If there is one thing common in all of us, it is the flaming urge to be happy and satisfied in life.
Whether a crying baby, an insecure teenager, or a responsible family person, we all seek something that would comfort us.
But the question is: Are we looking for happiness in the right place?
Trinlay Rinpoche, an accomplished meditator and scholar, said that the real source of happiness lies in the clarity of thoughts. External factors can only be pleasurable as long as we are happy from the inside. According to Buddha, meditation trains the mind to “not dwell in the past or contemplate about the future.” It lets the mind settle in the ‘now’ and allows us to see the beauty of the present.
This article is an effort to understand why meditation works so well and how we can resort to its benefits for becoming a better version of ourselves.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will not only help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life but will also give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students or employees.
This Article Contains:
A Look at the Benefits of Meditation
Meditation establishes a secure connection between our internal and external worlds. It awakens the body and benefits all aspects of the conscious and subconscious layers of the mind. Out of the numerous perks that meditation gives, a few are listed below.
1. Meditation enhances empathy
Loving-kindness or compassion meditation fires neural connections to brain sites that regulate positive emotions like empathy and kindness. The deep state of flow that meditation induces builds social connectedness and make us more affectionate and amicable as a person.
2. Meditation improves cognition
Researchers agree that an excellent way for professionals to increase the likelihood of success is to keep meditation practice as a part of their daily routine. Studies have revealed that both transcendent and mindful meditation practices improve the brain’s problem-solving and decision-making strategies, which can bring a desirable shift in our professional life.
3. Meditation is a natural stress stabilizer
Stress is the body’s response to unforeseen adversities. Encountering immediate threats increase the level of cortisol, or stress hormone in the body, and activates the Autonomic Nervous system, which is responsible for fight-or-flight responses. Brain studies of regular meditators revealed that they have lower cortisol level in their brains, which explains their resilience and insightful nature.
4. Meditation promotes emotional health and wellbeing
Studies have shown that meditation improves self-image and self-worth. When we meditate, we get a clear picture of our mind and become aware of the thoughts that drive our emotions and actions at the moment.
A large-scale study found that regular meditation decreases the likelihood of developing depression and mood-related disorders (Jain, Walsh, Eisendrath, Christensen, & Cahn, 2015). Besides some forms of meditative practices which also promoted positive thinking, as researchers stated, and could improve the overall emotional health of an individual.
5. Meditation increases attention by inducing a state of flow
Have you noticed how meditation absorbs you into the moment? Mindful awareness comes naturally to us when we meditate, and we reach ‘flow’ state where our mind is in complete harmony with itself. A study on the effects of an eight-week mindful meditation course found that people who are regular meditation practitioners had heightened attention and concentration span.
Even people who meditated for short durations showed more focus than individuals who did not meditate at all (Jha, Krompinger, & Baine, 2007).
6. Meditation and Pain
A study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindful meditation reduces pain sensations in the body without using the brain’s natural opiates (Cherkin et al., 2016).
The research suggested that combining meditation practices with medication for treating pain conditions like osteoarthritis, headaches, and other chronic pains can be useful for providing long-term remedies.
7. Meditation and diseases
The NCCIH in the US, has conducted studies to explore the impact of meditation on disorders like:
- Pain and fibromyalgia in teenagers.
- Stress-related disorders in adolescents and adults.
- Migraine, headaches, and hypertensive conditions.
- Anxiety and depression.
Most of their research and reviews show that committing to a daily practice improves the overall quality of life, and has long-term benefits for staying emotionally and physically healthy. Furthermore, studies show that meditation had similar effects as medications in treating depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems.
8. Meditation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Studies on the impact of meditation on Irritable Bowel Syndrome was initially conducted by the American College of Gastroenterology in 2014, with no significant establishments. Later, some studies on women with severe IBS symptoms showed that when they practiced mindful meditation regularly for two months, their symptoms significantly reduced.
Meditation practice helped in reducing the anxiety associated with IBS and improved the individual’s quality of life to a large extent (Gaylord et al., 2011).
What Does the Latest Research and Science Show?
