A rapidly expanding body of scientific knowledge is uncovering a myriad of benefits that can come out of a regular meditation practice. Something you might notice as you begin reading through this list is that many of these benefits have additional advantages of their own. For example, reducing stressful feelings can have other powerful benefits such as improving your relationships and helping you increase mental focus and clarity.
This is one of the strange and wonderful things about meditation. You might start meditating with the hope of producing a certain effect. And you might produce that effect, but you will also be creating a wide range of other positive changes in your life.
1. Be more productive
Steven Covey, author of the best selling book "7 habits of highly successful people", says that by not keeping your mind and body sharp, it's like trying to saw down a tree with a dull blade. It can be done, but it's very painful. Meditation sharpens the mind and a regular meditation practice will help you get more done more quickly than ever before. This isn't just a mental process. Meditation can help you change the physical structure of your brain, making it more efficient.
2. Increased happiness
In a University of Wisconsin experiment with a Buddhist monk a huge amount of neural activity was seen in the area of the brain associated with happiness. It is believed that the monk's years of meditation experience changed the physical structure of his brain allowing him to experience emotions like happiness and compassion more intensely than in most people.
3. Enhanced creativity
Meditating makes it easier to let go of preconceived notions about things. In their place, you begin to see things as they actually are. This open state of mind also makes it easier to consider new thoughts and ideas that you might normally reject, and creates an mindset where creativity can flourish.
4. Better focus and mental clarity
Meditation helps calm the brain and with practice you will learn to quiet the random stream of thoughts often referred to as the monkey mind. When these unnecessary thoughts are no longer running through your mind constantly, you will be better able to focus on tasks at hand, and will be able to maintain this mental clarity over longer periods of time.
5. Spiritual development
Meditation's roots are in spiritual development and over the past several thousand years it has been shown to be the most effective tool for spiritual development. With time and regular practice, meditation can enable you to make profound progress on your spiritual path.
6. Better relationships with others
A regular meditation practice will help you become more aware and present. You'll be more aware of what is going on internally, and with the people that are around you. This can help you avoid stumbling into the patterns that can hurt relationships.
7. Reduced stressful feelings
Meditation helps reduce stressful feelings in two ways. First, it helps you relax, and naturally release those stressful feelings. Secondly, by making you more aware of yourself and your environment, you become more aware of the triggers that can generate stress. Then by making conscious decisions, you can reduce the chance of those stressful feelings accumulating in the first place.
8. Gain control over your level of energy
Meditation helps you recharge your mind and discover the connection between your mind and body. When you are aware of this connection and what is happening with your body, you can also begin to control the way that your body responds to certain situations. Need to increase energy, no problem, you can do that. Need to calm down? You can do that too.
9. Better able to control your thoughts
Meditation helps clear your mind of the flood of random thoughts that usually dominate it. This leaves your mind clear and focused so that you can concentrate on the things that you want to concentrate on, not random distractions.
10. Sense of well-being
One of the first results of meditation, which really draws people in and encourages them to continue practicing, is a sense of well-being. Even better, as your practice continues, this feeling will deepen and last longer. Eventually, this can become your standard state.
Scientific Studies on Benefits of Meditation
Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
“For this study, the researchers recruited 12 subjects who had never meditated before. Half of the participants were trained in a technique called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) over an eight-week period, while the other half were told not to meditate.” “The researchers did brain scans of the subjects before the study began, three weeks into it, and at the end of eight weeks. At eight weeks, the subjects who had been trained in meditation showed larger changes in the size (amplitude) of their alpha waves when asked to pay attention to a certain body part — for example, “left foot.” These changes in wave size also occurred more rapidly in the meditators.”
Weathering Storms: A Cohort Study of how Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program Benefits Women after Breast Cancer Treatment
R.H. Matousek PhD, P.L. Dobkin PhD
“A growing number of psychosocial interventions are being offered to cancer patients during and after their medical treatment. Here, we examined whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mbsr), a stress management course, helps women to cope better with stress and illness once their breast cancer treatment is completed. Our aim was to understand how mbsr may benefit those who participate in the course.”
