For centuries, individuals all around the world have used meditation as a relaxation technique. Long before the advent of modern medicine and science, Himalayan monks had already discovered the health benefits of meditation. They dedicated a lot of their time to this practice of clearing the minds and cultivating stillness.
With today’s stressful lifestyles, many people have found themselves seeking out meditation for health reasons, which extends to a realm outside of its original spiritual purpose. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand what meditation is and the benefit it has on human health—all of this information will be highlighted below.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a habitual process that involves training the mind to focus and redirect thoughts, often to positive ones. It can also be used to increase awareness of oneself and the surroundings. Many individuals practice meditation to develop better concentration and reduce stress. Additionally, people practice meditation to reap a range of mental health benefits, including developing a more positive mood and outlook, improving sleep quality, and practicing self-discipline.
Types of Meditation
Mindfulness is a waking state, directed-action practice that involves continuously bringing your attention back to the present. This practice of single-tasking was originally developed for the monks, who strived to remain focused on the present moment.
Aside from improving your mental cognition and focus, mindfulness training has been shown to reduce inflammation related to stress.
Self-induced transcendence is a non-directed form of meditation where you access the fourth state of consciousness that’s different from waking, dreaming, or sleeping. It essentially strengthens the bridge between the left and right brain hemispheres, known as the corpus callosum. Strengthening this connection helps individuals become better at creative problem solving and improves your productivity without adding stress.
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In a review study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the practice of mindfulness meditation was shown to provide relief from stress, anxiety, and pain.1
Health Benefits of Meditation
Stress reduction is perhaps the main reason most people choose to meditate. Physical and mental stress usually leads to an increased level of cortisol, the stress hormone. This is what causes the many harmful side effects of stress, such as the release of cytokines, chemicals associated with inflammation.
Chronic stress can also result in the onset of anxiety and depression, sleep disruptions, clouded thinking, fatigue, or high blood pressure.
In a study involving over 3,500 adult participants, meditation was shown to effectively reduce stress levels.4 Another eight-week study conducted to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness meditation demonstrated a considerable reduction in the inflammatory response caused by stress.5
Promotes Emotional Health
Certain forms of meditation are helpful in improving self-image and producing a more positive outlook on life.
A controlled study comparing the electrical activity in the brains of individuals who practiced mindfulness meditation found significant changes in the areas of the brain related to optimism and positive thinking in the individuals practicing meditation.6
Some types of meditation can also be helpful in developing a stronger understanding of oneself, essentially helping you grow as a person.
Other forms of meditation teach you how to recognize the kinds of thoughts that might be harmful to you. The general idea is if you equip yourself with a greater awareness of your thought habits, you’ll be able to steer them towards other more constructive patterns.7,8
Improves Focus and Attention Span
Attention-focused meditation helps improve overall focus.
One study that set out to examine the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation program found out that it improves the ability of the participants to not only reorient but also maintain their attention.9
A similar study demonstrated that Human Resources workers who practiced mindful meditation regularly stayed focused on a task for longer periods of time. Additionally, the workers remembered the details of their tasks better than counterparts who didn’t practice meditation.10
Helps with Pain Management
According to research, pain is linked to the state of mind, and can actually increase when an individual is stressed.
One study used MRI scans to observe brain activity as participants experienced painful stimuli. A group of the participants has undergone mindful meditation training while the other hadn’t. Patients who meditated showed an increase in the center of the brain areas known to control pain and reported reduced sensitivity to pain.11
In a larger study, the effects of habitual meditation on 3,500 participants were evaluated. Meditation was found to decrease the number of complaints related to intermittent or chronic pain.
Maintains Healthy Blood Pressure
During meditation, blood pressure has been shown to decrease considerably, a trend that is maintained with regular meditation. This can reduce the strain on the arteries and the heart, reducing the risk of heart disease.12
There has been a growing wealth of evidence highlighting the efficacy of meditation in making a person happier and healthier.
MRI scans suggest that long-term meditation can change the structure of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain. Additionally, the areas of the brain associated with sensory and attention-processing have been shown to be considerably thicker in individuals who meditate.
Previous research has linked meditation to benefits like improved memory and processing speed and better attention and creativity, among others.
Simply put, meditation is a kind of brain exercise that helps to keep it younger for longer and strengthens its functions. Because of these many benefits, meditation could prove to be a great addition to your daily routine.