Mediation has been around for longer than our recorded history can take us. With guided meditation apps like Headspace, meditation is making a comeback in the public awareness, and many people are researching the benefits of meditation on the mind.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of meditating but want to know what it will do for you, you’re not alone. We’ve compiled a list of 8 benefits of meditation to give you a reason to start meditating today.
Meditation and Health
Many people seem to think that meditation is just sitting down and staring at a wall for ten minutes. It looks easy if you haven’t tried it, but once you sit down for your first session, you’ll likely find yourself restless with a wandering mind after only a few minutes.
That’s because meditation takes practice. It’s a skill, and you have to hone your ability over several sessions. The act of meditating takes patience, focus, and the ability to let go of the internal monologue that’s so prevalent in our lives.
Once you’ve tried meditating, it should come as no surprise that several mental benefits come along with the successful practice.
1. Meditating Improves Focus After Only a Few Weeks
One of the most immediate benefits of meditation is that it helps improve focus and attentiveness. One study showed that only two weeks of practicing meditation could make a remarkable difference in people’s ability to stay focused and avoid distractions.
After two weeks, the subjects of the study improved their GRE reading-comprehension scores, improved their memory capacity, and significantly reduced the prevalence of distracted thoughts.
Meditation is, in essence, a crash-course in focus. Successful meditation is allowing distracting thoughts to flow through your mind without holding on to them. Anyone who has meditated should not be shocked to hear that it helps improve focus, but it’s surprising to see the effects meditation can have after such a short period.
A large percentage of adults and children have trouble focusing. The pharmaceutical solution is easy, but meditating will be healthier and more beneficial in the long run.
2. Practicing Meditation Reduces Anxiety
Another well-known benefit of meditation is that it significantly reduces stress levels over time. In fact, this is the reason a lot of people get into meditation in the first place. Stress reduction is one of the most widely recognized benefits of meditating, and there’s proof to back it up.
Meditation is shown to reduce short-term stress levels, but research shows that people who meditate also experience a long-term reduction in stress as well. A three-year follow-up with subjects of a mindfulness study showed that they expressed significantly less anxiety.
Because of these results, people cite meditation as one of the natural remedies for anxiety disorders. Even when the meditation sessions were short-term, subjects showed results that have the potential to last a lifetime.
3. Meditation Can Be as Effective as Antidepressants
If anxiety is one of the main reasons a lot of people turn to meditation, depression is another. For a long time, it’s been known that meditation can relieve some of the symptoms of depression, but new studies suggest that it may be as effective as taking antidepressants in some individuals.
Johns Hopkins conducted a study that showed the effectiveness of meditation on several health problems. While their research showed that meditation wasn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to all of our issues, it also showed that it could be just as effective as some medication for issues such as depression and anxiety.
It wasn’t that meditation was more effective than medication, but it produced the same results for a lot of people. Of course, especially for depression, there isn’t one solution that will help everyone. Meditation is merely one treatment out of a series of options, but it’s certainly worth trying and can be extremely useful for a lot of people.
4. Meditation’s Effect on the Aging Brain
Meditation’s effect on the brain is most visible in those who have been meditating for over 20 years. Many of the short-term effects of meditation are anecdotal. If one of your friends has taken up meditation, you’ve likely heard them talk about being in a better mood, having less anxiety, and being more focused.
Researchers can study these anecdotes to a point, but there are no denying brain scans and what they tell us about those who meditate. A observed the brains of individuals who meditated for over 20 years against those who haven’t meditated. They determined that meditation may prevent some of the effects of aging on the brain, including the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Older patients who have meditated for long periods of time showed significantly more gray matter in their brain when compared to people of the same age who did not meditate. Naturally, their brain still showed signs of aging when compared to a younger brain. Nevertheless, the long-term effects meditation has on the brain are striking.
5. Meditation Benefits in Physical Ailments
Many of the benefits of meditation revolve around mental health, but it’s not the only way meditating can help you. Meditation is also useful in treating physical ailments such as asthma and chronic pain.
Although the medical community remains split on just how effective meditation can be for these physical problems, it’s agreed that meditation can be used as a treatment in some cases. Studies have shown that those who meditate show a reduction in asthma symptoms after six months. Likewise, researchers have observed in patients with chronic pain.
Although much of the results have been in the mental health arena, cancer patients also benefit from regular meditation. Meditation brings perspective and clarity to almost everyone who tries it, even the terminally ill.
6. The Effects of Meditation in School
People always say the most natural time to learn a new language is when you’re young. The developing brain reacts differently than the brain of an adult. The same is true with meditation, and several schools in the United States are picking up the practice.
More studies need to take place before scientists can make a definitive judgment on just how effective meditation can be in schools, but the current results are promising.
One study claims that meditation breaks in schools can - at the very least - improve attentiveness among the children. The study acknowledges a lack of proper control group, but the results are still surprisingly positive.
7. Meditation Changes Your Brain
In addition to changing the way we think, meditation seems to have the ability to change the way your brain is composed. A study funded by Harvard University showed how only eight weeks of meditation could not only change the way we perceive feelings but the way our brains react to certain things.
The study found that the hippocampus of patients increased in thickness after the study, correlating with a decrease in thickness of the amygdala. The hippocampus controls memory retention in learning, while the amygdala governs fear, stress, and anxiety.
This research gives factual evidence to support anecdotal accounts of better moods and improved focus. Patient diaries are one thing, but a visible change in brain chemistry is hard to deny.
8. A Better Night’s Sleep
Sleep can be an elusive beast, especially when a lot is going on in life. Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of depression, stress, and anxiety. These, in turn, affect the way you sleep at night, leading to a vicious cycle that plagues a large percentage of the population.
Meditation, though, is one way to curb this process. One study conducted by David S. Black, Gillian A. O’Reilly, and Richard Olmstead showed an immediate improvement in sleep quality when meditation was introduced to those who displayed sleep disturbance problems.
In turn, the study showed a significant and vital lowering in “daytime impairment,” which is a result of not getting enough sleep at night. Insomnia is a growing problem in the United States, but sleeping pills aren’t the only option. This study shows that meditation is a healthier and more sustainable alternative, both in the short term and the long run.
Give Meditation a Try
It’s easy to shrug-off a friend telling you meditation has changed their life. Admittedly, it sounds like a bunch of hippy junk to a lot of people. When there are multiple studies published on how meditation can benefit your physical and mental health, though, it’s something you should consider.
On top of that, some of the most successful people on earth practice meditation. Tech companies like Google and Apple are even starting to incorporate meditation into their workplace.
Meditation has been around longer than the history books. The benefits of meditation are proven. Everyone has a few minutes they could spare to sit and meditate. Start small with only a few minutes, then gradually extend your sessions. Use free guided meditation apps if you need to.
Mentally and physically, those who meditate are healthier for it. It’s worth a try, even if it takes you awhile to get into it.