The benefits of meditation have been harnessed for millennia, with references to the practice dating back to Ancient India and 3rd century China. Despite its age, the practice has solidified its place in 21st century culture, thanks to the abundance of benefits it has for brain health and overall wellbeing. With the help of modern technology, researchers continue to expand their understanding of how meditation helps people and why it works.
Meditation is a universal practice – it’s simple, inexpensive and doesn’t require any special equipment. And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, with friends or at a family event. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can help restore your calm and inner peace.
Many people start meditating to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and to cultivate peace of mind. But there are thousands of studies documenting other less-known mindfulness meditation benefits, which can have a positive impact on mental, physical, and emotional health.
Let’s explore some of the benefits in more detail:
The most widely considered benefit of meditation is to our mental health. It’s been well documented that mediation can help manage stress levels and in turn, benefit other areas of our mental health, for example by reducing feelings of anxiety. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends - meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day.
Meditation can benefit physical health is through its impact on reducing stress levels.
Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing surges in levels of stress hormones (namely, cortisol and adrenaline). High circulating levels of these hormones can suppress our immune systems, increase the risk of us developing high blood pressure, and even increase the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
By controlling stress levels through meditation, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming influence) which can help manage these factors and prevent unnecessary risk to our health.
One of the most significant benefits of meditation is that it has the power to transform not only our mindset and perspective but also our brain's physical structure, rewiring them toward more positive thoughts and emotions. We can become more capable of coping with negative emotions when we meditate, and practice viewing heightened emotions as passing states.
Alongside benefits to our health, meditation can also be a very useful tool to help us improve cognitive function. For example, focus-based meditation can help increase our attention span and clarity, which could be attributed to the formation of new neurological pathways in the brain. This also has the knock-on effect of helping keep our minds young, having been linked with reducing age-related memory loss.
Forming new habits
When forming new habits, it is crucial to allow the habit time to build. Similarly with meditation, the more you practice, the greater the benefits will be. This was highlighted in a recent a study that showed students who meditated for 10 days were able to reduce stress levels by 12%, but the group who meditated for 30 days cut stress by 33%.
Getting started can be a daunting task and there are many times of meditation to consider – but there is no right or wrong and each practice can look different.
Using an app such as headspace can provide a guided introduction to different types of meditation, including courses covering everything from anxiety and compassion to sleep, focus, so there’s something for everyone.
- Behan, C. (2020). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(4), 256-258.
- The Many Benefits of Meditation - Headspace
- Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are - Mayo Clinic