Since the 1950s hundreds of scientific studies have been carried out into the effects and health benefits of meditation. Millions of people around the world engage in the practice, some for religious reasons and others as an exercise for relaxation, stress reduction and self-development.
Over the past 70 years, scientists have identified a number of positive effects, both mental and physiological, among people who regularly practise meditation.
I’m going to tell you about these benefits in this article, but not simply as a list of scientific discoveries – I’ll also share my own views on meditation.
I’ve been meditating for three years and the practice has turned my life around. I’ve experienced a multitude of positive changes since I started.
The benefits you can achieve from meditation will be discussed further on.
Further, we will discuss what you can get from meditation.
What do scientists say?
Below, I’ll list the advantages which have been identified through research and the personal experiences of people who meditate. I’ll comment on some of them, and I also want to emphasise that I myself have experienced each and every one of these benefits! Meditation really does work and my experience confirms this.
Although meditation comes across as a simple exercise, the skills it develops are both fundamental and very important. You’ll find out why later on.
Number 1 – Intelligence Increase
Studies at Harvard, MIT and Yale have demonstrated that meditation increases the amount of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for attention and auditory and visual perception.
Other studies have linked regular meditation to an increase in IQ.
It also slows down your brain’s ageing process. This increases your chances of not forgetting the names of your relatives or coming out with all kinds of hilarious statements when you get past 70.
Look at Clint Eastwood: he’s 83 but continues to shoot outstanding films and act in his own pictures; he even composes the music for some of them.
Clint Eastwood has been meditating for 40 years!
Number 2 – Reduction of Stress Levels
Meditation is a practice which helps you fight stress. It slows metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure, all of which contributes to relaxation.
People who meditate are less stressed in everyday life, and this isn’t only because it makes them more calm and collected.
Meditation also helps you control your emotions, and thus avoid stressful situations, for example, by not getting involved in pointless quarrels, avoiding conflict, finding sensible solutions to problems and not getting into a panic.
Once I started meditating I realised that stress doesn’t only depend on external circumstances. Our willpower determine the intensity of the stress we experience, and meditation helps reduce our stress responses to external events.
Number 3 – Increase in Attention Span
The meditation technique involves focusing your attention on something (your breathing, a mantra, an image in your head, etc.) for some time (10 – 20 – 30 minutes). If the meditator is distracted by thoughts, he tries to restore the initial focus of his attention.
This is a great concentration exercise. Just as bending your knees will strengthen the muscles in your legs, so this daily 20-minute practice will improve your ability to concentrate.
Meditation is a great remedy for attention deficit disorder.
Number 4 – Improvement of Willpower
In her book Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal states that studies have shown meditation to increase the amount of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is involved in planning, decision making and controlling our instincts.
We could say that the prefrontal part of the brain is the physical substrate of willpower.
So meditation isn’t only a concentration exercise; it’s also method for developing strength of will (Update 03.04.2014: But from my point of view, willpower and the ability to concentrate are strongly connected. They are almost the same things.) During meditation you have to maintain your concentration and not be distracted by thoughts of going to watch TV or having a snack, dreaming, moving around, browsing the internet and so on.
Each session is a challenge to your willpower during which you learn to say ‘no’ to your desires and stay focused on one thing.
Suppose that the focus of your concentration (your breathing, your mantra) during meditation is one of your goals in real life (finding your dream job, getting married, becoming a legendary basketball player), and your thoughts, feelings, emotions and passing impulses – trepidation, self-doubt, prejudice, laziness, fear of hard times, etc. – are what is distracting you from this.
To succeed, you need to concentrate on your goal and ignore all the things that distract you from it. Otherwise you’re doomed to failure.
Meditation teaches you to focus on one thing and cut out anything unnecessary. It can therefore train you to concentrate on and achieve your aims. Your focus won’t dwell on anything which may take away from this, and you’ll learn to deal with fears, pay no heed to laziness and destroy prejudices!
It’ll teach you to see through the process of achieving your goals!
Number 5 – Improvement of Mood, Emergence of More Positive Emotions
A positive outlook isn’t an inherent characteristic; it’s a skill that can be developed, including through meditation – the practice will therefore allow you to lead a happier more fulfilled life.
Meditation has helped me realise that my happiness depends more on me, than on the outside world. You need to open up your own internal source of happiness; all the treasure and glory in the world won’t do it for you. Meditation will help you find this source as it did me.
Number 6 – Improvement of Emotional Control
The practice will help you learn to control your emotions. Anger, irritation and hurt will stop governing you; instead, you’ll be able to track these emotions within yourself and rein them in.
During meditation a person becomes an observer of his thoughts and feelings. This increases his awareness and his ability to keep watch over himself and not identify with his emotions.
