How meditation can improve your health and wellbeing
Over the last decade, there has been a signiﬁcant increase in the interest in the beneﬁcial effects of meditation, particularly in the scientiﬁc community. So how exactly can meditation improve your health and wellbeing?
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice of quiet contemplation, in which we can reﬂect inward and be anchored in the present moment. There are many variations on how meditation is practiced, but all have been shown to result in beneﬁts (and none have been shown to cause harm).
Beneﬁts are seen to the mind, body and spirit.
The positive effects of meditation include improvements in memory, concentration, attention and problem-solving skills, as well as emotional regularity.
Meditation promotes wellbeing by fostering cognitive and emotional functioning. The positive effects that are achieved during meditation extend to daily life – such as improvements in memory, concentration, attention and problem-solving skills, as well as emotional regularity – are well documented.
Meditation and stress
Roughly half a million people in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, leading to 12.5 million working days lost. This leads to lost output for employers and the self-employed of £33.4 — £43.0 billion per year, and lost tax/ national insurance revenue to the public purse of £10.8 — £14.4 billion per year.
Meditation relieves stress in a safe and effective manner.
Clearly, there is a signiﬁcant effect on the British economy; however, there is also a serious impact on the individual’s health and wellbeing. Stress increases the risk of mental health problems and is a risk factor for many diseases. Meditation relieves stress in a safe and effective manner.
Meditation, sleep and concentration
Insomnia is a serious problem. Lack of sleep is linked with poorer health and reduced lifespan. It also can cause daytime somnolence, which increases risk of accidents and reduces productivity in work. Meditation improves the quality of sleep by calming our thoughts and keeping us relaxed for longer.
Concentration is also improved with regular meditation. This is because our ability to focus is developed. We then have a clear thinking pattern and are not disturbed by random thoughts – and if we are better at concentrating, we are much more efﬁcient and productive. I believe that because of this, meditation leads to better time management (and so the old adage of ‘not enough time to meditate’ does not make sense!).
Meditation, mood and addiction
Meditation also promotes happiness and reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms.
This is because when we meditate we focus on gratitude – and because meditation brings perspective on one’s ﬂuctuating feelings. Meditation encourages us to look for the positive in a situation and learn from difﬁcult experiences.
Meditation promotes happiness and reduces depression and anxiety.
Addictions have been shown to lessen with regular meditation. The need for escapism and an instant reduction in stress is reduced, and so a detachment is developed from the addiction.
Meditation, inflammation and the nervous system
Meditation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system. This reduces breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, encourages healing and digestion.
Professor Herbert Benson was one of the ﬁrst scientists to show that meditation relieves stress by triggering a measurable relaxation response. His ﬁndings show meditation neutralises the ‘ﬁght or ﬂight’ response, inducing the relaxation response.
Meditation reduces the amount of inﬂammation we have in our bodies, and improves our immune system function. This means we are less likely to develop disease and we can also ﬁght off infections quicker.
More and more research is being published showing the beneﬁcial effects of meditation on the body, right down to a cellular level. It has been proven that meditation can make our cells live longer in a healthier state. It also reduces the amount of inﬂammation we have in the body and improves our immune system function. This means we are less likely to develop disease and we can also ﬁght off infections quicker. It can therefore lead us to live a longer, healthier life. Again, ‘not enough time to meditate does not make sense when meditation is the only thing that can make us live longer so ultimately, give us more time!
Meditation and the heart
There is also evidence that meditation reduces heart disease by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol. It also reduces pain in chronic pain conditions and beneﬁts have been shown in cancer suffers and so the NHS often encourage meditation for patients with these conditions.
Meditation, physical appearance and ageing
Obesity is serious problem in the UK, with weight-related diseases becoming more prevalent. The hormone Cortisol is released in response to stress. Cortisol causes a craving for food, particularly fat and sugary carbohydrates. This in turn leads to more food intake and resulting weight increase. Most people will have heard of this as ‘comfort eating’. Cortisol levels are reduced with regular meditation and so leads to better weight control.
The skin is much better with meditation. The British School of Meditation actually state that meditation can make you look up to 10 years younger. This does make sense when we know that more stress make our cells die more quickly, so we age quicker. Meditation helps protect us from this process.
Brain imaging has proved that meditation changes the structure of the brain. Growth is seen in the areas involved in executive functions, emotion regulation, attention and memory. This is promising for those who are at risk of age-related cognitive decline, as it suggests that meditation can slow this.
Meditation as a spiritual practice
Regular meditation can enhance one’s sense of being spiritual and connected to source energy. Although it can be a secular practice, it is often part of many religious practices and can lead to a sense of enlightenment. With experience, meditators can feel a deeper connection to their surroundings and in their relationships with others. A sense of ‘oneness’ is felt. It brings a sense of purpose in life and increased self-actualisation.
Meditation brings a sense of purpose in life and increased self-actualisation.
A greater understanding and awareness of one’s thoughts is developed, and so these can be steered to more constructive patterns. Meditation also deepens our capacity for love and compassion. It enriches life and allows us to truly experience it.
The beneﬁts of meditation
The beneﬁts of meditation are vast and only a few are described here. The scientiﬁc community are publishing more evidence to prove the positive effects on the human body all the time, and so it is hoped that this will encourage more people to practice it regularly.
Want to explore meditation? Read my beginner’s guide on How to Meditate.
You can also listen to my free meditations here.