Mindfulness Meditation Training Effects of CD4+ T Lymphocytes in HIV-1 Infected Adults
J. David Creswell, Hector F. Myers, Steven W. Cole, Michael R. Irwin
“an 8-week mindfulness meditation and stress reduction program can buffer CD4+ T lymphocyte declines in a diverse community sample of HIV-1 infected adults. Well-controlled studies with larger samples are needed to determine if mindfulness meditation training interventions can positively impact biological indicators of immunopathogenesis in HIV-1 infection, but the present findings provide a promising first indication that mindfulness meditation may have benefit as a complementary adjunct treatment for HIV-1.”
Effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation (Vipassana) in the Management of Chronic Low Back Pain
Sangram G Patil
“The traditional pain therapies have their limitations and side effects. Mindfulness meditation is an inexpensive, non-invasive method which can be taught without any special equipment. There is definite evidence in favour of mindfulness meditation and its modifications in the management of CLBP. But we still need more good quality studies to justify the use of mindfulness meditation in CLBP patients on routine basis.”
Mind-Body Solutions for Obesity
“Patients should be counseled that while these therapies are seldom harmful, there is little evidence to support the use of mind-body modes as a single effective treatment for weight loss. There is, however, a growing body of literature that suggests mind-body strategies support and enhance a multi-modal weight loss program that focuses on lifestyle changes of diet, exercise, reduced stress, and mindful living.”
Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-Analysis
Anderson JW, Liu C, Kryscio RJ
The regular practice of Transcendental Meditation may have the potential to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure by approximately 4.7 and 3.2 mm Hg, respectively. These are clinically meaningful changes.
Pilot Study: Mindful Eating and Living: Weight, Eating Behavior, and Psychological Outcomes Associated with a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for People with Obesity
Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D
This study provides preliminary evidence that a eating focused mindfulness-based intervention can result in significant changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological distress in obese individuals.
Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study
Jennifer Daubenmier, Jean Kristeller, Frederick M. Hecht, Nicole Maninger, Margaret Kuwata, Kinnari Jhaveri, Robert H. Lustig, Margaret Kemeny, Lori Karan, Elissa Epel
“the treatment did not reduce abdominal adiposity located between lumbar vertebrae 2–4, a region highly associated with amount of visceral fat, nor influence distribution of trunk to leg fat. However, we did observe the expected dose response relationships: intervention participants who reported the greatest improvements in mindfulness, responsiveness to bodily sensations, and chronic stress had the largest reductions in abdominal fat, supporting the theory that improvements in these psychological processes targeted by the intervention may lead to changes in abdominal adiposity.”
Mindfulness Training for Coping with Hot Flashes: Results of a Randomized Trial
Carmody JF, Crawford S, Salmoirago-Blotcher E, Leung K, Churchill L, Olendski N
“Our data suggest that MBSR may be a clinically significant resource in reducing the degree of bother and distress women experience from hot flashes and night sweats.”
Mind-Body Therapies for Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review
Kim E Innes, Terry Kit Selfe, Abhishek Vishnu
“In short, findings from studies to date suggest that yoga-based programs, breathing practices, and certain other mind-body therapies may be beneficial for reducing vasomotor and other menopausal symptoms. However, most existing studies suffer methodological limitations that hinder interpretation of findings and preclude firm conclusions. Additional rigorous, high-quality controlled trials are needed to determine both the short and long term effects of specific mind-body therapies on menopausal symptoms, to investigate potential mediating factors and underlying mechanisms of action, and to compare these treatments with other existing therapies.”
Potential of Mindfulness in Treating Trauma Reactions
Vujanovic, Niles, Pietrefesa, Potter & Schmertz
Mindfulness-based approaches have been shown to be useful for problems commonly seen in trauma survivors such as anxiety and hyperarousal. Mindfulness practice has potential to be of benefit to individuals with PTSD, either as a tertiary or a stand-alone treatment. However, before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the efficacy of mindfulness in treatment of PTSD, further basic and applied research is needed.
Treating Children Traumatized by War and Tsunami: A Comparison Between Exposure Therapy and Meditation-Relaxation in North-East Sri Lanka
Catani C, Kohiladevy M, Ruf M, Schauer E, Elbert T, Neuner F
“As recovery rates in the treatment groups exceeded the expected rates of natural recovery, the study provides preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of NET as well as meditation-relaxation techniques when carried out by trained local counselors for the treatment of PTSD in children in the direct aftermath of mass disasters”
Mindfulness-Based Acceptance and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms among Trauma-Exposed Adults without Axis
Anka A Vujanovic, Nicole E Youngwirth, Kirsten A Johnson, Michael J Zvolensky
“Overall, the present investigation found preliminary evidence for the incremental associations between mindfulness-based acceptance and posttraumatic stress symptoms, broadly, and posttraumatic stress-relevant symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal, specifically; while acting with awareness was only (concurrently) incrementally predictive of posttraumatic-stress-related re-experiencing symptoms. These results extended past work in the area of mindfulness and posttraumatic stress by showing support for specificity of associations between certain facets of mindfulness and posttraumatic stress symptoms.”
