Is Meditation Good For You? 10 Benefits And The Research To Back Them

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For millennia, Yoga has been practiced as a means of reaching a spiritual state through meditation.

The physical postures were traditionally practiced to prepare the body for meditation. When we translate the word asana (yoga pose), the literal meaning is “seat”, which reveals the real purpose of practicing postures: to make the body flexible, stable and comfortable enough so it can sit for hours in meditation.

Today, many yoga classes include meditative elements such as calming breathwork, mudras, chanting mantras, and conscious, breath-synchronized movement to relax the body and mind.

Science now shows that these practices and different types of meditation offer many benefits for our mental and physical well-being that also extend into our day-to-day lives.

So, why is meditation good for you?

Read on to discover:

  • Different types of meditation
  • 10 benefits of meditation
  • Run-down of evidence-based meditation benefits
  • Possible negative effects of meditation
  • How meditation positively affects daily life
woman wearing white yoga clothes in sitting meditation with eyes closed

Different types of meditation

Guided Meditation (visualization)

Creating mental images of places or situations with sounds, smells and feelings based on spoken cues from a guide or teacher.

Mantra Meditation

Repeating a word, affirmation, or phrase with a positive or spiritual connotation silently or as a quiet whisper.

Movement meditation

May include Tai chi, Qi gong, Yoga, Somatic Yoga or any other form of physical movement that is synchronized with the breath and encourages mind-body connection while being completely present.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a simple and popular type of meditation that can be practiced seated, lying down, walking or while carrying out tasks. Techniques include a mental body scan, breathing and complete focus on activities.

It also refers to a mindset we can apply to our daily life.

Mindfulness is particularly popular in the Western world because it is evidence-based and doesn’t require faith or spirituality. It is also accessible because anyone can do it without making big changes to their lives.

a pink lotus flower with green lotus leaves in the backgrounf

10 benefits of meditation

1 Clears the clutter of your mind

Through meditation, we cultivate the capacity to become the observer of our own thoughts and emotions without engaging with or judging them. This allows us to observe with clarity, and avoid being controlled by the fluctuations in our minds.

Meditating brings about mental calmness and helps us practice equanimity, a state of psychological stability and composure, undisturbed by external experiences.  

2 Helps you get to know yourself better

Meditating, especially in combination with mindful movement such as asana practice or being wholly focused on a task, enhances our mind-body and body-mind connections.

In the mind-body pathway, meditation and mindful movement increase our awareness, which helps regulate the nervous system and maintain homeostasis more efficiently.

In the body-mind pathway, focused attention on asanas, pranayama or daily tasks increases our body awareness, known as interoception.

3 Stops you stressing about stress

Meditating lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response in the amygdala (fear center).

Regular meditation can help to keep levels of cortisol low and even reverse the effects of the amygdala response.  Meditation also activates the relaxation response associated with the vagus nerve and improves our ability to bounce back from a stress response.

Studies have shown that the way we think about and deal with stress is a more accurate indication than the amount of stress we experience of our likelihood of suffering from stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke or cancer.

Negative thoughts and emotions towards stress increase our chances of negative health outcomes. Meditation helps regulate the emotional response to stressors by providing techniques to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance and deal with stress more positively.

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn which encourages deliberate attention to the present moment without judgment has been shown to effectively reduce stress. By observing the breath, thoughts, sounds and physical sensations, participants claimed improved emotional regulation and focus and a reduction in anxiety.  

a woman sat on a sofa with her head in her hands appearing stressed

 4 Slows you down

By activating the relaxation response, meditation tends to lower your metabolism.

We know that lower metabolism can lead to weight gain. So, is meditation good for you?

Yes. Even if your metabolism lowers from meditation and relaxing practices, you won’t necessarily gain weight because reducing the stress hormone cortisol, takes your body out of survival mode, preventing it from storing fat.

5 Builds your brain power

In the brain, neurons form new connections when we experience or learn something new and these connections multiply and strengthen with repetition.

That means the more we meditate, the more neural connections and networks are created. As neural connections increase, the nervous tissue adapts and our brain’s capacity to be molded (known as neuroplasticity) increases.

Meditation has also been shown to build grey matter in the cerebral cortex.  

6 Gets you ready for rest

The increased interoception gained from meditation affects the autonomous nervous system (ANS), which in turn develops the brain by changing thoughts and neural pathways.

