What are the benefits of meditation? Specifically, what happens to your brain when you start meditating daily? Read on to find out the answer, and more…
Meditation is something that I first tried in 2016. Since then, I have meditated almost every day, and can with certainty say it has changed my life for the better.
From increased focus, the ability to deal better with stress, and better decision making, the benefits I saw from meditation are plenty.
The truth is, however, that each one of us is different. So, how will meditation affect you?
We’re going to look at good old scientific studies with large sample sizes to see what are the benefits of meditation, and just what exactly can you expect from it if you start doing it consistently. See for yourself:
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a form of an ancient practice. People have been doing it for thousands of years.
However, in modern society, meditation was not well accepted for a long time. Everyone who talked about it, or did it, was considered a bit odd.
How times change.
Fast forward to today, meditation is entering the mainstream. More and more people from all over the world are practicing meditation to reap its benefits.
Types of Meditation
There are many types of meditation out there.
Some of the most popular ones include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Concentration meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Breath awareness meditation
- Body scan meditation
Many people do breath awareness meditation, which is similar to concentration meditation where you focus on one object for an extended period of time. This object can be anything, but most people like to focus on their breath.
Other people prefer mindfulness meditation where they practice being mindful of their actions, thoughts, and feelings without judgments or labels.
Some people even practice ‘do-nothing’ meditation. The name says it all.
Anyways, if you’re curious about how to meditate, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll make an in-depth guide on that. For now though, let’s look at the benefits this ancient practice will bring you.
Benefits of Meditation
Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Most people look into meditation to reduce stress and calm their nerves.
And according to science, meditation lives up to its reputation. (1)
When you’re stressed, your body secretes cortisol. This hormone isn’t bad in small amounts, but when you’re constantly stressed, it harms both your mental and physical health. Cortisol promotes inflammation in the body, and as we know, inflammation is one of the root causes of many ailments – including mood disorders.
It turns out that mindfulness meditation helps to reduce inflammation caused by stress. And less stress means less anxiety. (2)
Meditation can even relieve the physical symptoms linked to stress, such as:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Sweating, rapid heartbeat, and other physical reactions to stress
Increases Your Focus
Just like weightlifting strengthens your physical muscles, so does meditation improve your mental muscles. Specifically, it helps to boost your focus.
However, not all types of meditation will do this. Concentration-based meditation, where you focus on your breath, is shown to be the most effective type of meditation for enhancing your focus.
Another study showed that just 4 days of meditation is enough to boost your attention span. (5)
What’s most impressive is that meditation can even reverse the patterns in your brain that link to mind-wandering, racing thoughts, and poor focus. (6)
Helps You Sleep Better
Insomnia is sort of an epidemic in today’s society. With our fast-paced and hectic lifestyles, it’s no surprise that we spend hours staring at the wall when we hit the sack.
When you take into account that meditation is one of the best natural ways to reduce stress, it doesn’t take a genius to guess it can help with sleep too.
But how does it help sleep exactly, you ask?
There are a couple of ways. The first one is through cortisol reduction. As you know, cortisol is a stress hormone that is typically higher in the morning. But when you’re under chronic stress, your cortisol levels can remain high in the evening, preventing you from falling asleep.
Since meditation reduces cortisol, it allows you to relax and fall asleep naturally. What’s more, skilled meditators are able to distance themselves from worries and racing thoughts. Meditation allows you to enter a peaceful and calm state where you’ll get to sleep faster.
Research proves this, showing that people who meditate are able to sleep better for longer. (7)
Supports Emotional Health
As we saw above, meditation can reduce inflammatory markers in the body. How does this relate to your emotional health?
It’s simple. Inflammatory molecules can affect your mood and lead to depression over time. According to a study review, meditation alleviates depression by inhibiting these inflammatory markers. (8)
Plus, meditation is not easy like some people assume. Sitting down and doing nothing can be surprisingly challenging. It develops your mental muscles and makes you more emotionally robust.
