Meditation can be complicated. There are many different techniques, goals, and traditions associated with the practice. But at its most fundamental level, meditation is simply about focusing your mind in a particular way: It’s the process of training your brain to stop wandering and be present in the moment. Science has worked a lot to find out the Benefits of Meditation.
People use meditation for all sorts of reasons, including reducing stress, improving sleep habits, boosting immunity and moods, increasing creativity and memory function, coping with chronic illness or pain, improving athletic performance, and generally enjoying life more fully. The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its many health benefits. One resource on the topic is Greater Good in Action (GGIA) from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).
This article reviews 12 health benefits of meditation.
Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
- Meditation Benefits Immunity, Mental Health, And Pain Tolerance
Meditation has been shown to influence the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Studies have also revealed that it can help stave off heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s. In addition, research suggests that meditation can improve quality of life by boosting psychological well-being.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found that a particular type of mindfulness meditation helped people cope with chronic pain better than a non-meditative approach did. Other studies have found similar improvements with opioid-related pain relief and a reduction in a particular type of nerve pain brought on by conditions such as diabetes.
- Meditation Benefits Learning And Creativity
According to a study from the University of Washington, at just 20 minutes long, meditation is an efficient way to boost learning and creativity. Compared with people who got no rest at all, those who spent 20 minutes meditating had more activity in the regions of the brain linked to working memory, planning, and organizing — skills crucial for carrying out tasks like writing or figuring out math problems. The discovery could lead to new ways to help students learn faster and better without needing more time in class. And it opens up intriguing possibilities for increasing creativity.
- Meditation Benefits Working Memory And Executive Function
A study in Psychological Science found that meditation training improved participants’ focus, working memory, and multitasking ability. Researchers gave people 45 minutes of either focused attention (a type of mind-calming meditation aimed at focusing attention on the breath) or mindfulness (a form of open-monitoring meditation that emphasizes nonjudgmental acceptance and awareness of thoughts and feelings) meditation training one day, then asked them to perform various tasks before and after they trained.
Those who got the mindfulness practice showed significant improvements in their multitasking performance — a combination task that required keeping track of multiple items simultaneously over time — compared with those who were taught focused attention. According to the study authors, one big reason may explain this: Mindfulness meditation appears to promote switching attention in which people observe what arises without getting carried away by it, so they’re less distracted when multiple items are involved.
- Meditation Benefits Psychological Health
Research shows that practicing mindfulness can improve your mental well-being, too. A review of a study published in January 2015 found evidence that mindfulness-based therapies can help many patients manage anxiety and depression. And another meta-analysis demonstrated that even meditation practices typically considered non-mindfulness (including transcendental meditation) show therapeutic effects on mental health — including reduced and improved mood.
- Meditation Benefits Confidence And Capabilities
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to enhance self-confidence, too. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who’d undergone an eight-week mindfulness training were more confident about their ability to succeed at various tasks. In particular, they thought they could do a better job on new challenges — which proved true when they had to adapt to a demanding sport after the experiment ended. This suggests that even beginning meditators can expect some confidence-boosting severe effects from their practice.
- Meditation Benefits Self Control And Willpower
Many different types of meditation have been found to improve one’s control impulses and delay gratification. For instance, a study of people who’d undergone mindfulness training found that they had more self-control over their thoughts and behavior than did people in the control group. And another study showed that meditation helped smokers resist cravings for cigarettes — even when they were tempted to smoke or saw pictures of people smoking.
- Meditation Benefits Immunity
According to research published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, regular meditation can strengthen your immunity against colds and other infections by reducing levels of stress hormones. In this study, 36 people who meditated twice daily were exposed to nasal drops containing rhinovirus (which causes the common cold). After catching the virus, the researchers found that non-meditators suffered on average about three days of illness, whereas those who’d been meditating for an average of 4.2 years experienced just a 1.3-day disruption to their lives.
- Meditation Benefits The Aging Brain
Scientists have long wondered if meditation could benefit the aging brain, and a few studies have suggested it might help keep your mind sharp as you grow old. For instance, a study from Harvard researchers found that people who participated in 3 months of meditation training performed better on tests of cognitive flexibility — meaning they could more easily adapt their thinking to new situations than those trained in relaxation techniques or who received no training at all. Another study found that older adults willing to try something new could maintain vital cognitive function with aging, perhaps because of the ongoing development of their mental skills.
- Meditation Benefits Your Body’s Ability To Heal
The stress that can come with illness (from pain and discomfort to the loss of loved ones) leaves your immune system in a compromised state — but mindfulness meditation may help in some ways. For instance, practicing this type of meditation has been found to reduce the negative impact on the body caused by stressful experiences like cancer treatment. Meanwhile, research also suggests that mindfulness practice could boost heart health, helping you recover more quickly after experiencing cardiac arrest or suffering from chronic heart failure.
- Meditation Benefits Sleep Quality And Efficiency
People who meditate to sleep better than those who don’t. Sleep scientists found that the more an individual meditates, the better they sleep. Meditation helps you sleep for longer, feel more refreshed in the morning, and have improved energy levels.
- Meditation Benefits Your Gut Health
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve gut health in some rather unexpected ways. For example, one study compared women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), who typically have lower brain responses to signals from the gut than individuals without this problem. Researchers found that after four weeks of training in mindfulness meditation (which included techniques like focusing on breathing and paying attention to body sensations), these women showed more robust neural responses linked to feelings of well-being — suggesting that they had developed a healthier relationship with gut sensations.
- Meditation Benefits Your Ability To Forgive And Empathize With Others
Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of another person. Mindfulness can help you strengthen your capacity for empathy. Regular meditation has been found to improve your emotional intelligence through various brain changes, helping you experience more compassion and understanding toward others, making it easier for you to forgive them.
Here are some studies that show how meditation benefits empathy:
– A study involving 30 people who took an 8-week course on mindfulness showed that their scores on tests measuring empathic accuracy were significantly higher after completing the procedure compared with before taking it, indicating that they were better at accurately decoding the thoughts and feelings of others.
– Another study found that people trained in mindful attention reported more empathy for a stranger’s physical and emotional pain than those who weren’t.
– A meta-analysis involving 20 studies concluded that mindful individuals tend to be more empathic and compassionate toward themselves and others.