11 Benefits Of Meditation Backed By Science

boat meditationIn recent years, meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, has become increasingly popular headlining its way through news stories and a hot topic for research in health publications.  It’s becoming a successful and effective adjunct therapy for many kinds of mental health and medical issues from high blood pressure to chronic pain to depression.  

There are some very real and tangible physical, emotional and cognitive benefits that are directly linked to the practice of meditation and mindfulness that we will explore here.  From helping with minimizing the effects of negative thoughts to reducing blood pressure, the following 11 points explore studies that confirm the benefits we can all have with a meditation practice. 

At the base of all meditation practices is the development of self-awareness and increasing one’s awareness of the transient nature of thoughts which both give you a window into self-knowing and self-regulation.  As Einstein stated, “The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”  Knowing oneself goes a long way towards your physical and mental well-being and emotional freedom. 

 Here’s a bit of the science leading to the claims about the many benefits of meditation.  We’ll explore ways it reduces stress levels, develops a deeper concentration and creates other beneficial feelings and habits. If you’re new to meditation, here is a great book to learn more about it. 

Here are reported 11 science-based benefits of meditation

1. Reduces Stress 

Reducing stress is one of the more frequent reasons that many people give meditation a try. A study of 3,500 adults concluded that meditation definitely aids in reducing stress. Participant’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that is released during times of physical and mental stress to help the body cope, was reduced through the practice of meditation. Cortisol creates a lot of harmful effects of stress, like the release of the inflammation chemicals, cytokines. These harmful effects also promote more unwanted side effects like anxiety and depression, increased blood pressure, disruptive sleep, and can lead to fatigue and cloudy thinking.

In a recent study carried out over an eight week period, participants using mindfulness meditation practices showed promising results in a reduced inflammation response. Inflammation. Science has provided lots of evidence that chronic, low-grade inflammation can turn into what they term a silent killer as it contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other conditions.

Research has gone on to show that symptoms of many other stress-related conditions can also be reduced with meditation. These include post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome, which all benefit and can all be decreased a little with meditation.

2. Helps Control Anxiety

Any health practitioner will tell you that less anxiety comes from experiencing less stress. In an eight-week mindfulness meditation study, it was found that participants’ anxiety levels reduced greatly as a result of their mindfulness practices. Researchers  also found that these participants had reduced symptoms of other anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Another study with 18 participants who were enrolled in an eight-week meditation program to help with anxiety was followed up three years later, and the results were clear. The volunteers who carried on practicing meditation reported their anxiety levels remained lower over the long term than non-practicing participants.

A large study of 2,466 volunteers who practiced different kinds of meditation all benefited from the practices regardless of the type of meditation strategies. All  had reduced anxiety levels remarkably. Studies clearly show that meditation can help job-related stress and anxiety to anyone working in a  high-pressure environment. Nurses who took part in a study were found to have reduced anxiety and stress reduction after participating in meditation studies and continued practice and experienced less job burn-out and stress related issues.

We know that meditation changes the structure of the brain. In studies that looked at the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress, this area got smaller in groups that participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Interestingly, the change in the size of the amygdala also correlated to a reduction in stress levels, so mindfulness created this feedback loop of stress reduction. 

3. Promotes Emotional Health & Well-Being

There are many kinds of meditation and ways to practice, and most lead people to having a more positive outlook on life and a more positive self-image. Two studies with a total of 4,600 people suffering from depressions showed how mindfulness meditation led to decreased depression in the participants. In another long-term study with 18 participants who were followed over a three year period, showed steady long-term reductions in depression.

When people are stressed, Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are released. They affect one’s mood and can lead to depression when stress is long-term. Studies show that meditation can help reduce depression because it aids the reduction of the inflammatory response thereby less inflammatory chemicals are released into the body.

Science has been using more sophisticated means to survey the brain and the effects of meditation on the brain. Studies that looked at the electrical activity between people’s brains who practiced mindful meditation, and people’s brains who didn’t, saw striking changes in activities relating to areas like positive thinking and optimism.

A Harvard study  found that long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. This would make sense as when you are being mindful, you pay attention to your breathing, sounds around you, and to your  present moment experience, while shutting cognition down. Your senses are enhanced by this practice. The insula area also supports subjective feeling states so more calm would be experienced.  

In the same study it was also found that meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex. This area is associated with working memory and executive decision making. The increased gray-matter in the hippocampus which is known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection also increased with meditators in the 8 week study who practiced 25 minutes a day during the study.

4. Increases Self-Awareness 

In the psychological sciences, self-awareness for a long time has been seen by practitioners and researchers as both a primary means for psychologically healthy individuals of alleviating psychological distress and the path of self-development. Self-awareness in a nutshell, is the ability to understand oneself and the ability to be aware of one’s own motives, emotions, thoughts, and actions. It’s the ability to step back and observe oneself, which can give a greater understanding of one’s true personality and values.

