What are 10 benefits of meditation?
Over the past few decades, the practice of meditation has soared. Whether witnessed or experienced, the healing benefits of meditation are undeniable. Today, everyone from business people, professional athletes and children are learning how to meditate and embrace calm in both mind and body.
The holistic benefits of meditation are diverse: It can help reduce mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and naturally manage our stress and anger levels. Not to mention the physical effects of pain reduction, improving heart health and promoting significantly improved sleep patterns.
These benefits follow on to have knock-on effects such as increasing our immunity, improving mood, relationships, and overall wellbeing.
Mayo Clinic & Positive Psychology.
However, probably the biggest benefit of all is that there are no negative side effects to meditation. Whether it works for you or not, there is no consequence to trying, so what do you have to lose?
Meditation & Science
The ancient practice of meditation has been studied and recorded by many religious, spiritual, academic and scientific groups for thousands of years. Today, we can experience meditation by taking a class at the gym, joining a local community group and even digitally through an app on our phones.
Yet, defining ‘what is meditation?’ remains elusive, so proving the scientific benefits has proven tricky.
Anyone practicing meditation is likely to have a different definition because there is no single way ‘how to meditate’. Practice varies between religions, cultures and faiths and includes many different types. You’ve probably heard of the most common: Mindfulness, Transcendental, Spiritual and Zen, to mention a few.
Like anything thousands of years old, it has evolved and has become both personal and private to the individual. However, there is one thing for those who choose to practice meditation on which they all agree: the benefits of meditation are numerous and significant.
It’s only in recent years that the benefits of meditation are being understood from a scientific perspective and adopted as part of mainstream medical treatment.
According to Madhav Goyal MD, MPH, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who researches the effects of meditation on overall wellbeing
“We have pretty good evidence now to recommend [meditation] clinically, either as a treatment or as an adjunct treatment, for people who are suffering from anxiety, depression, or chronic pain,” says Dr Goyal
In a report from BUPA,
“Research shows that meditation is the UK’s favorite form of wellbeing therapy, with over a quarter (26%) of UK adults saying they have meditated as a way to improve their mental wellbeing in the past five years. Men are doubling down on the road to enlightenment, with almost a third of men (30%) practicing meditation in this time period compared to 18% of women.”
The Origins of Meditation
The word meditation stems from meditatum, a Latin term that means ‘to ponder.’
The earliest documented records of meditation involved Vedantism, a Hindu tradition in India, around 1500 BCE. However, historians believe that meditation was practiced before this time, as early as 3000 BCE.
Over time, the practice of meditation grew from East to West, and in 1927, the book “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was published. Meditation began to reach every corner of the globe, attracting significant attention from Westerners and a keen interest in the practice.
How to Meditate
A famous quote from Buddha suggests
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Meditation helps us achieve this state of mind: To be wholly and willing present in the moment.
It’s time to turn inwards, calm the body and the mind to attain clarity, peace and stability.
One of the best things about meditation is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, with patience and practice anyone can learn how to do it.
Don’t worry if you get distracted or your mind starts to wander, it takes time to find peace and calm; this is your time to relax and switch off from the day-to-day noise around you. Even just starting with 5 minutes every day will be beneficial.
If you’re willing to give it a try, let’s begin. Here are 6 simple steps to get you started.
- Take a seat. Find a quiet place with a comfy chair or floor; the idea is that you will be comfortable for the time you are meditating but without falling asleep!
- Set a time limit. If you’re just starting to learn how to meditate, it’s good to keep your practice short. 5 -10 minutes is ideal. The more you practice, the longer you will be able to meditate.
- Be mindful of your body. Relax your arms, gently place them by your side or in your lap. Uncross your legs and let them be. Sit back in your chair, and either close your eyes, lower your gaze or focus on a fixed point. A candle may work for you, watching the flame. However, be careful not to strain your eyes.
- Breathe. Listen to your breath as you breathe in and out. Listen to your body as it calms.
- The wandering mind. Everyone’s mind drifts, so if you get distracted, don’t be frustrated; simply return to your breath and continue. This may be hard initially, but the more you practice, the easier it will become.
- Your practice is complete. When it’s time to finish, simply open your eyes or lift your gaze. Don’t rush to get up, be patient and take it slowly. Take notice: how does your body feel? What’s happening in your mind?
The Top 10 Benefits of Meditation
Improving your emotional wellbeing and overall health with a non-invasive treatment is a significant benefit to anyone practicing meditation. However, we can be more specific about real and tangible benefits: here are our top 10.
- Reduces Anxiety and Depression
Dr John W Denninger, a Harvard Medical Researcher, found that
“meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions and physical sensations intrude – which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious.”
