The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is a series of simple tasks, easy to perform, that only need to be repeated until they bear fruit. – Culadasa (a.k.a. John Yates, PhD)

Let’s imagine there’s a new drug on the market that has just been developed with the following benefits:

- Reduces stress and anxiety[1],[2]

- Improves concentration, working memory and mood[3]

- Supports immune function[4]

- Decreases depression[5]

- Cultivates positive emotions, like empathy[6],[7]

- Boosts creativity[8]

- Improves insulin sensitivity[9]

- Aids in sleep[10],[11]

- Increases pain tolerance by 40%[12]

- Slows age-related cognitive decline[13],[14]

- Diminishes inflammation[15],[16]

- Increases self-control and reduces cravings, such as binge eating[17]and alcoholism[18],[19]

- Lowers blood pressure[20]

- And other benefits, including the potential to treat clinical disorders[21] and slow cellular aging[22]

If this were a drug, how much would people pay for it?

But the best part is that it’s free and available to us through meditation. It’s hard to believe that we can capture all of these benefits from such a simple practice. But it’s not as convenient, or as profitable to pharmaceutical companies, as popping a pill.

Beyond these medical benefits, meditation creates a shift in our conscious perception of the world. It allows us to be more in-tuned with our internal worlds, becoming aware of previously unconscious thoughts and emotions that led to automatic behaviors. It’s suddenly a whole lot easier to enjoy the present moment.

To provide an analogy, meditation allows us to look at the mirror (i.e. objectively observing thoughts and mental activity) without looking in the mirror and being caught up in our own internal movie. Or, to use another analogy, we are observing the washing machine from the outside, rather than being inside with the chaotic swirl of clothes.  

Essentially what is happening when we meditate is that we are gaining control of our minds. One might think, But I already control my mind. By sitting down and observing our thoughts, it becomes clear that they appear out of nowhere. Our subconscious mind generates thoughts and emotions that come into conscious awareness and then spur us into action or cause anxiety about the past or future. Subconscious thoughts and emotions can lead to self-destructive behaviors. Meditation involves decoupling conscious experience from urges or unintended thoughts. We take control of our minds, overcome the brain’s negativity bias, and what follows is a feeling of serenity and joy.

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[1]Goyal, Madhav, et al. "Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis." JAMA internal medicine 174.3 (2014): 357-368.

[2]Orme-Johnson, David W., and Vernon A. Barnes. "Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 20.5 (2014): 330-341.

[3]Zeidan, Fadel, et al. "Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training." Consciousness and cognition 19.2 (2010): 597-605.

[4]Davidson, Richard J., et al. "Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation." Psychosomatic medicine 65.4 (2003): 564-570.

[5]Jain, Felipe A., et al. "Critical analysis of the efficacy of meditation therapies for acute and subacute phase treatment of depressive disorders: a systematic review." Psychosomatics56.2 (2015): 140-152.

[6]Hofmann, Stefan G., Paul Grossman, and Devon E. Hinton. "Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions." Clinical psychology review 31.7 (2011): 1126-1132.

[7]Fredrickson, Barbara L., et al. "Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources." Journal of personality and social psychology 95.5 (2008): 1045.

[8]Greenberg, Jonathan, Keren Reiner, andNachshon Meiran. "“Mind the trap”: Mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity." PloS one 7.5 (2012): e36206.

[9]Paul-Labrador, Maura, et al. "Effects of a randomized controlled trial of transcendental meditation on components of the metabolic syndrome in subjects with coronary heart disease." Archives of internal medicine 166.11 (2006): 1218-1224.

[10]Martires, Joanne, and Michelle Zeidler. "The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia." Current opinion in pulmonary medicine 21.6 (2015): 547-552.

[11]Black, David S., et al. "Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial." JAMA internal medicine 175.4 (2015): 494-501.

[12]Zeidan, Fadel, et al. "Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation." Journal of Neuroscience 31.14 (2011): 5540-5548.

[13]Khalsa, Dharma Singh. "Stress, meditation, and Alzheimer’s disease prevention: where the evidence stands." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 48.1 (2015): 1-12.

[14]Gard, Tim, Britta K. Hölzel, and Sara W. Lazar. "The potential effects of meditation on age‐related cognitive decline: a systematic review." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307.1 (2014): 89-103.

[15]Rosenkranz, Melissa A., et al. "A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation." Brain, behavior, and immunity 27 (2013): 174-184.

[16]Creswell, J. David, et al. "Alterations in resting-state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: a randomized controlled trial." Biological psychiatry 80.1 (2016): 53-61.

[17]Katterman, Shawn N., et al. "Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review." Eating behaviors 15.2 (2014): 197-204.

[18]Zgierska, Aleksandra, et al. "Mindfulness meditation for alcohol relapse prevention: a feasibility pilot study." Journal of Addiction Medicine 2.3 (2008): 165.

[19]Hayes, Steven C., Victoria M. Follette, and Marsha Linehan, eds. Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition. Guilford Press, 2004.

[20]Anderson, James W., Chunxu Liu, and Richard J. Kryscio. "Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis." American journal of hypertension 21.3 (2008): 310-316.

[21]Tang, Yi-Yuan, Britta K. Hölzel, and Michael I. Posner. "The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16.4 (2015): 213.

[22]Epel, Elissa, et al. "Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres." Annals of the new York Academy of Sciences 1172.1 (2009): 34-53.

 For a full list of 76 scientifically-validated benefits of meditation, see:

Online healthcare company Headspace also produces a great research summary as well:

Liam McClintockComment