The Influence of Concentrative Meditation Training on the Development of Attention Networks during Early Adolescence
Shruti Baijal, Amishi P. Jha, Anastasia Kiyonaga, Richa Singh, Narayanan Srinivasan
“The current study aimed to examine the influence of long-term (1–3years) practice of CMT, via enrollment in a school offering daily transcendental meditation exercises, on subsystems of attention in adolescents. Alerting and conflict monitoring, but not orienting differed between the CMT and control group. Conflict adaptation differed between the CMT and control group among the 13year old children.”
“Long-term follow-up studies should be conducted to index the impact of training along multiple dimensions of functioning including conceptual learning, language learning, flexible, and creative thinking, and a host of other varieties of learning. Nonetheless, attentional training may be invaluable for children suffering from developmental disorders, such as ADHD, that have shown impairments particularly in the alerting and executive control networks of attention (Johnson et al., 2008) and may contribute to academic success.”
Mindfulness and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Susan L Smalley, Sandra K Loo, T. Sigi Hale, Anshu Shrestha, James McGough, Lisa Flook, Steven Reise
“Self-directedness is a construct that has great importance in psychological health and well-being. Several decades of research have clearly demonstrated a strong association of positive mental health and high scores on SD (Cloninger, 2004). All personality disorders and many Axis I diagnoses are associated with low scores on SD (Cloninger, 2004). These data suggest that any intervention that improves SD may have a marked influence on treatment success for most, if not all, psychiatric disorders. The current data support the hypothesis that mindfulness and SD are strongly associated but the present data cannot determine causality. Future studies investigating mindfulness training on SD may help shed light on the impact it can have on the self-to-self relationship.”
Attention Regulation and Monitoring in Meditation
Antoine Lutz, Heleen A Slagter, John D Dunne, Richard J Davidson
“The neuroscientific study of meditation is clearly still in its infancy, but the initial findings reviewed above promise both to reveal the mechanisms by which such training may exert its effects and underscore the plasticity of the brain circuits that underlie complex regulatory mental functions. These findings will need to be supplemented with more data, most critically from longitudinal studies examining changes over time within the same individuals randomized either to meditation training or to an active control group.”
Mindfulness-Based Treatments for Co-Occurring Depression and Substance Use Disorders: What Can We Learn from the Brain?
Judson A. Brewer, Sarah Bowen, Joseph T. Smith, G. Alan Marlatt, Marc N. Potenza
Mindfulness training has shown promise in the treatment of both SUDs and MDD. Examination of the common neurobiological and behavioral dysfunction in these disorders suggests the promise of MT for dually-diagnosed individuals. MT may help those with dual diagnosis decrease avoidance, tolerate unpleasant withdrawal and emotional states (stress-related), and unlearn maladaptive behaviors (rumination). Additionally, it may lessen the interactions between these processes, thus weakening their additive effects on depression and substance use.
Mindfulness Training Modifies Cognitive, Affective, and Physiological Mechanisms Implicated in Alcohol Dependence: Results of a Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial
Eric L. Garland, Susan A. Gaylord, Charlotte A. Boettiger, Matthew O. Howard
“In the domain of unconscious mental life, automatic processes run smoothly and efficiently uninhibited by volitional control (Kihlstrom 1987). Hence, by shunting appetitive reactions into the unconscious, the alcohol dependent individual may increase the very appetitive response towards alcohol he or she is trying to suppress and exacerbate psychophysiological reactivity to alcohol cues. Mindfulness training may serve to undo this process, making unconscious responses conscious. Thus, practice of mindfulness may promote the recovery of alcohol dependent persons through: a) deautomatization of alcohol use action schema, resulting in diminished attentional bias towards subliminal alcohol cues and increased craving as a result of disrupted automaticity; and b) decreased thought suppression resulting in increased awareness of alcohol urges over time, increased HRV recovery from alcohol cue-exposure, and improved ability to inhibit appetitive responses.”