A recent survey on the incidence of meditation in the US population indicated a marked increase in the number of adults and children who practice meditation every day (Clarke, Barnes, Black, Stussman, & Nahin, 2018).
Psychologists and allied mental health practitioners agree on the effectiveness of meditation in reducing physical, mental, and emotional disturbances.
4 Interesting Studies
With so much research being done on meditation, it might be best to only highlight four very interesting studies as a start.
1. Future Directions in Meditation Science
While most studies focus on exploring the benefits of meditation on physical and mental health conditions, this research on the science of meditation examined the connection of meditation to spirituality, transpersonal transcendence, and mystical abilities (Vieten et al., 2018).
Researchers believe that such allied impacts of meditation are as crucial as its key advantages, and practitioners should educate meditation seekers about these areas of functioning as well. A research on 1120 meditators, including beginners and novices, showed that meditation developed a sense of self-enhancement in them.
Besides helping them deal with the emotional and physical stressors, it also led the way for heightened spiritual awakening and freedom. Many scientists discarded and criticized this line of research, owing to its unconventional nature. However, there is enough empirical evidence that indicates such allied aspects of human living that are touched by meditation.
2. Cognitive Impact of Meditation
The Shamatha Project was a breakthrough investigation about the psychological benefits of meditation. Based on it, a journal on cognitive enhancement published research where scientists proved that continued meditation practices and retreats improved attention and cognition significantly (Zanesco, King, MacLean, & Saron, 2018).
The study was conducted in two phases at the Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado, and involved 60 regular meditators on whom the effect of intensive practice was studied. The revelations of the investigation were impactful and drew the attention of veteran Buddhist monks, meditators, and scientists all over the world, including the Dalai Lama himself, and provided storing evidence of how the three-month rigorous meditation retreats improved perception and self-worth in the participants.
3. Benefits of Meditation as a Psychotherapy
One study on the therapeutic qualities of meditation revealed that (Smith, 1975):
- Regular practitioners who participated in the retreat without any pay were more self-content than non-meditators.
- Beginners who practiced meditation for 1-2 months showed improvement in physical and mental health than non-meditators who practiced for the same duration.
- Beginners and regular meditators showed increased signs of happiness and heightened self-esteem when they were randomly assigned to meditation sessions rather than when they received alternate forms of therapy.
4. Meditation and Wellbeing
A paper on Asian spiritualism proposed that meditation has positive impacts on happiness and subjective wellbeing.
Following trails of Dr. Herbert Benson’s study on meditation as a mechanism to find the ‘Mind-Body Balance’, the researchers of this paper discussed how meditative flow can help the body by optimizing blood pressure, regulating cardiac diseases, mitigating stress, reducing addiction, and regulating the Sympathetic Nervous System functioning, which is responsible for extreme fight-or-flight responses during stress (Andresen, 2000).
Using ancient Tibetan Buddhism principles, this study illustrated the science of meditation and explained why the effects of regular practice might outdo scientific and alternate forms of treatment.
3 Journal Articles for Further Reading
To continue exploring this topic, we suggest the following:
1. A study on future directions in meditation science
This study was a cross-cultural investigation of the less familiar aspects of meditation. Authors of this journal mention that while discussing meditation, we are mostly concerned about the physical and physiological benefits of it (Vieten et al., 2018).
However, as the researchers suggest, there are other significant areas, for example, transpersonal domains, spiritual practices, and cultural orientations that are equally forceful in determining the usefulness of meditation. With substantial research and evidence, this publication draws attention to such contributing factors and urge practitioners to promote them effectively.
2. Process and Benefits of Meditation by Dr. Hari Sharma
This research shows the fundamental roots of meditation and sheds light on the science behind it (Sharma, 2015). Acknowledging the ancient Vedic sources, Dr. Sharma has summarized some of his valuable findings on why meditation is unquestionable natural care and how it spread globally.
3. Mindfulness, meditation, and the brain
This Harvard Medical School Publication supports the neuroimaging research on meditation by the University of Massachusetts in 2011. With strong evidence and research-backed explanations, the publication describes how meditation can change the way our brain and body works (Harvard Health, Publishing, 2020).
16 Proven Health Effects of Meditation
Several studies have been done regarding the benefits of meditation, and we look at these in relatable categories.
