Meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its many health benefits. You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration. People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and even increased pain tolerance.
1. Reduces stress
Stress Reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One review concluded that meditation lives up to its reputation for stress reduction. Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Furthermore, research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.
2. Controls anxiety
Meditation can reduce stress levels, which translates to less anxiety. A meta-analysis including nearly 1,300 adults found that meditation may decrease anxiety. Notably, this effect was strongest in those with the highest levels of anxiety. Also, one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety order, along with increasing positive self-statements and improving stress reactivity and coping.
3. Promotes emotional health
Some forms of meditation can lead to improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life. For example, one review of treatments given to more than 3,500 adults found that mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of depression.
4. Enhances self-awareness
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you. Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.
5. Lengthens attention span
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention. For example, one study found that people who listened to a meditation tape experienced improved attention and accuracy while completing a task, compared with those in a control group. A similar study showed that people who regularly practiced meditation performed better on a visual task and had a greater attention span than those without any meditation experience.
6. May reduce age-related memory loss
Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young. Kirtan Kriya is a method of meditation that combines a mantra or chant with repetitive motion of the fingers to focus your thoughts. Studies in people with age-related memory loss have shown it improves performance on neuropsychological tests.
7. Can generate kindness
Some types of meditation may particularly increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others. Metta, a type of meditation also known as loving-kindness meditation, begins with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward yourself. Through practice, people learn to extend this kindness and forgiveness externally, first to friends, then acquaintances, and ultimately enemies.
8. May help fight addictions
The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors.
9. Improves sleep
Nearly half of the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared mindfulness-based meditation programs and found that people who meditated stayed asleep longer and had improved insomnia severity, compared with those who had an unmedicated control condition. Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or runaway thoughts that often lead to insomnia.