The Benefits of Meditation

You’ve probably heard about meditation and may wonder, What is meditation, and what can meditation do for me?  Doesn’t it mean sitting all day in silence? Isn’t it for monks in far-away countries who can chant for hours?

Meditation is actually becoming quite popular in the Western world, among people from all walks of life, as a powerful and effective practice for reducing stress and creating relaxation. By quieting your mind, and becoming mindful of thoughts, feelings, and sensations while observing them in a nonjudgmental manner, meditating can help you become tranquil, and many aspects of life become clear.

Meditation may be practiced in many ways, including but not limited to deep breathing, focusing on different parts of the body, walking meditation, mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, and Transcendental Meditation®. Most often, meditation starts with choosing a quiet place free from distractions. You sit or rest quietly with your eyes closed while noticing your breathing and physical sensations. All intruding thoughts are gently observed and released without judgment. You can also achieve a relaxed yet alert state by focusing on a pleasant idea or thought, or by chanting a phrase or special sound silently or aloud.

Your attitude during meditation is important because it reflects the way you deal with your mind, emotions, thoughts, and changing moods. The most beneficial attitudes for meditation are acceptance, gratitude, and openness to the wisdom you may receive during the process.

Meditation is especially beneficial to enhance health or for those who wish to improve specific medical conditions, particularly conditions caused by stress, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, chronic pain, and cancer. Meditation may be an effective adjunct to other therapeutic modalities (such as massage therapy or acupuncture) and a catalyst for learning improved coping skills and reducing clinical symptoms, and thereby improve quality of life.

The physiological benefits of meditation include the following:

  • Improved airflow to the lungs
  • Increased energy level
  • Decreased cortisol (a major stress hormone)
  • Increased skin resistance (due to decreased anxiety and perspiration)
  • Decreased heart and respiration rates
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Increased alpha waves (due to increased relaxation)
  • Decreased pain and pain perception

The psychological benefits of meditation include the following:

  • Improved mental and emotional health
  • Increased productivity and creativity at work
  • Reduced perception of stress
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased degree of self-actualization
  • Increased locus of control
  • Improved sleep
  • Decreased tendency to worry
  • Improved concentration and focus

Scientists now embrace the concept of ongoing brain development and neuroplasticity (the lifelong ability of the brain to change). MRIs show that new brain cells (neurons) can be created with certain types of activities, and connections between neurons can grow. An example of neuroplasticity includes those who routinely meditate. By practicing meditation, changes in the brain occur (plasticity), which can increase an individual’s sense of well-being and quality of life.