11 Ways Meditation Can Change Your Life
The more I get to sit down with health experts around the world, the more I’m reminded that meditation and mindfulness are a crucial piece of the overall health. I've been meditating for years, and have seen deep changes, but there seems to always be more of a reason to deepen my practice.
Beyond taking a peaceful moment to yourself, meditation has some pretty powerful health benefits that you can start to experience from after as little as one 10-minute session. Here are 11 reasons why you should start meditating today.
11 Health Benefits of Meditation
1. Lowers Blood Pressure
Transcendental and mindfulness-based stress reduction can be helpful techniques in preventing or reducing elevated blood pressure. Through recent studies, the practice has been shown to produce clinically significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, both as monotherapy as well as in conjunction with traditional pharmacotherapy.
2. Reduces Stress
A 2017 study of 70 adults with a generalized anxiety disorder who completed a mindfulness-based stress reduction class reported reduced stress and a better ability to face stressful situation than those solely trained in stress management techniques. Through mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga, and body scan meditation, the group achieved notable reductions in physical measures of stress - reduced stress hormone adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and proinflammatory cytokines.
The study’s lead author Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC explained:
“We have objective measures in the blood that they did better in a provoked situation … It really is strong evidence that mindfulness meditation not only makes them feel better but helps them be more resilient to stress.”
3. Pain Management
The practice of meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that can alter the perception of pain through changing the information processing by the brain. In scientific terms, meditation can reduce pain-related activation of the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex.
A recent study confirmed this with subjects who participated in mindfulness meditation training in the presence of noxious stimulation, experiencing significantly reduced pain unpleasantness by 57% and pain intensity ratings by 40%.
4. Improves Sleep
It has been clinically proven through a trial of 2 parallel groups of adults that mindfulness-awareness practices improve sleep quality and also help with insomnia symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity. If you need help to fall asleep, to stay asleep or to get better quality sleep, meditation might be just what you need.
5. Reduces Anxiety
A recent review study found that the effect of meditation on reducing symptoms of anxiety was equal to the effect of antidepressants. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can change the parts of the brain that are associated with ‘me-centered’ thoughts, helping reduce anxiety and also changes the brain regions involved with attention, helping with a social anxiety disorder.
6. Improves Mood
Researchers have found that meditation improves happiness while decreasing worry and emotional suppressions. In a field experiment of working adults with half the group randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation, results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions. With the increase in positivity, the participants also found increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
7. Control of Emotions
Beyond positivity and an improvement in mood, researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have found neural evidence that mindfulness helps to control negative feelings. The results of the study found that it works not just in people who are naturally disposed to be mindful or well-practiced in meditation but in anyone. Those who practice mindfulness meditation are better able to control their emotional response to various situations, and the emotional brain can recover more quickly after experiencing something negative.
8. Enhances Brain Function
More and more research is uncovering the psychological and physiological benefits of meditation, and what we’re also understanding is that it’s not just higher-order cognitive functions but that meditation can actually alter brain activity. An experiment that saw 44 people complete an eight-week mindfulness course delivered results from a follow-up MRI showing the grey matter concentration increases in the right orbitofrontal cortex and the right hippocampus. These are areas of the brain involved in learning, memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective.
9. Boosts Immune System
A randomized, controlled study found that a short program in mindfulness meditation can produce positive, demonstrable effects on the brain and immune function. Mindfulness meditation can lead to a significant increase in left-sided anterior activation of the brain as well as impacting specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological aging.
10. Slows Cognitive Decline
Meditation is often referred to as brain training as it can help keep the brain working better for longer. In a study that compared 50 long-term meditators to 50 control subjects aged 24-77, it was found that those who meditated suffered less age-related brain atrophy and had higher brain volumes than the average person.
11. Decreases Inflammation
Inflammation is often caused by psychological stress, so it makes sense that meditation as a method for reducing stress can also decrease inflammation in the body. A study assessing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction found that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions.
Meditation is a personal practice with each meditator taking their own inner journey, finding their unique approach to the practice and uncovering their own results and benefits.