Benefits of Meditation

One study using data from the National Health Interview Survey shows that around 90% of the population interviewed in the US find meditation beneficial, practicing it mostly as a way to reduce stress. In fact, this experience of meditation is rather common and its benefits are seen not only in the practitioner's personal experiences but also in the scientific realm as well. Research says that meditation has both psychological and physiological benefits, which makes it worth trying at least once in our lives. We often find ourselves more relaxed and at peace, enjoying our own presence in life when we meditate. You don’t need to be an experienced meditator, spending long hours meditating every day in order to see the positive impact it can have. It is possible to see benefits (improved memory, enhanced attention, decreased anxiety and stress, better emotional regulation) after a brief daily meditation experience.

Reduced Anxiety, Stress, & Depression

Mindfulness meditation is one of the methods that can help us cope better with stress. Stress, like any other emotion, is a very natural part of our lives, but because it’s an unpleasant feeling, we can tend to suppress and ignore it. However, through mindfulness practices, we can more easily navigate challenging emotions such as stress, learning to live with these emotions by refreshing our sense of calm and security. By recognizing the stressors in our lives, we can obtain resources and take steps toward alleviating their impact on our day to day. Even a short meditation practice can decrease our stress levels and improve our mood.

One study showed that school district administrators experienced less anxiety, anger, depression, and fatigue after four months of practicing meditation compared to a control group who did not meditate. Similar results were found in another study conducted with school teachers in a therapeutic school for students with behavioral problems. Participants’ levels of perceived stress, depression, and burnout were lower after meditative training.

Further, when college students attended a regular meditation intervention over two academic periods, they reported lower levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionist thoughts compared to the beginning of the intervention.

A meta-analysis reviewed databases containing meditation research and showed positive effects of meditation as well. Randomized controlled trials found that meditation is one of the most effective non-invasive methods to treat anxiety among high-anxiety populations and noted that it’s possible to see an immediate impact during meditation practice. A prolonged impact for two weeks to three years was also seen, depending on the anxiety levels, the duration, and the regularity of the practice.

Pain Management & Relief

Meditation can be beneficial for both physiological and psychological difficulties, with evidence implying that meditation reduces pain. One particular example shows neuroimages of transcendental meditators' brains and identifies that their responses to thermally induced pain were lower than non-meditators.

Results of another study suggest that people who meditate regularly report feeling less pain, researchers explaining that both affective and sensory perception of pain is generally lower among Zen meditators. Perhaps the amount of the pain is the same among meditators and non-meditators, but these results together imply that the subjective perception of the same amount of the pain varies depending on our experience with meditation.  

Improved Memory

The relationship between meditation and memory has also been frequently investigated by researchers who are interested in how the brain recalls things over different periods of time. The findings show that, in general, regular meditation can be associated with improved working memory capacity, enhanced memory consolidation, and even with the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease when combined with other treatments. Further, combined results of a systematic review show that meditation is likely to have a positive impact against age-related cognitive decline.

Better Focus & Performance

Research shows that meditation can improve our brain’s executive functioning, especially when it comes to attention. A group of researchers observed meditators and non-meditators when they were asked to maintain focus on a particular object during an fMRI scan and found those who meditated often demonstrated stronger focus. This is likely due to enhanced sustained attention and impulse control that often develop alongside regular meditation.  

Another study found that meditators had better executive processing, demonstrating that they were faster than non-meditators when it came to cognitive tasks. For example, meditators can selectively focus on a particular detail, filtering out irrelevant information as they do so and can also more easily adapt to a change in rules. Unsurprisingly, the positive impact meditation can have on our cognitive function can show up in various aspects of our lives. Meditation can be effective when it comes to self-directed learning as well, which contributes to meditators’ organizational innovation and performance. Similarly, when we’re focused on the present moment, our minds are likely more able to focus on in-class learning, linking meditation to better academic performance as well.

Increased Melatonin Production & Better Sleep

Regular meditation not only makes it easier to cope with stress and anxiety, but also helps you stay present, allowing you to fall asleep easily without getting caught up in thoughts that keep you awake at night. Meditation can allow us to sleep better as well by increasing the production of melatonin, our body’s sleep hormone. With more quality sleep, you’ll likely see a difference in your daily life when you have more energy to attent to your needs and responsibilities.

Better Physical Health

Meditating is a great way to strengthen the mind-body connection and improve our physical health. You may hesitate to believe that “doing anything but breathing in and out” has any physical implications. However, you might be surprised by how our body and mind work together, impacting each other in an endless number of ways.

Our sympathetic nervous system activates when we’re stressed or anxious and our bodies begin to secrete cortisol and epinephrine in order to keep us vigilant and alert. When stress and anxiety become constant or long-lasting, the overstimulation of our nervous system can inhibit our overall health. Meditation can therefore be helpful in regulating our nervous system as we navigate emotion regulation. It’s possible to keep the sympathetic stimulation in a state of calm by sparing some time for daily meditation.

Healthy Relationships & Communication Skills

Even if you’re practicing mindfulness meditation privately by yourself, you’ll notice its impact spreading throughout your life. The deeper into your practice you get, the more present for yourself and in your relationships you’ll be. That might mean you’re fully in the here and now, able to feel the warmth of an intimate relationship or enjoy a fun conversation. As you observe your mind without judgment, you’ll be able to more clearly see how you react to different situations and people. This increased awareness will allow you to better understand yourself and the people you’re communicating with so that you can set healthy boundaries and articulate your needs.

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