The Benefits on Mental Health and Psychological Wellbeing
Besides the benefits of daily practice, here are findings of the benefits of meditation on psychological wellbeing and mental health.
1. Meditation reduces depression
Studies on mild and major depressive individuals showed that introducing an adjunct of meditation to their regular depression management strategies reduced the symptoms of loneliness and general low mood.
A study by Filip Raes on 400 adolescent students in Belgium showed that when they participated in mindful meditation programs, they had a noticeable reduction in depression, negative thinking, and stress for up to six months after the training (Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, & McQuaid, 2004).
2. Meditation helps to overcome postpartum blues
Research indicates that the effects of meditation can be similar to antidepressant drugs. Pregnant women and new mothers, who are at risk of developing depressive disorders due to sudden hormonal flushes in the body, benefitted a lot when they practiced meditation and yoga training.
The evidence clearly indicates that besides reducing mood fluctuations in new moms, meditation also helped them in developing a secure connection with the newborn (Dhillon, Sparkes, & Duarte, 2017).
3. Meditation regulates anxiety and mood disorders
From generalized anxiety disorders to phobia, panic disorders, obsession, and bipolar mood swings, daily meditation practice helps in regulating the unreasonable emotional ups and downs.
Methods like Vipassana reduces the density of grey matter in brain areas that associate stress and anxiety and brings in overall emotional stability.
4. Meditation reduces stress
Unexpected encounters with adversities often fail our natural coping mechanisms and make us vulnerable to burnout and hypertension. By developing the habit of regular meditation, we can successfully tame our mind to survive the storm.
Studies have shown that Open Monitoring Meditation and Mindfulness-based Stress Relaxation Techniques reduce the stress hormones and make us more vigilant and self-aware.
Research suggests that if we introduce meditation into the work culture and encourage professionals to practice the same regularly, they surely could work more efficiently under stressful circumstances and prevent the workload from taking a toll on their health (Bostock, Crosswell, Prather, & Steptoe, 2019).
5. Meditation builds resilience to pain
An interesting study by the University of Montreal proved that meditation builds endurance against physical pain. In the study, two groups received equal amounts of extreme heat in their bodies for a fair amount of time.
One of the groups had Zen Buddhist masters who were dedicated meditators, and the other group had thirteen non-meditators. Researchers were amazed at how the Zen masters reported significantly less pain than the other participants (Zeidan et al., 2011).
6. Meditation helps in dealing with ADHD
We have seen how meditation improves attention and focus. A study on 50 adult ADHD individuals showed that mindfulness and meditation practices reduced their hyperactivity and allowed them to enjoy increased impulse control (Schoenberg et al., 2014).
Brain examinations by Professor Eileen Lugers at the UCLA Laboratory of Neurology-imagine proved that meditators have more gyrification that helps the brain to process information faster and improve selective attention and focus.
The Neurological Benefits Meditation Has on the Brain
Meditation has been around since ancient history. With science and technological advancements, we are only rolling towards the knowledge that was always there. Scientists today approach meditation as an all-around solution to lifestyle malfunctions and have put forth some mind-boggling evidence on how meditation rewires the neural channels to promote inner peace and equilibrium.
- Meditation promotes mental balance by controlling the “monkey mind” (Luders, Cherbuin, & Kurth, 2015). Monkey Mind is a colloquial term for the brain activity known as the “Default Mode Network” (DMN). The DMN is responsible for what we think when we do not attend to anything specific. It causes the mind to wander and engage in non-targeted pieces of information that distracts us. Reduced DMN activity in the brain is the reason why meditators can remain more present-oriented and focused all the time.
- The lateral prefrontal cortex is the center of the brain responsible for logical reasoning and rational thinking. Neuropsychological studies suggest that regular meditation regulates the functioning of the lateral prefrontal cortex, making us feel in ‘control’ of our thoughts at all times (Goyal et al., 2014).
- Meditation also leaves its mark on the medial prefrontal cortex, commonly known as the “Me Center,” which is the brain site responsible for our perceptions, understanding, and knowledge (Pradhan, Gogineni, & Sharma, 2018). When we dedicate ourselves to daily meditation, we can feel more insightful of the self and surroundings, be more empathetic and self-compassionate, and develop more positive connections with each other.
