How does meditation stack up from a scientific perspective?
Meditation continues to be a fast-growing health trend(1, 2). Its popularity is no surprise, but some of the benefits of meditation may be. Some have grown up with meditation in their lives while others have picked up the practice. Meditation is something people turn to for a range of reasons, whether to help with physical health, mental health or spiritual connection. Meditation is a method of training your brain and thoughts. Just as walking increases cardiovascular strength, meditation increases mental focus and concentration and has far-reaching psychological and physical health benefits.
Three Types of Meditation
It can be daunting trying to make sense of types of meditation. Each type of meditation impacts the brain differently a little differently; however, they share common health benefits(1).
- Focussed attention – focussing attention solely on one experience – a sound, or bodily movement, for example(2-4).
- Open monitoring and mindfulness – Similar to focused attention, however, with a greater reach. Rather than a focus on only one experience (breath for example), open monitoring draws practitioners internal and external focus points, i.e. Smell, sound and breath(4, 5). Commonly referred to as mindfulness.
- Self-transcending guided meditation – Going beyond focussing on experience. It is a much more profound meditation that is restful and peaceful(6, 7).
Top Five Benefits of Meditation
How does meditation stack up from a scientific perspective? Here are just five of the many benefits of meditation.
1. Less Stress
Meditation reduces cortisol, a hormone released in the human body when under stress. A common issue in the world today is chronic stress, which leads to the constant release of cortisol. A little bit of cortisol here and there is fine it is essential for survival. Chronic cortisol production compromises the immune system(8). Cortisol signals to the cytokines in the immune system not to protect against pathogens(9). This would be fine if we were fleeing from a crocodile or cassowary, but the constant release is not beneficial. It can lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes(8) among a list of other issues(10).
2. Reduces Anxiety and Depression and Promotes Feel Good Chemicals
Two of the most prevalent global disorders are anxiety and depression(1). With chronic cortisol release, comes higher rates of anxiety and depression and lower rates of people generally feeling good about themselves. Practising meditation has clearly shown a reduction in anxiety and depression(11) and other mood disorders such as OCD, panic attacks and phobias(12).
3. Enhances Self-Awareness
A positive side-effect of meditation is that practitioners learn to become more self-aware. At the same time as reducing cortisol, the practice itself gives the tools to re-direct thoughts. We can’t stop thoughts from entering our minds; however, we can control what we do with them. What results from increased self-awareness and control over thoughts are increased feelings of being grounded and happiness(13).
4. Improved Memory and Cognitive Function
Meditation and its ability to improve memory and cognitive function have been widely studied. With so many studies completed on this topic, there are too many to refer to here. Meditation has become a useful tool for academics in taking on new information, taking tests and; it has a place in the workplace as well. For example, 20 students participated in meditation classes and saw a noticeable improvement during high-stress test taking periods(14). Google staff members even utilise meditation to improve their work performance(15).
From smoking to digital addictions, meditation can help to break the cycle of addiction. The combination of reduced cortisol, reduced anxiety and depression and increased self-awareness are invaluable in managing addictions(1, 16).
References 1. McGroarty B. 2019 Wellness Trends, from the Global Wellness Summit [Internet]: Global Wellness Summit. 2019. [15 Jun 2019]. 2. Colzato L, Szapora A, Hommel B. Meditate to Create: The Impact of Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring Training on Convergent and Divergent Thinking. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2012 2012-April-18 15 Jun 2019]; 3(116). 3. Smith M. Mindware [Internet]2019. [15 Jun 2019]. 4. Lutz A, Slagter, HA, Dunne, JD & Davidson, RJ. Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in cognitive sciences [Internet]. 2008 15 Jun 2019; 12(4):[163-9 pp.]. 5. Burgin, T., 2019. [15 Jun 2019]. Available from: www.yogabasics.com/connect/yoga-blog/best-meditation-for-creativity/ 6. Aron, E., 2019. [15 Jun 2019] 7. Travis F, Shear, J. Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: Categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Consciousness and Cognition [Internet]. 2010; 19:[1110-8 pp.]. 8. Cleveland Clinic. What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? 2019 16 June 2019. 9. Lim A. Stress, Cortisol, and the Immune System: What Makes us Get Sick? The Science 10. Creative Quarterly [Internet]. 2007 16 Jun 2019. 11. Chrousos G, Gold, PW. A Healthy Body is a Healthy Mind—and Vice Versa—The Damaging Power of “Uncontrollable” Stress. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism [Internet]. 1998 16 Jun 2019; 83(6):[1842-5 pp.]. 12. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine [Internet]. 2014 16 Jun 2019; (2168-6114 (Electronic)). 13. Carmody J, Baer, R. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine [Internet]. 2008 16 Jun 2019; 31:[23-33 pp.]. 14. Ramesh M, Sathian, B, Sinu, E & Kiranmai SR. Efficacy of raja yoga meditation on positive thinking: an index for self-satisfaction and happiness in life. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR [Internet]. 2013 16 Jun 2019; 7(10):[2265-7 pp.]. 15. Fiebert M, Travis MM. Meditation and academic performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills [Internet]. 1981 16 Jun 2019; 53:[447-50 pp.]. 15. Miller J. Forward. 2013 [cited 16 Jun 2019]. In: The Contemplative Practitioner: Meditation in Education and the Workplace [Internet]. University of Toronto Press. 2. [cited 16 Jun 2019]; . 16. Pruett J, Nishimura, NJ, Priest, R. The Role of Meditation in Addiction Recovery. Counselling and Values [Internet]. 2007 16 Jun 2019; 52(1):[71-84 pp.].