The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits.
Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance.
This article reviews 12 health benefits of meditation.
1. Reduces Stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.
One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines.
These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an eight-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
Another study in nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress.
Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
SUMMARY: Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress. Meditation can also reduce symptoms in people with stress-triggered medical conditions.
2. Controls Anxiety
Less stress translates to less anxiety.
For example, an eight-week study of mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce their anxiety.
It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks.
Another study followed up with 18 volunteers three years after they had completed an eight-week meditation program. Most volunteers had continued practicing regular meditation and maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term.
A larger study in 2,466 participants also showed that a variety of different meditation strategies may reduce anxiety levels.
For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and physical activity.
Meditation may also help control job-related anxiety in high-pressure work environments. One study found that a meditation program reduced anxiety in a group of nurses.
SUMMARY: Habitual meditation helps reduce anxiety and anxiety-related mental health issues like social anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
3. Promotes Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life.
Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.
One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.
Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression. A review of several studies suggests meditation may reduce depression by decreasing these inflammatory chemicals.
Another controlled study compared electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and the brains of others who did not.
Those who meditated showed measurable changes in activity in areas related to positive thinking and optimism.
SUMMARY: Some forms of meditation can improve depression and create a more positive outlook on life. Research shows that maintaining an ongoing habit of meditation may help you maintain these benefits long term.
4. Enhances Self-Awareness
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self.
For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.
Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.
A study of 21 women fighting breast cancer found that when they took part in a tai chi program, their self-esteem improved more than it did than in those who received social support sessions.
In another study, 40 senior men and women who took a mindfulness meditation program experienced reduced feelings of loneliness, compared to a control group that had been placed on a wait list for the program.
Also, experience in meditation may cultivate more creative problem solving.
SUMMARY: Self-inquiry and related styles of meditation can help you “know yourself.” This can be a starting point for making other positive changes.
5. Lengthens Attention Span
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.
For example, a study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants’ ability to reorient and maintain their attention.
A similar study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task for longer.
These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation.
Moreover, one review concluded that meditation may even reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying and poor attention.
Even meditating for a short period may benefit you. One study found that four days of practicing meditation may be enough to increase attention span.
SUMMARY:Several types of meditation may build your ability to redirect and maintain attention. As little as four days of meditation may have an effect.
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