Helps Fight Addictions
Carrying on from the previous point, meditation will strengthen your discipline and make you mentally tougher. This will show on your willpower and the ability to resist urges.
The thing with meditation is that it increases grey matter density in areas like the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for self-control and self-awareness.
The more experienced meditator you are, the stronger your willpower will be. Essentially, you’ll be able to redirect your attention from triggers and feel more in control over your day to day life.
Increases Grey Matter Density in the Brain
Meditation reshapes your brain. It reduces the size of the amygdala, which is your brain’s fear center. At the same time, meditation increases neurogenesis in the brain, leading to a higher volume of grey matter in the hippocampus and your prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are critical for thinking, memory, mood, and other cognitive processes.
Reduces Memory Loss Linked to Aging
One of the ways meditation is thought to increase nerve growth in the hippocampus is through stress reduction. See, stress hinders neurogenesis, which is your brain’s process of creating new neural tissue and connections.
By boosting brain cell growth, meditation helps you have a better memory and information recall.
Studies show that people who meditate regularly can ward off age-related memory decline. Even people that already have dementia can experience memory gains from meditation.
One particular study review concluded that older people who meditate have increased memory, alertness, and mental quickness. (11, 12)
Generates Compassion & Kindness Towards Others
Oftentimes we can get stuck in our own little worlds. And our own mind’s stories. This often causes suffering and can even distance us from other people.
People appreciate it when we understand them. Being able to relate to others, on a deep emotional level, is kind of a superpower. The truth is though, it’s just a skill that pretty much anyone can cultivate. Meditation is one way to do it.
Studies show that meditation not only increases your compassion and understanding of other people. It also helps you develop self-love, and a better understanding of your own emotions and needs. Meditation can even diminish social anxiety and self-defeating thoughts. (13)
So, if you’re someone who’s often hard on yourself, meditation can help you see things more objectively.
When you put an experienced meditator and non-meditator through a painful situation, be it physical or emotional, the meditator will experience less pain. Even though the cause of pain was the same as the other person’s.
That’s because meditation controls region in your brain that control pain. The very perception of pain decreases when you meditate, while your ability to deal with the pain itself increases. (14)
Increases Your Self-Awareness
Meditation trains you to take a step back, and look at your busy, racing mind from another perspective. It enables you to see things objectively. From an angle where your emotions aren’t involved. Needless to say, the implications of this are enormous – allowing you to make better decisions. This will benefit and spill over into all areas of your life. (16)
Studies have even found that meditation can increase your creativity and ability to solve problems. (17)
Is Meditation For Everyone?
I’m not a doctor and can’t offer you any medical advice. That said, having coached clients of all ages and backgrounds, and from personal experience, I do believe just about everyone could benefit from meditation.
It’s like asking “is exercise for everyone?” Sure, some people might have a condition that prevents them from exercising. But for most people, exercise will be beneficial. The same it’s with meditation, which is essentially an exercise for your mind.
If you do have any kind of condition that you think might interfere with a meditation practice, then be sure to talk to a healthcare professional to come up with the best solution for your situation.
Where Should You Meditate?
You can meditate anywhere. Some people do it while parked in their car, some meditate on the floor or on sofa, and some meditate in public.
So no, you don’t need to be on top of Himalaya mountains in a lotus pose to meditate.
Anything Else to Consider?
Meditation takes time to work. Even though some studies show results after just several days of meditation, the true benefits come after weeks, or even months of consistent practice. Be patient and don’t give up – that’s the best way to go about it when it comes to meditation.
So far, studies show nothing but good things about meditation. It seems that if there was one habit that you could implement now to start improving your life, it would be meditation.
On a personal note, meditation was the foundation upon which I’ve built other positive habits that had a profound impact on my life.
If you haven’t given meditation a try, now may be the time to do it.
Comment below and tell me how meditation affected your life. I’m interested to read about your experiences.