Meditation and its Regulatory Role on Sleep
Ravindra P Nagendra, Nirmala Maruthai, Bindu M Kutty
“It is evident from the literature cited that practice of meditation brings about global changes. Many of these alterations in physiological functions have great similarities to the changes that are happening during sleep. It has been proposed that sleep is an autoregulatory global phenomenon (Kumar, 2010). It is also true that meditation influences sleep and its functions. It appears that various components of sleep generating mechanisms can be altered with meditation. Meditation, with its global effects on body and brain functions helps to establish a body and mind harmony. Thus meditation practices as an autoregulatory integrated global phenomenon, opens a wider scope for understanding the unique aspects of human sleep and consciousness.”
Positive Impact of Cyclic Meditation on Subsequent Sleep
Patra S, Telles S
“Practicing cyclic meditation twice a day appeared to improve the objective and subjective quality of sleep on the following night.”
Combining Mindfulness Meditation with Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Insomnia
Jason C Ong, Shauna L Shapiro, Rachel Manber
“The results from this preliminary investigation suggest that mindfulness meditation can be successfully combined with CBT-I in one integrated treatment package. The findings indicate the treatment protocol is feasible to deliver and is an acceptable treatment for individuals seeking treatment for insomnia. The overall patterns of change with treatment demonstrate improvements in nighttime symptoms of insomnia, reductions in pre-sleep arousal, and reductions in sleep-related distress. In addition, an association was found between the practice of meditation and reduction in trait hyperarousal.”
Cancer, Cognitive Impairment, and Meditation
Biegler KA, Chaoul MA, Cohen L
“With the increasing success of cancer treatment and the ability to return to previous family, social, and work activities, symptom management and quality of life are an essential part of survivorship. We propose that meditation may help to improve cancer-related cognitive dysfunction, alleviate other cancer-related sequelae, and should be fully investigated as an adjuvant to cancer treatment.”
Meditation and the Brain: Attention, Control and Emotion
Gabriel Jose Correa Mograbi
“Meditation is an important form of self-control and a healthy practice. It augments focus and attention and could be used to enhance empathy and all attentional capacities. It is worthy of practice and could lead to a better quality of lifestyle.”
Mindfulness Meditation: A Primer for Rheumatologists
Laura A Young
“Although historically mindfulness meditation is ancient, as described in this review, research in the field is in its early stages though, rapidly expanding in both quality and quantity. This is may be, in part, a response to a controversial AHRQ review that called into question the efficacy of meditation for improving health which cited the rigor of the current studies of meditation as generally poor . None-the-less, it is clear that for many, mindfulness training can have powerful psychological and possibly physiological effects. Many questions remain unanswered and further investigation is warranted. Studies of mindfulness do demonstrate that training leads to improved quality of life, including in patients with rheumatologic disease.”
Meditation Increases the Depth of Information Processing and Improves the Allocation of Attention in Space
Sara van Leeuwen, Wolf Singer, Lucia Melloni
“this study provides direct evidence that meditation alters spatial attention: while controls showed the typical global precedence effect, i.e., slower response times to local level targets as compared to global level targets (Navon, 1977), this effect was significantly reduced in the meditators. These results are in line with the hypothesis that meditation improves the allocation of attention in space and the ability to adjust the focus of attention from the larger, global pattern to the fine grained detail of an image. That is, meditation might alter the spatial distribution of attention by virtue of easing how fast the focus of attention is engaged and disengaged between spatial locations. Meditators did not only exhibit a strongly reduced global precedence effect, they were also overall much faster than controls, with an average advantage of more than 100ms.”
Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density
Britta K Holzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W Lazar
“This study demonstrates longitudinal changes in brain gray matter concentration following an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course compared to a control group. Hypothesized increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus were confirmed. Exploratory whole brain analyses identified significant increases in gray matter concentration in the PCC, TPJ, and the cerebellum.”
Tinnitus Rehabilitation: A Mindfulness Meditation Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Approach
Sadier M, Stephens SD, Kennedy V
“These showed significant statistical reductions in tinnitus variables both in the active and also in the control group. Post-therapy, no significant change was found after the waiting list period. The improvement was maintained at the four to six month