- Meditation also impacts our mental health by regulating the functioning of the ventromedial cortex, dorsomedial cortex, amygdala, and insula, all of which are specialized brain centers that regulate our emotions, reactions to anxiety, fear, and bodily sensations of pain, hunger, and thirst (Ngô, 2013).
Proven Physical Health Benefits
As a form of mental training, meditation improves core physical and psychological assets, including energy, motivation, and strength. Studies on the neurophysiological concomitants of meditation have proved that commitment to daily practice can bring promising changes for the mind and the body (Renjen & Chaudhari, 2017).
- Meditation improves physical health by boosting the immune functions, regulating hormonal discharge, and decreasing cellular inflammation.
- Some researchers found that long-term meditators had more disease-fighting chemicals in their body than non-meditators or beginners did.
- Gene studies showed that women who meditated were more fertile and delivered healthier babies than women who did not.
- By regulating the Sympathetic and Autonomic Nervous systems, meditation controls our responses during sudden stress encounters and prevents us from nervous breakdown and panic attacks.
- Meditation stabilizes blood circulation in the body and regulates blood pressure, heartbeat, metabolism, and other essential biological functioning.
- By bringing a positive shift in lifestyle, meditation improves sleep quality, fosters weight loss, and reduces fatigue.
Advantages of Daily Meditation
Meditation is your practice, and there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
To decide how much we need to invest in meditating, we need to immerse ourselves into the practice, and there are two things we have to be sure about:
- At what level are we practicing?
- What are our expectations from meditation?
For example, if you are a beginner, meditating every day for half an hour would be practically impossible for you. The amount of sustained attention we need to develop for longer meditation sessions comes with time and practice. On the other hand, if you aim to eliminate stress by meditating, a weekend retreat might not be as helpful for you as daily practices.
The frequency of meditation is mostly dependent on the level we are practicing (beginner, intermediate, or proficient), and the result of the meditation practice as we see it. But as most agree, daily practice is most helpful holistically; however, the duration of training may vary from person to person.
Here is a rough guide on the amount and length of meditation that might help you. The estimates are approximations and might vary under different conditions.
|Duration||2-5 minutes||5-15 minutes||20-30 minutes or more|
|Frequency||Every day or when under stress||Every day, or at least four days a week||Seven days a week|
|Expectations||Stress management, mind-body balance, emotional regulation||Mental peace, more energy, better focus, increased happiness||Self-enhancement, spiritual enhancement, self-awareness, profound peace.|
|Type of meditation||Mindfulness, MBSR||Loving-Kindness practices||Mindful retreats, compassionate meditation, flow meditation.|
Meditating Before Bedtime to Improve Sleep
Meditation, at any point of the day, benefits us in an array of ways. Whether we start our day with a peaceful session, practice it during lunch breaks, or meditate just before going to sleep, the positive impact is profound and visible.
Some recent studies have proved that meditating at night helps people with insomnia and sleep disorders. A short practice right before we hit the bed helps to calm our nerves and get us into a relaxed state before we sleep.
Whether meditating at night is more effective than morning meditation, is still a matter of debate, but sleep meditation is surely positively correlated to better sleep-wake cycles. Sleep problems, including apnea, insomnia, and nightmares, are everyday stressors today.
Disrupted sleep can suck all the energy out, and we wake up all tired and exhausted. The impacts of insufficient sleep are deep-rooted and can cause long-term damage. Especially for professions like software development and teaching, where the brain works more than the muscles, the amount of stress can be humongous.
Ensuring a tight sleep is essential for maintaining productivity at work, and meditation can be the best solution we can offer ourselves for this. Research says that meditation improves the REM sleep state by up to 60%, which makes us sleep like a baby and wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Practically, there is no limitation to when or for how long we can meditate. Understanding what your mind and body needs can be the first step for choosing a meditation time and robustly beating the sleep epidemic.
Managing Daily Stress
Many researchers today argue that the effect of meditation on stress might be overrated. While there is evidence that supports a lack of commitment and consistency in daily meditation, we haven’t yet reached the point where we can question the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for promoting mental peace and happiness.
