Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Discussing meditation benefits and how they are proven by research.
You’ve probably heard about people vouching for meditation before. Everyone seems to be singing its praises. Nowadays, it’s the number one form of wellness recommended to people. Maybe you’ve decided to give it a go. Maybe you find relaxing your body and brain difficult. It’s a completely normal feeling, since it can be hard to concentrate on the present moment when we’re overwhelmed. And now with further lockdowns taking place across the world, it is even more important to take care of our stress levels.As a child and a young adolescent, varying factors played a huge role in my deteriorating mental health. I carried it with me like a secret for what felt like an eternity. My life took a 360-degree turn for the better, after I resolutely decided to seek therapy. And it was the same therapist who recommended meditation as a science-backed technique to combat overwhelming feelings and anxious thoughts, and make space for calm, focus and tranquillity.
Since then, there has been no looking back. I now incorporate meditation as a natural part of my everyday routine. It’s not a wishy-washy breathing exercise as some perceived it to be even a decade ago. Meditation definition consists of a practice where a technique – such as focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – is used to train attention and awareness.
There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques consisting of practices from different traditions, cultures, spiritual disciplines, and religions. There’s not a one-size-fits-all accepted “best” or “most effective” type. Rather, it is an individual preference that helps us choose the one that works best. For example, you may choose mediation for anxiety while someone else may choose it to manage work stress.
If you’re thinking of giving meditation a go - especially keeping challenging circumstances in mind - then now is the perfect time. However, you must be thinking: is meditation scientifically proven? Well, let’s answer your queries by taking you through 10 science-backed mediation benefits!
10 Science-Backed Meditation Benefits
1) Reduces stress:
Our bodies react to stress by releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, causing a barrage of physiological effects. Chronic stress may also raise blood pressure, impact sleeping patterns and have an overall adverse effect on health. According to research, meditation has the opposite impact and triggers the body’s relaxation response.
2) Improves focus and could help you make fewer mistakes:
Focus, attention, and decision making are critical for our daily lives. Even small mediation exercises are said to have a lasting impact, with higher concentration levels and improved attention spans. Research also says that performance-based measures of cognitive function demonstrated improvements in a matter of weeks of starting meditation! In fact, just 20 minutes of meditation, in this recent study, has shown to enhance the brain's capability to notice and spot mistakes. Frequent and intensive sessions of meditation, over one’s lifetime, could also improve attention and focus well into old age.
3) Betters mood and makes you feel positive:
People who meditate experience happier moods and handle irritability better. One study found that people who completed a meditation exercise experienced fewer negative reactions in response to looking at pessimistic images. They are also able to assess situations with a more composed outlook and deter from reacting rashly.
4) Instils compassion:
Did you know that meditating may also help us to act more compassionately? That’s correct! Meditation creates neural pathways that mentally unite the meditator with other people. This allows us to relate to human suffering, regardless of whether it is someone we know or not. Kindness-based meditation (KBM) is a practice focused on meditation approaches designed to evoke kindness proactively. A systematic review and meta-analysis of KBM demonstrated health benefits for individuals and communities — through effects on well-being and social interaction. However, more robust evidence is needed.
5) Helps under pressure:
In order to stop over analyzing situations under pressure, try shifting attention away from your worries and towards the present task. Meditation can help you regain a sense of calm, which may help you in avoiding being caught off guard by potential anxiety. You can see it for what it is and opt to direct your concentration elsewhere.
6) Minimises body pain:
Meditation can help our brains release endorphins which are natural pain relievers. It improves pain tolerance due to more relaxed muscles and tissues around our joints, training our brain to be in a calmer state.
7) Grows grey matter to strengthen productivity and increase empathy:
Did you know that mediation may also help in growing grey matter? Grey matter serves to process information in the brain. Structures within the grey matter process signals generated in our sensory organs or other areas of the grey matter. Research says that meditation adds grey matter to the areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.Is #meditation scientifically proven? Well, let’s answer your queries by taking you through 10 science-backed mediation benefits. #dietitian #meditationbenefits Click To Tweet
8) Assists in addiction treatment:
Meditation may help in improving willpower, understanding of emotions and building resilience. Even though more research is needed, a small study conducted upon 19 recovering alcoholics found that those who meditated observed a deduction in relapse, including depression and anxiety.
9) Lowers cardiovascular risk:
Did you know that mediation may also lower risk of cardiovascular diseases? This is because it appears to produce changes in brain activity. It then lowers heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, which is a hormone released in response to stress. There are many types of meditation that can result in physiological benefits, such as guided meditation. Guided meditation is usually comprised of mental images to help you relax.
10) Minimises anxiety and depression:
And last, but not the least and perhaps the most important of them all, meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition - such as anxiety or depression - which may have been worsened by stress. Even though meditation does not treat or cure any mental illness, it does help in managing it to an extent. This systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials demonstrated the efficacy of meditative therapies - to an extent - in reducing symptoms of anxiety with no negative effects. When used properly, meditation allows us to slow down and observe the world without judgment. It can also help to reduce worrying thoughts and bring about a feeling of fairness, tranquillity and focus.
Meditation takes time, patience and practice and is not an overnight process. However, it does not need to be an expensive yoga membership. Nowadays, incredible free meditation apps or ones which offer free trials such as Headspace and Calm offer guided, short-burst meditation sessions for any emotion you might be feeling in a particular moment. Things, situations and people are never in our control. Yet how we choose to react always remains with us. Meditation further strengthens this trait.
Depending upon your schedule, try and experiment with different durations. Not only is a short meditation session better than none, but once you’ve started, you might decide that you’d like to continue meditating for longer.
Have you wondered whether meditation really works? Did any of these meditation benefits surprise you? Let me know in the comments below!
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Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.