Top Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Meditation
The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits. Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration. People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance.
This article the top benefits of meditation that have been proven scientifically.
- Can Decrease Blood Pressure
Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart. Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to poor heart function. High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
A study of 996 volunteers found that when they meditated by concentrating on a “silent mantra” — a repeated, non-vocalized word — reduced blood pressure by about five points, on average. This was more effective among older volunteers and those who had higher blood pressure prior to the study. A review concluded that several types of meditation produced similar improvements in blood pressure.
- Promotes Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation can lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life. Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.
One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.
- Reduces Stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an eight-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Another study in nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress. Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
- Controls Anxiety
Less stress translates to less anxiety. For example, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks.
Another study followed up with 18 volunteers three years after they had completed an eight-week meditation program. Most volunteers had continued practicing regular meditation and maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term.
- Lengthens Attention Span
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention. For example, a study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants’ ability to reorient and maintain their attention.
- Improves Sleep
Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn’t. Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn’t meditate. Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or “runaway” thoughts that often lead to insomnia. Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep.
- Enhances Self-Awareness
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.
Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.
A study of 21 women fighting breast cancer found that when they took part in a tai chi program, their self-esteem improved more than it did than in those who received social support sessions.
- Helps Control Pain
Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions. For example, one study used functional MRI techniques to observe brain activity as participants experienced a painful stimulus. Some participants had gone through four days of mindfulness meditation training, while others had not. The meditating patients showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain. They also reported less sensitivity to pain.
- May Help Fight Addictions
The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors. Research has shown that meditation may help people learn to redirect their attention, increase their willpower, control their emotions and impulses and increase their understanding of the causes behind their addictive behaviors.
Meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional health. You can do it anywhere, without special equipment or memberships. Alternatively, meditation courses and support groups are widely available. There’s a great variety of styles too, each with different strengths and benefits. Trying out a style of mediation suited to your goals is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if you only have a few minutes to do it each day.