The evidence continues to pile up: meditation is good for you. People who practice meditation are better able to manage stress and anxiety. They’re also better able to deal with feelings of depression. People who meditate are happier and even have better immune systems.
After all, look how happy that woman looks in the image above. Ok, you and I both know that just because these benefits of meditation show up on an infographic, they’re not necessarily true. As much as I trust the happy-looking meditator in the image, I figured I’d dig a little deeper to validate some of these claims.
I’ve done some research to find the scientific data that supports these meditation benefits. Check out what I’ve found.
Meditation Reduces Anxiety
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety. In fact, its effects on anxiety have been studied many times—and even those studies have been studied.
In a study led by Dr. Madhav Goyal, researchers did a meta study of meditation research. This means that they studied the data from lots of different meditation studies, to see what patterns they would emerge.
Dr. Goyal and his colleagues looked at the data from 47 different meditation trials that involved 3515 participants. These studies confirmed that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety.
Meditation Reduces Depression
That very same study, also showed that mindfulness meditation also reduces depression.
Now, remember, that this data is not based on a group of twenty college students who started meditating and made this claim. This data is based on 47 trials (that were screened to meet strict rigorous academic standards) and included over 3500 participants. This is significant.
It seems that mindfulness meditation helps people learn how to accept and manage challenging emotions.
If you’re someone who struggles with depression, I highly recommend starting a mindfulness meditation practice.
Meditation Reduces Stress
Over the past 35 years there have been lots of studies looking at mindfulness meditation and it’s effect on stress.
This study by Dr. John A. Astin showed that an 8-week training in mindfulness meditation showed “reductions in overall psychological symptomatology.” To put that a more clearly, the participants in the study showed fewer and less sever stress symptoms. Less tension. Less cortisol. Lower blood pressure.
Meditation Reduces Pain
Many of our approaches to working pain involve the numbing or ignoring of pain. Based on my own experience, I have a difficult time dealing with pain because I just don’t want to feel the pain.
But mindfulness meditation invites you to actually feel whatever you’re feeling right now in this moment, whatever it is. If you’re feeling happy, simply feel happy. If you’re feeling pain, simply feel the pain.
Wouldn’t focusing on your pain make it worse? I guess it depends on your attitude. Part of practicing mindfulness meditation involves having an accepting attitude toward whatever is arising in the moment. Pain, in this situation, becomes something that one is both feeling and accepting.
Perhaps this is why mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce pain in people who suffer from chronic pain. This study by Jon Kabat-Zinn, showed significant reductions in present-moment pain and inactivity due to pain. Also, participants in the meditation research study significantly reduced their use of pain medications.
Meditation Enhances the Immune System
It’s fascinating that practicing meditation can help with your immune system. How cool is that?
In a 2012 study that was conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, researchers looked at different ways that people might boost their immune system. They had three different groups: a control group that didn’t change anything, a group of who practiced 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation, and a group that would exercise regularly for 8 weeks.
The researchers then kept tabs on these people throughout the cold and flu season. At the end of the cold season they tallied up all the data on the severity of symptoms and days spent being sick.
Meditation and exercise were shown to have significant benefit in reducing the severity and duration of the common cold. Dr. Bruce Barrett, the lead researcher said, “The apparent 40 to 50 percent benefit of mindfulness training is a very important finding, as is the apparent 30 to 40 percent benefit of exercise training.”
That’s amazing! Meditation was even more effective than exercise at boosting one’s immunity to the common cold.
Meditation Slows Heart Rate
This study examined the how mindfulness meditation affected the heart rate and blood pressure of people with cancer.
Participants took part in an 8-week mindfulness training. Researchers found that the meditation participants showed improvements in heart rate and blood pressure. Even one year after the study, participants still showed an improvement in their heart rate and blood pressure.
It seems that the benefits of mindfulness meditation are not just felt in this moment, but they carry forward.
Meditation Provides a Sense of Calm
You probably could have guessed this one. Yes, meditation provides a sense of calm. That seems pretty straight-forward. There’s something inherently calming about sitting quietly and watching your breath. After all, what do we say we need to calm down? “Take a deep breath.”
This claim was the most difficult for me to find the scientific backing for. Participants in meditation studies often report a sense of calm, but this isn’t the primary focus of the researchers who are trying to prove new ground in the scientific field of meditation research.
Test this one yourself. Meditate for twenty minutes and see how you feel. Don’t know how to meditate? Click here to download a free guided meditation.
Meditation Helps Reverse Heart Disease
Meditation is also a way you can be good to your heart.
A study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in November 2012, actually tested this. For the study, 201 people with coronary heart disease were asked to either (a) take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or (b) take a class on transcendental meditation. Researchers followed up with participants for the next five years and found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
Meditation really is good for your heart—and for the hearts of those you love.
Meditation Helps Control Thoughts
Met me be clear on this: Meditation does not help you control the thoughts of others. It helps you control your own thoughts. This is not a section about mind control.
With so many distractions these days it can be really difficult to control you own mind. Thoughts tend to wander away, drifting from one thing to the next. This can be disruptive to your work, your relationships, and pretty much every other aspect of life that requires attention.
So can mindfulness really help you increase your focus?
This study suggests that mindfulness can have a big impact on working memory and measures of attention.
These researchers randomly assigned college students to a course in mindfulness or a course in nutrition. These courses met for 45 minutes, four times per week for two weeks. Following this, the researches administered exams that showed a significant increase in working memory and attention for those who had participated in the mindfulness class.
Don’t Take the Scientists’ Word for It
What I really like about meditation is that you don’t have to take anybody’s word for it. All the scientific data in the world means very little compared to your personal experience of meditation.
Try it. Practice it. See how it works for you.
You’re the one who will be able to see if meditation really helps with your anxiety. You’re the one who will be able to tell if meditation really does seem to ease your pain and lessen depression.
You’re the one who will experience less stress.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
If you’d like to get started with meditation, I’ve got a free guided meditation to share with you. Click here for a free meditation. .
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment in the box below.