With meditation's increase in popularity, more and more people are discovering its health benefits. Many celebrities, healthcare professionals, and lifestyle gurus swear by meditation and the life-changing effects it has had on them.
Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to train attention, awareness and achieve emotional calmness and mental clarity.
You can use meditation to increase self-awareness as well as an understand your environment. Many people also use it to reduce stress, improve concentration, increase self-discipline, and many other benefits, which we will explore in this article.
1. Reduces stress
When people first think of meditation, they think of calmness and stress reduction. Stress is caused by increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. These harmful effects of stress can impair sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and disrupt concentration.
A meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" was found to reduce the inflammation responses caused by stress in an 8-week study. Other research has shown that meditation may improve symptoms of stress-related conditions such as fibromyalgia, PTSD, and irritable bowel syndrome.
2. Controls anxiety
Because meditation can reduce stress, it can decrease anxiety levels. It was found in a meta-analysis of 1,300 adults that meditation can decrease anxiety, specifically in those with high levels of anxiety.
One study has found that eight weeks of meditation reduced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in addition to improving stress coping and increasing positive self-statements.
Meditation also helps with job-related anxiety, as one study found that employees who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks experienced better feelings of well-being and decreased job strain.
3. Improves emotional health
Some forms of meditation have been found to improve self-image and have higher levels of optimism. For example, an analysis of 18 studies showed that people receiving meditation therapies had reduced symptoms of depression.
Another study found that people who practiced meditation exercises experienced fewer negative thoughts when viewing negative images.
Additionally, cytokines, an inflammatory chemical released in response to stress, can affect one's mood and can lead to depression. A review of several studies suggests that meditation may help with depression by decreasing levels of cytokines.
4. Increase self-awareness
Many types of meditation may help with developing a stronger understanding and sense of self. For example, one type called self-inquiry meditation is designed to help build a greater understanding of self. Other forms help recognize intrusive and self-defeating thoughts through developing awareness of thoughts and habits.
Tai Chi was found in an analysis of 27 studies to improve one's confidence and belief in their ability to overcome challenges. Another study of 153 adults who used a meditation app for two weeks found that their feelings of loneliness have decreased while social contact has increased.
5. Boosts attention span
Meditation has also been shown to improve one's attention span, much like a workout for your brain. For example, a study found that the use of meditation tape is associated with improved attention and accuracy while completing a task. Another study found that meditation is linked to better performance in visual tasks, a greater attention span, and reverse patterns of mind-wandering and worrying.
Meditation does not need to be for an extended period either. One study discovered that eight weeks of meditating for just 13 minutes a day can improve attention and memory.
6. Helps with age-related memory loss
Kirtan Kriya, a type of meditation involving a chant or mantra combined with movement repetition of the fingers, is shown in studies to improve neuropsychological performance in people with age-related memory loss.
Multiple other meditation styles can help fight age-related memory loss by improving attention, memory, and mental clarity in older people and even dementia patients.
7. Promotes kindness
Certain types of meditation can foster compassion for yourself and others.
A loving-kindness meditation called Metta strengthens the brain's parts that detect other people's emotions, promotes altruistic behaviour, and increases positive thoughts.
This practice involves forming kind thoughts and feelings towards oneself, and over time, the individual learns to extend this compassion towards others.
A study of 50 college students showed improved positive emotions, increased social interactions, and greater empathy of others after practicing metta meditation three times per week for four weeks.
8. Helps fight addictions
One can develop mental discipline through meditation. This can be helpful for fighting addiction and breaking dependencies by increasing one's self-control and awareness.
Research shows that meditation can help addicts better redirect their focus and improve their emotions and impulses.
9. Improves sleep
Meditation is exceptionally beneficial for improving sleep. Meditation helps control racing and intrusive thoughts, which are often a cause of insomnia. It also helps the body relax, release tension, and promote mindfulness.
One study comparing mindfulness-based meditation programs found that meditation helped the participants increase the length of their sleep and improved their insomnia severity.
10. Helps manage pain
Pain is perceived in the mind, so naturally, meditation helps manage pain by improving control of one's mind. Many doctors recommend mindfulness meditation practices as a holistic approach to pain management.
While everyone experiences the same causes of pain, those who meditate are shown to cope with pain easier and experience the sensation of pain to a lesser extent. For example, a study from 2020 of 6,400 participants suggests that meditation can reduce pain in those suffering from post-surgical, acute, or chronic pain.
11. Decreases blood pressure
Because meditation can help manage stress, it can help decrease blood pressure and improve overall health functions as well. It also helps control blood pressure by relaxing nerve signals that facilitate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the "fight-or-flight" responses.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies found that meditation reduced blood pressure in close to 1000 participants. The effectiveness of meditation was more apparent in older participants and those who had high blood pressure prior to the study.
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Written by: Sean Shih