In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, a physician at the Harvard Medical Institute, introduced a meditative practice that he called ‘The Relaxation Response.’ Benson’s studies on stress and its impacts revealed that the adrenaline rush that sudden adversities create could suppress the nervous system and blood circulation, increasing the chances of cardiac arrests, depression, manic psychosis, and even cancer.
The relaxation technique that Herbert proposed helped in regulating the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, that ultimately could reduce the blood pressure and stabilize the upsurges that the stress brought. The relaxation response became famous as a supportive adjunct in counseling and medical treatments and slowly gained massive popularity owing to its severe impact on stress reduction and management.
Following his line of research, here is a brief outline of how meditation helps in reducing stress:
- Meditation helps in controlling blood circulation that spikes up during stress. As a result, it reduces the vulnerability of developing hypertension and stress-induced cardiac arrests.
- By regulating the hormonal balance, meditation prevents diseases like hypothyroidism, diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
- Meditation is a natural nerve-soother. People who rely on meditation to ease work stress or personal tensions seldom have to rely on alcohol, sleeping pills, or other harmful substances to relax.
- Meditation calls for healthy sleep cycles, which is the body’s natural healing mechanism.
- By consciously focusing for a few minutes every day, we can become more vigilant and aware of our thoughts and emotions, and find it easier to replace the negative automatic thoughts with positive ones.
- Meditation releases tension from the muscles and make us feel more energetic and ‘in-control’ of ourselves, even during times of distress.
The Benefits of Meditating in the Morning
An early morning meditation practice can bring unexpected changes in the way our brain and body works.
1. Morning meditation is more potent than coffee
Early morning meditators stay energized for the full day without solely relying on caffeine, and this is the reason behind it. Starting the day with a 20-minute meditation practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system and releases energy-boosting endorphins that spring us up, making us more enthusiastic and fresh all day long.
2. It induces healthy eating habits
When we are in a low mood or feel negative, we often crave for unhealthy or comfort food that pleases the mind temporarily. Studies have shown that after developing solid morning meditation habits, it becomes easier to cut off the extra sugar and fatty foods from our diet.
The positive energy and insight that those few moments of awareness provides speeds up metabolism and cleanses the gut, which is why we feel more satiated and are less attracted toward unhealthy dietary options.
3. Morning meditation prevents stress all day
Meditating in the morning is a point-blank defense to stress and burnout. Meditation activates the pituitary gland in the brain that discharge endorphins, or happy hormones. Eventually, it wards off apathy and reboots the storehouse for happiness, creativity, and peace.
Researchers agree that people who start their work every morning after a brief meditation session felt more in-tune with themselves and could ward off stress easily.
4. Early morning retreats turn the mental filter on
At any point in time, we have thousands of stimuli around us to perceive. When the ‘monkey mind’ is on, we might get overwhelmed at the number of things that draw our attention. Meditation, especially in the morning, when the mind is fresh from a sound sleep and relatively clear of distractions, activates the mental spam filter.
As a result, we can stay more focused and mindful throughout the day and accomplish errands with greater efficacy. Morning meditation brings an overall state of calmness in mind and brings a total sense of wellbeing, that consistently stays throughout the day.
The Long-Term Benefits of Meditation
To understand the long-term benefits of meditation, we look at it from a more holistic approach, where meditation is practiced in groups, in schools, and at work.
Meditation in Groups
Everything feels better when shared. Connecting to people have unique benefits. We feel more loved, connected, and accepted when we could listen to others and share with them.
Just like any other group activity, meditation, when done with others, comes with an array of desirable effects.
Brain imaging studies have shown that alpha and gamma brain waves synchronize better when people meditate together (Brandmeyer & Delorme, 2013).
Let’s have a quick look at some of the proven benefits of doing group meditation.
1. Meditation with others helps in habit-formation
Many people find it challenging to maintain consistency with individual practice. However, when we meditate with others, there is a motivation to join the group on a specific time and day, and we cultivate the habit of dedicated daily practice.
