Meditation is practiced this far and wide not only for religious reasons, but for the health benefits as well. In fact, there has been a great deal of research into what meditation does to/for the human body.
As of 2012, almost 18 million adults in America alone practiced meditation. These days knowledge of the ancient practice is easily accessible; you can fit online meditation courses into your busy schedule in addition to there being several decent apps for that. There are even entire websites devoted to teaching you how to meditate with your dog!
Here are 10 scientifically backed benefits of meditation.
- Meditation helps you concentrate
The results of a study conducted in 2011 by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital suggested that meditation could “help the brain reduce distractions.”
Similar research from University of California supported this, finding that participants who were easily distracted in pretesting were less likely to be distracted after just two weeks of mindfulness training. Additionally, research conducted by the University of Washington found that 8 weeks of meditation training resulted in participants who were better at multitasking in a “high-stress environment”.
- It trains you to control your emotions
According to Catherine Kerr, a researcher from Brown University, mindfulness gives us control over negative emotions by allowing us to regulate the attention we give to towards these negative thoughts.
Not only that, but Stanford University has found that mindfulness decreased their participants levels of emotional suppression. So it seems that meditation allows us to develop the skills to pay less attention to our negative feelings, without developing the unhealthy habit of ignoring them altogether.
- Improves your mental health
Meditation is recognised by the NHS as a way to lessen the symptoms of depression. The NHS website cites the Dalian University of Technology in China which found that meditation reduces the brain’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to improved, reduced levels of depression, anxiety, anger and fatigue.
- Meditation training can give your immune system a boost
In 2003, the journal of Biobehavioral Medicine published the results of a study which found that “mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function”. The findings indicate a positive immune function response after only 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training.
- It can assist in coping with pain
While meditation should not replace medicinal pain relief altogether, the same study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that, in addition to helping the brain avoid distractions and negative thoughts, meditation helps control a person’s sensory perception, which can help a practitioner regulate how their body feels pain.
Indeed, Cancer Research UK cites meditation as an effective method of pain relief. Dr Christopher Brown, a neuroscience expert from the University of Cambridge held a seminar in 2015 in which he discussed how practicing meditation has a positive effect on “how people regard pain,” rather than simply the amount of pain people feel.
- Meditation courses will get you to kick the habit
A study 5 years ago found that meditation was such an effective aid to smoking cessation that it trumped The American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking programme! Another study found that meditation led to participants smoking less, even though they had joined the study because they were interested in stress relief rather than help quitting smoking.
Meditation courses have been shown to aid the recovery of those addicted to more serious substances than nicotine as well. Research has shown that “mindfulness-based relapse prevention” leads to a reduced risk of relapse into drug and alcohol abuse in practitioners.
- It lessens your prejudices
As hard as it may be to believe, the effect of mindfulness meditation has had positive effects on age and race bias.
A study from Central Michigan University found that mindfulness caused a marked decrease in implicit bias against age and race in a controlled environment, by causing us to rely less on “previously established associations.”
- Meditation training boosts your self esteem
In 2014, a 3 week course of “self-compassion meditation training” was monitored and measured against a control group to test its effectiveness. The results showed “significantly greater reductions in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and contingent self-worth based on appearance”. Additionally it improved self-compassion which was maintained for a whole 3 months after the 3 week course had ended.
- It helps your brain age well
Even though the human brain begins to deteriorate at around the age of 20, research has shown that meditation could help counteract this.
Just last year, a study conducted by researchers from the University of California and the Australian National University produced results which suggested that long term meditation can help preserve the human brain.
- Meditation physically changes your brain
In addition to helping preserve the brain as it ages, meditation could actively change the physical aspects of your brain for the better.
Sara Lazar, a Harvard neuroscientist, has done a great deal of research into meditation and it’s effect on the physicality of the human brain. One such study found that, after just 8 weeks of meditation, they “found thickening” of participants brains in 4 regions –
- The posterior cingulate, which controls mind wandering
- The temporo parietal junction, which deals with with empathy and compassion.
- The hippocampus, which is involved in learning, memory and the regulation of our emotions.
- And in the area of the brainstem where regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, this research also found that the amygdala, a part of the brain which controls anxiety, fear and stress, shrank after participants took a “mindfulness-based stress reduction program.”