Different forms of meditation have been used for thousands of years as a spiritual practice to create inner peace. But today, meditation is just as much scientific and secular as it is spiritual, with loads of exciting studies revealing exactly what meditation can do for our health and well-being.
The truth is this: We can eat the healthiest foods, exercise regularly, and avoid chemicals in our household cleaning products and cosmetics, but if we’re not caring for our mind—we won’t be optimally healthy. Stress is the sugar of the soul; it will wreck your health from the inside out.
It’s for this reason that I regularly use different meditation techniques for my patients at my functional medicine center. Just like with your fitness goals, you have to be consistent with your meditation practice to grow that mindfulness muscle! Start with just a few minutes twice a day. Here are the compelling reasons to give meditation a try:
1. More social connection.
Meditation is usually a solitary practice, but interesting research out of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrates meditation’s ability to increase our sense of connection to others. This—combined with the group meditation studios and classespopping up left and right—will help increase your social connection and heighten your emotional intelligence.
2. Increased longevity.
Telomeres are located at the ends of your chromosomes and kind of look like the plastic parts found at the end of your shoelaces. Longer telomeres are correlated with a longer life span, and shorter telomeres are associated with a shorter life span. Studies have shownthat meditation can preserve telomere length and reduce cellular stress.
3. Lowered inflammation.
Inflammation plays a part in so many of the health problems we see today. NFk-B is a protein complex that plays a major role in the body’s inflammatory response. A randomized controlled trial showed that NFk-B inflammation can be lowered with meditation.
4. Pain relief.
Because of meditation’s ability to balance inflammation levels and its overall calming qualities, it makes sense that it can also be a natural way to lower pain levels. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience explored the different pathways that meditation improved when it came to lowering pain.
5. An immune system boost.
Does it seem like you are always fighting off a cold? Well, a study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry showed that meditation improves genetic pathways that control our immune system.
6. Reduced anxiety.
There have been many studies showing that meditation helps to reduce anxiety. But how exactly does it work? Well, the part of our brain activated with feelings of anxiousness is known as the posterior cingulate cortex. When anxiety is calmed, the anterior cingulate cortex is activated. MRIs show us that meditation actually activates and strengthens this part of the brain.
7. Improved mood.
Research has shown that in many cases meditation is just as effective—if not more effective—than mood-altering medications for improving depression and anxiety. Plus, meditation has no potential side effects! Meditation can increase brain gray matter volume in parts of our brain that control our mood.
8. Increased attention and focus.
Do you have trouble paying attention or have ADD-like symptoms? Good news, regular meditation is associated with more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the angular cingulate cortex, the areas of the brain responsible for memory and focus.
9. Slower cognitive decline.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to regenerate itself by making new neural connections. This slowly decreases over time, but meditation can increase the thickness of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps slow down cognitive decline and preserve neuroplasticity.
10. Increased compassion.
The world needs more compassion today than ever before. A randomized controlled trial, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, saw that over nine weeks, meditation decreased the fear of showing compassion and increased self-compassion.
11. Healthier blood pressure.
A randomized controlled trial published in the journal Hypertensionfound that a type of meditation, known as Transcendental meditation, can lower blood pressure.
12. Improved self-control.
Literature out of the scientific journal Emotion shows that meditation is effective at improving self-control and introspection—and decreasing participants’ impulsivity.
13. Less stress.
If you’re stressed, raise your hand! Well, meditation is a natural stress reliever, and there’s no “woo-woo” or esoteric reason behind it. Scientific studies have shown that meditation can positively regulate the area of the brain that controls stress, known as the subiculum area of the hippocampus. No crystals necessary.
So how much do you have to meditate to get results? A study in the Journal of the American Medical Associate (JAMA) found that an average of 2.5 hours of meditation per week can be enough to reap consistent health benefits. That equates to only 21 minutes a day! Think about how much time we waste on social media. Certainly, we all have 21 minutes to spare in honor of our health.
Ready to start your meditation journey? Check out our class—A Meditation Expert’s 14-Day Guide to Creating a Practice—with world-renowned meditation teacher Light Watkins.