Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation

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Meditation has long been recognized in ancient Eastern traditions as a natural way to slow the breath, focus the mind, and relieve stress. Throughout the centuries, its therapeutic benefits were well-known and widely practiced in religion, philosophy, and medicine. It wasn’t until Western culture took an interest that science began to study exactly how meditation works on the mind and body. As a result, meditation is now regularly prescribed by medical professionals as part of a holistic approach to physical and mental health. From lowering blood pressure and anxiety to relieving pain, the health benefits of meditation are far-reaching. 

What is meditation?

Meditation has evolved over the centuries and exists in many different forms, but each technique shares common elements, such as:

  • A quiet spot to practice where you won’t be distracted or interrupted;
  • A posture like sitting cross-legged that you can maintain comfortably;
  • A mantra, an object, or awareness of the breath to help focus your attention;
  • An open, clear mind with no judgment of passing thoughts.

With practice, meditation teaches you how to still your mind of wandering thoughts and worries so you can find calm and clarity. It trains your mind to focus and helps you develop the power of concentration, while promoting deep relaxation and heightened self-awareness. People meditate to relieve stress and anxiety, improve their state of mind, and enhance overall health and well-being.1

        How does meditation affect the brain?

        The calming effect meditation has on your brain can help to improve your memory and mental clarity. In several studies, meditation produced a positive and rejuvenating effect on the brain tissue, which in effect, helps to reduce stress and its harmful effects on the body.  

        One study found that meditation improves your brain’s ability to process information by changing its physicality. MRI scans of the subjects’ brains showed an increase in the number of folds of the outer layer of the cortex where thoughts are processed.2

        Several other studies found favorable results for meditation in improving age-related cognitive decline and having “positive effects on attention, memory, executive function, processing speed, and general cognition” in younger, middle-aged, and older adults.3

            What the science says about its effectiveness

            Most studies will agree that meditation, in combination with a comprehensive wellness program, may be effective in relieving anxiety and as a result, mitigate the symptoms of stress-related conditions. While more research is needed to account for certain lifestyle factors, there is a growing body of evidence showing promising results for conditions such as:

            • Anxiety4
            • Stress5
            • High Blood Pressure6
            • Depression7
            • Insomnia8
            • Irritable Bowel Syndrome9
            • Ulcerative Colitis10
            • Pain11
            • Smoking Cessation12

            While some of these short-term studies reported only mild-to-moderate improvements in the patients’ health, the research on test subjects who had been practicing meditation for several years longer showed more positive results. Evidence for its effectiveness in relieving pain and as a smoking-cessation aid, however, remains uncertain.

            How to incorporate meditation daily

            Because there are so many different ways of meditating, it might take you a while before you settle into one practice. For beginners, the easiest way to meditate is to focus on your breathing while you’re seated comfortably with your legs crossed on the floor in a quiet and private location. 

            Set aside one to two minutes at first, gradually building to 10 minutes of deep breathing and sitting quietly. People with mobility issues can lie down on the floor, but it’s important to keep your eyes open and your gaze neutral.  

            Alternatively, you can ask your doctor for a reputable practitioner in your area who can help guide you through your practice. This is recommended especially for people who suffer from depression, as meditation can trigger negative thoughts and force them to the surface.

            Searching online for guided meditation is another option. You can find video tutorials as well as plenty of meditation apps that you can download or follow on your computer. For instance, there is a series of one-minute guided meditations available through the UCLA Mindful app.

            All in all, meditation is a safe and healthy way to treat your body to some stress-free quiet time away from the pressures of modern life. Just one minute a day to start is all you need to find instant calm.  



            Resources:

            1. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health: Meditation, April 2016.
            2. Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Feb 29;6:34. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00034
            3. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Jan;1307:89-103. DOI: 10.1111/nyas.1234
            4. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
            5. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
            6. J Hum Hypertens. 2015 Nov;29(11):653-62. DOI: 10.1038/jhh.2015.6
            7. Depress Anxiety. 2012 Jul;29(7):545-62. DOI: 10.1002/da.21964
            8. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2015 Nov;21(6):547-52. DOI: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000207
            9. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep;106(9):1678-88. DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2011.184
            10. Digestion. 2014;89(2):142-55. DOI: 10.1159/000356316
            11. JAMA. 2016 Mar 22-29;315(12):1240-9. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.2323
            12. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 Oct 1;132(3):399-410. doi: 0.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.04.01

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              • Blog Contributor
              Comments 1
              • Jennifer
                Jennifer

                Excellent article on meditation ! Informative and to the point.

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