Many people are familiar with the physical benefits of meditation, but few realize that it can also offer spiritual benefits.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years across many cultures throughout the world. To this day, people are fascinated by how meditation offers so many health benefits, including stress reduction and pain management. While still rare in Western cultures, meditation is becoming more mainstream. More people are practicing meditation techniques to help them relax, increase their focus and energy levels, improve moods , sleep better, relieve chronic pain, manage high blood pressure, reduce headaches, aid in weight loss/management, strengthen the immune system , prevent heart disease , enhance creativity and mental awareness , cope with anxiety and depression , achieve a state of inner peace, experience deeper self-understanding , and much more.
In addition to these mental health benefits, these techniques have been shown to benefit the body in various other ways as well. In fact, meditation has been found beneficial for everything from controlling weight gain to preventing heart disease. Here’s a closer look at how meditation can boost both mental and physical wellness, while providing spiritual benefits.
Meditation Techniques Re-wire the Brain for Clarity, Focus & Happiness
Studies show specific meditation techniques actually re-wire the brain to experience greater levels of happiness, clarity, focus and other positive emotions. Meditation has been shown to increase feelings of calmness while decreasing feelings of stress and depression. Meditation can even increase positive feelings towards oneself and others, while decreasing the perception of suffering in daily life.
Many studies suggest that meditation literally “re-wires” the brain to experience greater levels of mindfulness , positivity , self-awareness and compassion . The field of neuroscience has shown how meditation activates different areas of the brain that help to improve focus, concentration, memory and learning ability.
Relieves Stress with Meditation for Better Health
Research shows meditation decreases the impact of stress on the body. It has been linked to reduced anxiety , depression , blood pressure, heart disease risk factors, substance abuse, insomnia , fatigue and even the common cold .
One particular study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) significantly reduced psychological distress, anxiety, rumination and depression in unemployed individuals. Another study found MBSR was effective in reducing anxiety among people who have cancer or are recovering from surgery .
Meditation for Self-Healing & Spirituality
People often assume meditation is strictly a mental exercise. However, in Eastern traditions meditation is seen as a tool to help identify and transform negative aspects of one’s personality—which include mental thoughts and emotions. When performed properly over time, regular meditation practice will naturally lead to self-awareness , spiritual growth , happiness , love for others and understanding the interconnectedness of all things . The ultimate goal is to reach a state of enlightenment and dissolve the ego.
There are several basic meditation techniques that can reduce stress and improve mental health, including:
- Loving Kindness Meditation — A type of meditation where one focuses on developing feelings of unconditional love for oneself and others.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation —A type of relaxation technique where one systematically relaxes the body, starting with feet and working up to head.
- Guided Imagery Meditation —This type of meditation focuses on relaxing the mind and using positive images to help calm stress.
- Mindfulness Meditation —A type of meditation where one focuses on paying close attention to their moment-to-moment experiences with an open mind and non-judgmental attitude.
- Transcendental Meditation (TM) —A type of meditation where the meditator repeats a mantra, typically for 15–20 minutes twice per day. It is considered one of most widely practiced forms of meditation with over five million people learning the technique worldwide. There are also several sub-types of TM that vary in mantra and length of practice.
How to Start Meditating for Stress Relief, Health & Spirituality
Meditation is often recommended as an alternative treatment for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety disorders , insomnia, cancer and digestive disorders by many complementary medicine professionals. While there are several ways to meditate—including practicing alone or attending a group class—the easiest way to start meditating is to take an 8-week MBSR course near you.
Many people also meditate on their own at home or in nature , taking advantage of quiet moments throughout the day. Others use guided meditation practices that help deepen concentration and awareness. There are even apps available that provide guided meditation sessions, such as:
Simple Habit —A popular meditation app that provides 5-minute guided meditations. Insight Timer —A free meditation app that has more than 3,000 guided meditations and music tracks available. Headspace —An award-winning app designed to get people started with meditation and become more aware of the present moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Relief, Health & Spirituality
Mindfulness meditation has many health benefits , including: Reduced stress , anxiety and depression Improved concentration Better quality sleep Decreased blood pressure Improved memory Reduced substance abuse Greater feelings of compassion and empathy Increased self-awareness Improved brain function Boosts the immune system Helps people cope with illness and chronic pain Helps reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia Elevated mood
Consistent, daily mindfulness practices have been shown to significantly improve the health and well-being of both healthy individuals and those who live with an existing medical condition. Furthermore, research has found that consistent meditation practice for as little as 8 weeks is correlated with a variety of psychological benefits, including: Greater feelings of authenticity [research has found that meditation decreases impulsive responses and strengthens decision-making , which means you make decisions based on your true values rather than the desire to fit in or please others] and pride [meditation breaks down personal boundaries and increases empathy by helping people become more in tune with themselves and empathic toward others] More compassionate responses to others [increases people’s ability to perceive that not everyone is the same, which means people are better able to see things from someone else’s perspective]. Reduced stress and anxiety Improved memory Lowered cortisol levels (stress hormone) Better sleep Higher self-esteem Greater feelings of optimism
Meditation Can Relieve Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can lead to a variety of mental and physical health problems, such as: Depression Anxiety disorders Panic attacks Phobias Headaches Weight gain Digestive issues Sleeping difficulties Memory problems Chronic pain
The good news is that science has found meditation may be an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety , particularly for those who suffer from chronic or difficult-to-treat stress. For example, research published in the Journal of Scientific Reports found that mindfulness meditation training was correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms among clinically depressed adults.
