Updated: Feb 26
For thousands of years people have practiced meditation and it has has long-been considered to have wonderful health benefits, both physically and mentally as well as for your spiritual wellbeing. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been a convert to the joys of meditation for quite some time. But why exactly is meditation good for you? Here I’ll explain some of the more scientific benefits of meditation.
Let's start at the top.
Ultimately, meditation all starts in the brain. It is the practice of becoming more mindful and the benefits for our brains can clearly be seen from a scientific perspective too. In fact, a team at Harvard discovered that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. The team found that after eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), there was an increase in cortical thickness in the hippocampus (the part of your brain which governs learning and memory), as well as in certain areas of the brain that control emotion regulation and self-referential processing. Importantly, this research also showed that there were decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. These physical changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it also has the power to change our perception of feelings as well.
But that's not all...
It's true that positive physical changes take place in the brain thanks to a meditation routine, but studies have also shown that by incorporating meditation into your daily life, it can have huge benefits for your attention span, even after just a couple of weeks. Given that one of the main aims in meditation is to create a strong focus for your attention (be that on a thought, an object or activity like breathing), it would make sense that regular practice meditating can help you focus in other areas of your life too.
Train your "monkey mind"
For anyone not familiar with the term "monkey mind", it is a Buddhist principle for an "unsettled, restless or confused mind" but I like to think of it in more literal terms, the monkey, easily distracted and swinging from tree to tree, from thought to thought, and unable to create moments of pause and reflection. This can be stifling in any scenario but especially when it comes to moments of self-doubt and your inner critic popping up and telling you all the reasons you can't do something. This idea of "monkey mind" actually refers to the DMN or Default Mode Network in your brain which is responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Thankfully, meditation can help train your monkey and studies have again shown this to be true. A study from Yale University showed that meditation can actually decrease activity in the DMN area of the brain and therefore gives you more of a chance to leave your monkey at home and concentrate on your day!
Reduce pain and blood pressure.
Introducing meditation into your daily routine is clearly beneficial your brain, but it also creates incredibly positive change for the rest of your body too. Multiple studies have shown that an established-meditation practice can help with your pain levels, even for those suffering with chronic pain conditions. Research shows that whilst it doesn't prevent pain (meditators and non-meditators still felt the same cause of pain), people who meditated are able to cope with the pain better when compared with people who don't regularly meditate. Similarly, people who meditate were shown to have reduced blood pressure in meta-analysis of one study that tested over 1000 patients. The effects of meditation were best seen in older patients and those who suffered with high blood pressure ahead of the study. Reduced blood pressure means reduced strain on the heart and therefore, less risk of things like heart disease so clearly another excellent reason to incorporate meditation into your routine.
Get a better night's sleep.
Just as meditation can help you control your "monkey mind", regular meditation can help you control those racing thoughts to get a better night's sleep too. 36% of UK adults struggle to get to sleep on a weekly basis so insomnia is clearly a growing problem in today's busy world. Meditation practice can help you redirect intrusive thoughts which often lead to insomnia but it can also help you relax your body and free yourself from tension meaning you're more likely to fall asleep, and you're also more likely to stay asleep for a better night's sleep. There have been several studies into the benefits of meditation for sleep quality with one study even showing it as a viable treatment for those with chronic insomnia as opposed to other treatment options.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety.
Stress and anxiety reduction is one of the main reasons that a lot of people turn to meditation in the first place and there's good reason as to why. Undue mental and physical stress builds up levels of cortisol in your body, which in turn triggers your body's inflammatory response. One eight-week study showed that mindfulness meditation helped control this so that people were better equipped to deal with stress and therefore reduced the body's inflammation response to stress. Meditation was also shown to have positive effects on stress-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
If you're reducing your stress levels, then your anxiety levels can also be reduced thanks to the benefits of meditation. Again, multiple studies have shown this and one meta-analysis of 1300 adults showed that meditation may well reduce anxiety, and most effectively for those with the highest levels of anxiety. Another study that looked specifically at women showed that a mix of physical activity such as yoga alongside meditation had a hugely positive implication on their anxiety levels. So it certainly seems that the reputation of meditation being good for stress and anxiety rings true!
Above all, be kind.
Evidence is not yet conclusive, but continues to grow around the idea that meditation can actually create a kinder society too. In an article Stanford researcher, Erika Rosenberg, states: “Almost any approach for cultivating care for others needs to start with paying attention. The beginning of cultivating compassion and concern, or doing something for the benefit of others, is first noticing what something or someone means to you.” So it would seem that meditation is not only good for you, but also good for everyone else as you become more "prosocial" and likely to foster more compassionate thought processes.
How do I start a meditation practice?
Mediation can be done anywhere at any time and is truly accessible to everyone. Over the coming months, we will be sharing our favourite mediation routines and practices so that you can start to incorporate meditation into your everyday life. But for now, why not follow me on Instagram, or get in touch to find out more about my meditation workshops and 1:1 sessions.