The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years, and studies are continuing to discover a wide array of benefits of practicing meditation. Meditation can positively impact many aspects of health, including; mental, physical, and emotional health. Whether you have previous experience with meditation or are new to the practice, meditation can provide many benefits for your mental and physical health. Incorporating consistent meditation practice can create real and lasting positive changes.
Mental and cognitive benefits of meditation
One mental benefit of practicing meditation is improved focus and attention. Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation practice that focuses on becoming more aware and acknowledging one's internal thoughts while remaining present in the moment. Practicing mindfulness meditation increases the awareness of inner thoughts and improves one's ability to decrease wandering and distracting thoughts. Having more control over distracting thoughts improves one's ability to focus on a task. Mindfulness can also help to increase attention span and increase mental discipline.
There is evidence that regular meditation practice can result in physical changes to the brain, which have cognitive benefits. Regular meditation practice can increase the grey matter of the hippocampus region, which is responsible for memory. Studies have also shown that it has positive effects on the posterior cingulate area of the brain, an essential part of learning and cognition, and the frontal cortex, which is responsible for memory and decision making.
Emotional benefits of meditation
Consistent meditation practice increases your ability to acknowledge and understand internal thoughts and, as a result, increases self-awareness. Having greater self-awareness and understanding of thought patterns can help to increase feelings of compassion and kindness. Mindfulness training can also help one communicate thoughts and feelings to others, which can help improve interpersonal relationships.
One style of meditation practice called loving-kindness meditation or "metta" focuses on fostering positive thinking, compassion, and internal and external empathy. Meditation can help to increase positive emotions, decrease negative thoughts towards oneself and others and strengthen resilience. Practicing loving-kindness meditation can also help with self-acceptance and self-discovery. Loving-kindness meditation can help with developing and maintaining positive relationships. Overall, meditation can improve overall emotional well being.
Stress and anxiety reduction
Practicing meditation can be beneficial for reducing psychological stress and anxiety. Many different meditation styles and focus areas can help with stress levels and anxiety, including progressive relaxation, breathwork, mindfulness meditation, and transcendental meditation. Mindfulness-based stress reduction focuses on both mind and body relaxation. It promotes understanding of inner thoughts and draws focus to the present moment.
Transcendental meditation can decrease certain hormones in the body, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These hormones are associated with higher stress levels as they activate the sympathetic nervous system or the fight or flight response. Meditation decreases the sympathetic nervous system response and can lower heart rate and slow breathing.
Mindfulness meditation techniques have also been used as a treatment in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on replacing negative thought patterns with more positive thoughts and a focus on developing positive coping strategies. This theory, combined with mindfulness, where the goal is to become aware of one's thoughts, can help reduce worrying and negative thoughts and help with the development of positive coping skills. Mindfulness training may have other mental health benefits as there is also evidence of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy being beneficial for those experiencing depression. Mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy can help those with depression by re-framing negative thought patterns.
Sleep and Insomnia
Many people may turn to meditation to help with insomnia or to help improve sleep quality. Many people experience sleep disturbances due to high levels of stress and wandering thoughts before falling asleep. Meditation can effectively decrease stress levels and achieve a more relaxed state, physically and mentally.
One meditation technique that can help one relax their body is progressive relaxation. Progressing relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing muscles in the body, one muscle group at a time, traveling up or down the body. As the muscles are tensed and then relaxed, the body will become more relaxed and ready for sleep. Body scanning is a similar technique where one visualizes areas of tension in the body and uses focus breathing to release the tension from those areas of tension.
Breathing techniques can be used to help slow breathing and decrease heart rate. Mindfulness meditation can help with sleep as it eases the mind by acknowledging wandering thoughts and then focusing thoughts back towards ones breathing and senses. This technique centers the mind on the present and decreases worrying thoughts. These meditation techniques can help relax the mind and body to better prepare for falling asleep.
Some people who experience chronic pain turn to meditation to help decrease pain levels or to help cope with pain. There is evidence that meditation and mindfulness practice can change specific brain structures and pathways, which results in a decreased sensitivity to pain. Meditation also trains the mind for better sensory processing of pain. One finding showed that meditation practiced along with yoga decreased inflammation of white blood cells in the body, similar to physical pain reduction used in pain medications such as ibuprofen. Another study showed that meditation reduced activity in the amygdala, related to anticipation of pain. Changes in the dorsal anterior cingulate and somatosensory cortex also reduce pain sensitivity.
Meditation is helpful for those with chronic pain to decrease the anxiety and stress related to their pain. Mindfulness meditation can reduce pain-related anxiety and center the mind on the present moment. Meditation techniques such as progressive relaxation can also help relieve the tension built up in the body because of pain. Meditation practice may also help with increasing positive emotions and developing positive coping mechanisms for those experiencing chronic pain.
One of the many health benefits of meditation is improved heart health. Research suggests that meditation can decrease both heart rate and blood pressure. More specifically, practicing transcendental meditation or mantra meditation, which involves silent repetition of mantras to achieve a relaxed and still state, effectively lowers blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure and heart rate could decrease the chance of developing heart diseases. In addition, those with diagnosed high blood pressure (hypertension) or heart disease can also benefit from meditation to maintain their cardiovascular health. The meditative practice may also help increase participation in other heart-healthy habits such as receiving good quality sleep, participating in physical activity, and eating a balanced diet due to meditation's effects of decreasing stress and increasing positive thinking and motivation.
Meditation can benefit physical health by improving the body's immune system. Meditation practice can improve both the levels and functioning of immune-specific cells such as T cells and anti-inflammatory proteins and antibodies. This increase in immune system response means that the body can better fight off infections. In addition, meditation can also improve sleep quality, decrease stress levels, and uplift positive emotions, positively affecting one's immune system response.
The meditative practice may benefit those experiencing digestive health problems such as Chron's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Meditation has been shown to help reduce some symptoms of these conditions, including fatigue and abdominal pain. As mentioned previously, meditation can help cope with pain and improve sleep quality. Meditation can also help reduce stress and anxiety, worsening the condition. The digestive system is connected to the mind and the body's stress levels and anxiety. Therefore decreasing stress and anxiety through meditative practice can be beneficial for improving overall digestive health.
Meditation Benefits FAQ
How does one learn how to meditate?
There are many sources available for a variety of meditation techniques, including
Guided audio meditation
Guided video meditation
Online and in-person meditation courses
Mindfulness meditation app
How long should meditation last?
There is no exact time frame that is recommended, although 10 minutes is recommended as the minimum length of time to achieve the benefits of meditation. A meditation practice can last from 15 minutes to half an hour. Consistency is the most important when it comes to meditation. Regular meditation practice will be more important than the length of time spent in each meditation.
At what age should one start meditating?
One can start meditating at any age. Beginning meditation practice as a child can be beneficial. Children can often start with techniques such as breathwork and progressive relaxation at an early age.
What is the best place to meditate?
There is no specific location that is required to meditate. It is essential to be in a comfortable position and an environment with minimal distractions. Most people will be sitting up, but there are options to lie down or even walk.