Additionally, a study conducted by Brown University showed that just one day of mindfulness meditation changed the brain regions related to stress , leading some researchers to believe that it’s possible for short bouts of daily meditation can help reduce chronic stress over time. However, more high quality studies are needed on this subject before scientific claims can be made. Mindfulness Meditation May Improve Sleep Quality
It’s no secret that poor sleep hygiene is associated with serious health problems, including: Depression Weight gain Anxiety Osteoporosis Heart disease Diabetes Cancer
The good news is there are plenty of ways to improve sleep , including: Developing a regular bedtime routine [7-9 hours of quality sleep a night is a healthy amount] Exercising regularly [30 minutes on most days of the week] Eating a healthy diet [limit caffeine and heavy meals at night] Limiting screen time before going to bed [backlit screens have been found to negatively impact sleep quality]
Developing an effective mindfulness meditation practice may also be a key component of good sleep hygiene . For example, researchers from the University of Southern California found that mindfulness helped participants transition more smoothly from wakefulness to sleep , which means they started sleeping faster and had more energy during the day. In addition, a study conducted by the University of California at Santa Barbara found that mindfulness meditation helped improve sleep quality among older adults, which means it could be helpful for individuals who typically have trouble sleeping due to pain or other symptoms associated with aging . Meditation May Improve Memory
A growing body of research has found evidence that mindfulness practices are correlated with improved memory. For example, a study published in Neuropsychologia found that mindfulness meditation training improved visual working memory and sustained attention, which means it may enhance your ability to concentrate.
Meditation May Reduce Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical treatment , with many individuals struggling to find effective treatments for persistent symptoms. For example, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that mindfulness meditation training may help reduce chronic pain for individuals with prior experience.
Meditation has also been shown to improve cognitive function in older adults , which is important because aging is often associated with increased sensitivity toward painful stimuli . One study, published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, showed that mindfulness did not make pain more or less intense, but it did affect how individuals responded to pain.
For example, mindfulness meditation reduced the “unpleasantness” of pain , which means that participants in this study were more able to tolerate pain without reacting emotionally. Meditation May Reduce Psychological Distress
Meditation has been shown to help reduce psychological distress associated with frustrating situations , including anger . One study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine , found that mindfulness meditation training was correlated with lower levels of psychological distress among health care professionals who experience chronic frustration.
Another study, conducted at Stanford University , showed evidence that mindfulness mediation helped prevent emotional exhaustion among social workers who tend to work long hours helping patients through difficult times. Mindfulness may also help reduce stress for expectant mothers . One recent study, published in Nursing Research , showed that mindfulness meditation was correlated with lower levels of perceived stress among primigravidas (individuals who are pregnant for the first time).
If you are experiencing psychological distress or chronic pain, meditation may be worth trying as part of your treatment plan. Meditation May Reduce Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious mental health concerns which often require extensive treatment to overcome. However, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine recently found evidence that mindfulness-based interventions reduced symptoms associated with eating disorders in teens and young adults .
Meditation May Promote Weight Loss in Obese Individuals
A recent study conducted by Brown University found evidence that mindfulness training helped obese individuals lose through significant reductions in binge eating episodes and other symptoms. In addition, a study published in the journal PLoS One found that mindfulness meditation training reduced weight and body fat among obese veterans who were not actively trying to lose weight.
Mindfulness Meditation May Help Reduce Symptoms of Substance Use Disorders
A number of studies have found evidence that mindfulness practices may help reduce addiction-related cravings . In a study published in The American Journal on Addictions , participants were taught about craving and given strategies to cope with their cravings using mindfulness meditation before being exposed to various triggers such as smoking cues or alcohol advertisements. Participants who learned mindfulness techniques had significantly lower levels of craving than those in the group who did not receive any intervention.
Meditation May Improve Quality of Life for Cancer Survivors
Many cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression and anxiety , which can adversely affect quality of life. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found evidence that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduced psychological distress among cancer survivors . MBSR is one type of mindfulness meditation training.
The Bottom Line — Meditation May Have Benefits for Your Mind and Body
Research suggests that meditation may help reduce symptoms associated with chronic pain, anger, psychological distress, eating disorders, weight loss, cravings , cancer survivor symptoms and quality of life for cancer survivors. The specific benefits individuals experience may depend on factors such as their age or diagnosis; however, research suggests there are multiple mental health advantages to practicing mindfulness meditation.