Studies have found that meditation works on specific parts of the brain that are known to create depression and anxiety. A daily meditation practice can significantly reduce these negative emotions and help relieve symptoms over the long term.
- Manages Stress to Improve Health & Wellbeing
Meditation has become an effective treatment in the management of stress. As a natural stabilizer of the common symptoms experienced by stress suffers, studies have shown a significant reduction in the cortisol (stress hormone) levels of those who regularly meditate.
Research by Bostock, Crosswell, Prather & Steptoe, 2019, found that professionals could work more efficiently, reduce burnout, and become more vigilant by introducing meditation into a workplace culture.
- Manages Pain & Accelerates Healing
While studies vary on the results achieved to reduce pain with meditation, the benefits of managing your pain more effectively are well documented. A study by the NCCIH found that mindful meditation reduces pain sensations in the body without using the brain’s natural opiates. (Cherkin et al. 2016) .
Stress reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends learning how to meditate with the body scan mindfulness exercise as the best form of meditation for pain conditions. The purpose of the scan isn’t to erase the pain completely but to acknowledge it, learn from it and eventually manage it.
- Begin by lying down
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath
- Focus on the area of pain e.g., your right foot.
- Feel the pain and other sensations in your foot and try to remain focused.
- If you mind wanders, just return to the foot and your breath.
- If you feel pain in your foot, breathe through it while recognizing the thoughts and emotions that accompany the pain.
- Don’t expect the pain to disappear, simply let it be.
- Now shift your focus slowly and gently to you other foot and repeat the same process.
- Continue throughout your body until the process is complete.
- Try to remain focused and breathe calmly for the duration, without judgement. Remember, be kind to yourself, you’re just learning.
You can read Jon Kabat-Zinns full guide here
- Improves Emotional Wellbeing and Mood
There are many reasons people feel sadness or negativity, but prolonged bouts of these emotions can lead to long-term poor mental health that can be harder to recover.
Giving yourself the time and space to switch off from the world and be in the moment without distraction can be a very powerful thing. We can see ourselves with more clarity.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, suggests that
‘meditation is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment… It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.’
- Increases Cognition
Learning to clear your mind of clutter can significantly impact your ability to process and retain knowledge. Regular meditation practice can help you improve your attention and concentration.
- Aids Sleep
Many of us are tired, even exhausted, yet getting off to sleep can prove difficult. Others can fall asleep easily but awake at night and stare frustrated at the ceiling for the next few hours.
Regular meditation will allow you to quiet your mind and focus on your breath. Over time, you will learn to remove all distractions and mind chatter to find quiet and inner peace. Once mastered, meditation will support the restoration of regular sleep cycles, allowing you to sleep easier and more restful, enabling you to nod off quickly and get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep.
- Improves Memory
Long-term research has discovered that improving our ability to focus and becoming more attentive to our daily lives has resulted in retaining more information and memories.
A study published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that ‘Meditation can increase blood flow in the brain and improve memory.’ One of the research team, Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, devised a specific meditation technique for each of the test subjects:
“It only takes 12 minutes [a day,] it’s easy to learn, it doesn’t cost anything, and it has no side effects,” Khalsa suggests in an interview with WebMD. The technique, he says, “reverses memory loss in people with memory problems.”
- Increases Focus and Clarity
Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center claim meditating can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation, which leads to increased focus and learning concentration.
The simple process of meditation helps us listen to our breathing and stay in the moment. If we do become distracted, we train our brains to return and refocus on our breathing until it becomes second nature.
- Supports In Recovery from Addiction
Due to the holistic benefits of meditation, it’s increasingly used as a tool to aid recovering addicts. According to the Maryland Addiction Recovery Centre,
‘Related specifically to the disease of addiction and alcoholism, meditation is important in recovery because it aids in several areas imperative to support recovery, including consistency of action, discipline, promotion of mental clarity, physical health and overall meditation works to slow down the incessant chatter of the mind.’
- Increase Compassion and Empathy
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama.
Compassion Meditation is a powerful practice that helps individuals turn away from self-centeredness and embrace an awareness of others who may be suffering. It also encourages us to take the next step in helping to alleviate suffering.
Adopting this type of mediation practice whereby we focus on the healing and wellbeing of others nurtures a natural healing experience of ourselves.
As the evolution of meditation continues, some great new practices are emerging. Our favorites include:
This is the term given to practices in the evening or used as part of a bedtime routine to help promote good sleep and relaxation.
The term given to meditation practiced alongside the use of electronic music.
Downloading an app on your mobile device makes meditation on the go easy. You can access it anytime, anywhere and float off into your own mind. Some consist of calming music and an introduction; others are led by a calm voice guiding you through your practice.