2. We get appreciative feedback
Meditation groups have a practitioner of all levels. We may find it rewarding to exchange feedback with each other about our improvement and gain valuable insight into the effect of meditation over some time.
3. Group meditation improves social life
Besides the positive impact of meditation, connecting to others in a group itself comes with some exclusive benefits. We know that humans are social animals, and isolation can distress us more than anything else. Participating in group sessions allows us to practice not only uninterrupted meditation but also form social connections, which in turn is an excellent boost for emotional health and overall wellness.
4. It creates a ripple effect in spreading peace
Bruce Lipton (2016), the famous cellular biologist and author of the book “Biology of Belief,” stated that our collective consciousness has the power to change our reality. A groundbreaking study on the famous “Maharishi Effect” in England, tested two parts of the country with equivalent crime rates.
One area was the experimental group where individuals participated in daily group meditations for an extended period of almost three years, and the individuals in the control area remained as non-meditators.
The results of the study showed a marked drop in crime rates in the experimental group that meditated regularly, whereas, the control group showed no visible change in the criminal records, clearly suggesting the role group meditation played in curbing the social menace.
The Long-Term Benefits for Kids
Kids need some time to unplug too. Their brains can get tired after a long day of studies, sports, and other curricula. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggested that parents and teachers should encourage children to learn and practice essential mindful breathing and relaxation techniques every day.
Meditation is ideal for healthy brain functioning. It boosts energy, helps kids sustain attention, and improves academic performance significantly. Many specialists agree that introducing brief meditation sessions while dealing with ADHD and impulse-control problems in children resulted in a better prognosis.
Besides improving essential body functions like hunger, sleep, metabolism, and immunity, meditation helps children remain more active and bubbly.
Children are quick learners and high adapters. Training them simple mindful meditations goes a long way in sustaining the habit, and they can continue to derive the bliss all life long. An elementary and middle school-based program in Kentucky found that educating children about meditation and self-control improved their academic performance, changed their food choices, and called for effective peer relationships.
Proponents of this research estimated that simple meditation practices could help children of all ages by:
- Improving attention span.
- Reducing reaction time.
- Fostering self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Developing social connections and peer relationships.
- Enhancing academic goals and achievements.
- Building empathy, care, and kindness for themselves and others.
- Boosting motivation and mood, thereby promoting happiness.
- Improving general health conditions and immunity.
A study at the University of Rome, Italy, found that young meditators felt happier and less anxious than non-meditators of the same age (Crescentini, Capurso, Furlan, & Fabbro, 2016). In the investigation, 16 students aged between 6-8 years practiced brief daily meditations every day, and post examinations revealed that besides academic improvement, meditation also gave a boost to their creativity and problem-solving abilities.
The Benefits of Meditation in the Workplace
Leading companies like Google and Amazon offer meditation courses to their employees every year. The competitive corporate structure today leaves no space for allowing job stress to fester and take a toll on our health.
The benefits of using meditation in the workplace are multifarious:
- Meditation trains the mind in such a way that workers spontaneously develop the urge to be mindful about their work. They are more connected to the present and aware of their talents and virtues.
- Just like any other aspect of life, meditation helps reduce work-induced stress by regulating the stress hormones and releasing toxins from the body.
- Introducing group meditations at work can promote interpersonal connections among employees and supervisors, and foster empathy and acceptance in the team as a whole.
- By improving the locus of self-control, meditation allows employees to better themselves at daily work scheduling and prioritization.
- Meditation practices like Mindfulness-Based Stress Relaxation therapy, are specially designed for professional executives to build decision-making and leadership skills.
- Studies indicate that commitment to daily meditation improves the general health condition of employees, causing them to take fewer medical leave, and boost productivity manifold. Irrespective of the company type and size, meditation practices at work is universally accepted as one of the best ways to sustain job satisfaction and long-term professional loyalty.
A Take-Home Message
Ram Das, a well-known American spiritual guide, psychologist, and motivational speaker, said, “the quieter we become, the more we can hear.”
Meditation undoubtedly is one of the best ways to calm our mind storms and dissolve the walls of unawareness. It gives us permanent access to happiness, mental peace, and life energy, and opens the real power of our mind.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free.
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