiety;
- migraine headaches;
- some kinds of cancer;
- autoimmune illnesses.
A 1993 study that was presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, San Francisco, concluded that meditation reduces the density of brain tissue associated with worrying and anxiety.
Tip – mindfulness meditation is a good baseline practice for stress prevention so that when adverse situations occur, you don’t let them get out of control.
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#7 Meditation Improves Skin Health
A 2012 research from the University of Sheffield, which combines past studies found techniques, like cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation sessions, and meditation, concluded that these techniques have real benefits for individuals suffering from skin conditions such as vitiligo, eczema, acne, and psoriasis.
#8 Meditation Improves Your Immune Response
In a few studies, a daily mindfulness meditation session increased levels of T-cells or T-cell activity in people with breast cancer or HIV.
Note – T cells (also called T lymphocytes) are one of the main components of the adaptive immune system. T cells are predominantly produced in the thymus, hence their name. T cells are vital in hosting an immune response against pathogens.
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#9 Meditation Improves Sleep Quality & Helps Treat Insomnia
Several studies have shown that by meditating for as little as 10 minutes per day before and after work, people experience improvements in sleep duration and sleep quality.
”Mindfulness has also been shown effective in helping to improve sleep, including reducing symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disturbances, as well as reducing daytime tiredness and fatigue,” said Dr. Michael J. Breus (a clinical psychologist who has the nickname of The Sleep Doctor) during an interview.
Dr. Michael J. Breus later added:
”Mindfulness, according to research, also can help alleviate one of the prime obstacles to sleep: worry.”
#10 Short Meditation Breaks Can Help Kids in School
Today’s high school students experience stress like never before. From parental expectations, peer pressure, college applications, and schoolwork, to digital information overload and the stress of 24/7 connectivity, it’s a lot for young brains to handle.
Many schools are establishing a ”quiet time” period during the school day of around 15 minutes when students sit quietly to meditate, or simply rest.
A district in San Francisco implemented a twice-daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and observed attendance increase and suspensions decrease.
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How much meditation is enough to experience its benefits? Well, the best answer might be this old Zen saying:
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”