Meditation led me to realise that my emotions and my true self were not the same thing, and it meant I had the potential to control my emotions.
For people who are used to falling under the power of their feelings this idea may seem odd, but everything will become much simpler when you start meditating.
Imagine that someone’s trying to tell you how to walk: ‘You stand up, keep balanced, lean forward a bit, put your straight leg in front …’
You’d probably agree that in theory it sounds very complicated and difficult. But in practice you know well yourself that it’s actually quite straightforward.
You’ll start to better understand some of the ideas about meditation as you practise, and you’ll see that it’s entirely possible to control your desires.
Number 7 – Breaking Bad Habits
Studies have shown that people who drink often decrease their alcohol consumption when they start to meditate regularly.
But that’s enough about research – it’s getting boring!
As I’ve mentioned, I began meditating three years ago. Up until then I smoked a packet of cigarettes a day and drank a lot of alcohol. Six months after taking up meditation I quit smoking.
I also began to drink less and within a couple of years I stopped altogether. Now I don’t drink at all, not even on special occasions.
I’ve stopped drinking coffee and have weak tea only once or twice a week.
I don’t want you to think that I’ve taken things to the extreme and am depriving myself of coffee. No matter how paradoxical it may seem, coffee actually reduces my efficiency and prevents me from working.
You can read more about this in how to stop drinking coffee.
Meditation improves your body’s performance! You sleep better, have more energy, feel less stressed, your mood improves and you can relax more easily. So the need for alcohol, coffee, cigarettes and other drugs to bring you up or down is reduced.
Number 8 – Freedom from Psychological Problems
Meditation isn’t just a temporary panacea, like pills. It doesn’t simply reduce anxiety and worry or curb panic attacks; it also teaches you to control your mental state.
It’s an indispensable skill for those who want to be free of depression forever. Pills provide temporary relief but leave people completely defenceless against new bouts of their illness which may occur after treatment is finished.
Learning to control your fears means that if they show up again, you know what to do! It increases your self-confidence and reduces your fear of new attacks of your illness.
The practice will help you discover the root of your anxiety and fears. It’s aimed at working with the causes of your problems rather than the consequences.
Other meditation benefits
- Helps a chronic pain
- Reduces your need to sleep
- Helps you relax
- Energizes you
- Reduces worry, anxiety
- Stabilizes blood pressure
- Improves brain function
- Reduces fatigue
- Helps you achieve a healthy weight
- Increases self-confidence
- Helps you cope with shyness and lack of courage
- Helps you make balanced decisions
- Improves communication skills
- Makes you more collected and organised
- Relieves boredom
- Increases your tolerance towards people around you and develops empathy
- Helps you combat your prejudices and resist the negative influences of others
- Nurtures independence and self-sufficiency
- Develops intuition
- Enhances your capacity for introspection
What else you should know about meditation
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the benefits of meditation; there are many more but I feel I’ve mentioned enough ‘rewards’ here. To some it may seem that meditation is some kind of amazing and awesome practice that’ll turn you into a super-being.
Only 30 – 40 minutes of sitting still and so many advantages. Some of you will probably think it’s too good to be true.
I’ll clarify a few things here. First of all, it really is true. Meditation has a very profound impact on personality; it can change and reconstruct you completely.
You could say that the practice gives you the opportunity to open your source code, have a look inside and adjust it according to your desires. If you don’t meditate or do something similar, your code will stay closed.
Secondly, though, I don’t want to give the impression that meditation is a kind of universal panacea for all your problems. Many sources which describe the benefits imply that simply meditating will result in you attaining all of these rewards.
Although it’s true that meditation is useful in and of itself, in a way it’s just a tool you can use to work on yourself. It reveals what was hidden, lifts the veil of illusion and allows you to get to know yourself better.
It helps you take a fresh look at your life problems, or the things you think of as problems.
It’s important to understand that meditation offers you opportunities and resources, but you’re the one who has to take control of these. How you take advantage of meditation depends solely on you.
Imagine that you’re trying to organise a business venture. You have an investor who’s given you money, know-how and an army of analysts who understand the market and how to do business.
This is all wonderful, but it doesn’t guarantee that your project will be successful. It’s a great resource for business development, but it’s you who’s going to have to manage it.
Similarly, meditation is a great help for working on yourself and creating positive changes in your personality. But if you don’t use the skills learned during meditation in the real world – if you don’t analyse yourself, learn and understand, or work on yourself, and instead just sit and wait for inspiration and strength to hit you – there won’t be much use in practising.
Meditation presents you with a great opportunity; your task is not to waste it.
A large part of this website is dedicated to discussing ways to make the most of this opportunity.
Absolutely anyone can learn how to meditate properly on their own, at home and without an instructor. Follow the link and see.