Meditation activates the “rest and digest” response of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), which slows the heartbeat, stimulates effective digestion and constricts the pupils and airways to create a restful state of optimal functioning.

somebody lying in a hammock outside reading a book

7 Makes you braver

Brain scans made in a study on meditation and the brain revealed that meditation reduced amygdala volume on the right side, which is closely linked to negative emotions and fear.

Another study concluded that just 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce fear-related amygdala activity.

8 Keeps you young!

Meditation, together with a healthy lifestyle and diet, can slow, or even prevent, some of the deterioration of the brain tissue that occurs naturally with aging.

MRI brain scans taken by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar and her team revealed that 50-year-olds who meditated regularly had key brain structures which were very similar to 25-year-olds who did not meditate.

Research suggests that a daily 30-minute mindfulness practice helps to improve memory and problem-solving skills and that the brain starts to make these positive changes in as little as 8 weeks.

Another study concluded that meditative practices can improve attention, mood and cognitive skills, which helps to improve functional connectivity in brain systems that generally degenerate with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other aging-related diseases.

Responses from a questionnaire have shown an overall improvement in 3 of the 5 mindfulness facets: observation, acting with awareness (rather than reactivity), and non-judgment of inner experience. These qualities help us to develop a positive mindset and to age gracefully.

a young girl and an elderly woman look at orange flowers together

9 Eases the pain

Meditation and movement in yoga practices help to regulate the pain response and are considered safe supplements to conventional medical care for pain and chronic pain.

Yogic practices including meditation have been shown to create an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect on episodic pain and for pain lasting more than 3 months.

Research has shown that as little as 90 minutes of meditation training may help alleviate pain and inhibit structural changes in the brain related to pain responses.

Using fMRI brain scans, one study demonstrated that meditation reduced pain-related activation of the primary somatosensory cortex. Researchers found that meditation increased participants’ brain activity related to sensory awareness of their own breathing rather than their pain.

10 It’s better than retail therapy

Yoga practices including meditation offer profound therapeutic effects due to their multidimensional approach.

Yoga has been compared with a Biopsychosocial-spiritual model because it encompasses each of these fields.

Meditation helps raise our awareness of each area of the model: physical fitness and genetics (biology), mood and mental health (psychology), community and relationships (social), purpose and self-realization (spiritual).

Additionally, somatic yoga which promotes mediative movement is an effective therapy because it can help people to process trauma without re-triggering by releasing tension held in the body.

hands in prayer position

Run-down of Evidence-based meditation benefits

Why is meditation good for you? Check out this quick summary of science-based facts:

  • Meditation restores areas of deteriorated grey matter by increasing neural connections.
  • Meditation transforms brain waves from Beta, which is associated with thinking and conversation, to mostly Alpha and Theta, which are associated with relaxation, creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Just 8 weeks of mindfulness practice could slow aging processes.
  • Mindfulness meditation reduces the intensity and unpleasantness of pain much more effectively than a placebo medication.
  • Four 20-minute mindfulness classes can reduce pain by more than 50% and the intensity of pain by 40%.

Possible negative effects of meditation

Some studies have revealed that meditation may induce negative or potentially harmful side effects, so it is always advisable to seek medical advice before practicing meditation and to practice in moderation.

Common negative side-effects of meditation may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hypersensitivity of perceptions
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Some more serious reactions may include psychosis or resurfacing trauma.

Meditation on its own may not be the cause of such reactions, however. It is essential to consider pre-existing health conditions, the duration and frequency of the practice and cultural influences.

To ensure a safe and effective practice, seek the guidance of an expert; a yoga teacher specialized in meditation or a mindfulness coach.

a room full of people in sitting meditation with a yoga teacher at the front of the class

How meditation positively affects daily life

Practicing meditation regularly can help to transform your mindset and lifestyle, and you may notice the positive effects of heightened awareness spilling into your day-to-day life:

  • enjoyment in mundane tasks
  • a heightened sense of compassion for others
  • a new perspective on challenging situations
  • increased imagination and creativity

Now you know why meditation is good for you, find out how to meditate and try these meditation scripts to get started. Read this article to discover the best meditation posture for you.

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Yoga teacher from the UK based in Madrid. Combining the ancient wisdom of Yoga with modern health sciences (physiotherapy, osteopathy) and holistic health. Hatha-Vinyasa and restorative classes in English and Spanish. Trained in India and Madrid (400 hours) // FisiOm // Yoga for Hormonal Health

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