Lack of self awareness is the cornerstone of all negative life patterns, and one of the reasons people continue to repeat the same mistakes. They don’t see what they are doing, or why they are doing it. This repetitive activity leads to a vicious cycle of behavior which we call ‘self sabotage’. Without self awareness, people rarely take responsibility for their behavior or actions, because they don’t understand what’s going on in their minds and bodies.

Mindfulness, which is a form of mental training, can help develop meta-awareness or self-awareness, along with the ability to effectively modulate one’s behavior which is termed self-regulation. Self-awareness seems like it would be an innate, automatic behavior, but it’s a conscious practice of looking at your inner thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. Being self-aware allows you to be open to seeing yourself from a different perspective without judgment and with clarity. 

Meditation can help you to develop better awareness and understanding of yourself, teach you to notice harmful or self-deprecating thoughts. The purpose is that the greater awareness you have of your thought habits, the easier you can steer them toward more constructive habits. One of the aims of self-inquiry meditation is also to help you better understand yourself and how you relate with other people and be able to improve relationships.

We have no control over much in our daily life except ourselves. Through self-awareness we have the ability to see more clearly and influence outcomes, be a better decision-maker and develop more self-confidence.  From helping with minimizing the effects of negative thoughts and ruminations about the past and future that oftentimes induce stress responses in the body. It gives you some mastery over the randomness of the mind. This, in turn, can help you grow to be the best version of yourself. 

5. Improves Attention Span 

In a world that fights for our attention and our addiction to our phones and devices. Our attention spans are decreasing and with that more stress, memory issues and less productivity. Focused-attention meditation is great for helping to increase the length and strength of our attention span.

A study that looked at the effects of mindfulness meditation over an eight-week course period found that the participant’s ability to maintain their attention had improved. The study findings show that meditation enhances the brain’s connection among and within two brain networks, showing that meditation helps us slow down the fast switching between the mind wandering and focusing its attention as well as maintaining attention once in the attentive state. 

A human resources study showed that workers who started a regular meditation practice could stay focused on tasks for longer periods of time than the group who were in the study and not practicing meditation. The meditating workers could also remember the details of their tasks much better than those who didn’t take part in meditation. In numerous studies, meditation has been shown to reverse the brain patterns that lead to worrying, poor attention, and mind-wandering.

Even when meditation is practiced for short periods of time, there is benefit. A recent study showed that four days of practicing meditation was enough to enhance the participants’ attention span. The most touted benefit of meditation is the help it offers to train the mind and help cultivate greater focus and concentration. 

It is a well-documented fact that our cortex shrinks as we get older which makes it harder to remember things and figure things out. In studies of 50-year-old meditators when looking at the prefrontal cortex, they had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.

6. Helps Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss 

By taking part in regular meditation, you could see increased memory and mental clarity. There are increased benefits as meditation can help to fight dementia and age-related memory loss. By improving your attention and clarity of thinking, it can help to keep your mind young.

There are numerous studies on meditation and brain health. One Harvard study found that regular meditation strengthened the cerebral cortex. The cortex is responsible for managing our mental functions, such as learning, concentration, and memory. Through regular meditation there is increased blood flow to the brain, leading to an increased network of blood vessels in the cerebral cortex. This reinforces our ability for memory capacity. Studies show that meditating for only 20 minutes a day boosts memory and concentration. 

One method of meditation called Kirtan Kriya was used in a study on memory. This practice combines a mantra while the fingers make a repetitive motion which are aimed at controlling thoughts. Participants in this study had an increased and enhanced ability to perform memory tasks in various age-related memory loss categories and over a very short time meditating. In a review of 12 different studies, it was shown that many types of meditation increase memory, attention, and mental quickness in older participants.

As well as helping to fight age-related memory loss, meditation has also been found to partially improve the memory of dementia patients. Meditation can aid with controlling stress and help to improve those coping with looking after family members suffering from dementia.

7. Helps to Generate Kindness (Compassion)

There are some forms of meditation that can create more positive feelings and actions towards yourself and towards others. These are mindfulness based loving-kindness meditations. Metta is a kind of meditation that also goes by the name loving-kindness meditation starts with developing kind feelings and thoughts towards others and yourself. Through practice it becomes easier to cultivate and extend these kinds of thoughts and feelings to others.

Results of 22 studies of metta meditation showed that it does have the ability to increase people’s compassion towards themselves and others. In one study, 100 adults were randomly assigned to a program. The results found that the benefits were dose-dependent. In other words, the more effort the participants put in, the more positive feelings they felt as a result, but people who practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta) daily for seven weeks reported a steady increase in their daily experience of positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, and love.

A further study showed that the feelings of positivity that can be developed through Metta meditation can help to reduce marriage conflict, help with anger management, and improve social anxiety. By practicing Metta meditation over time, the benefits are accumulative.

8. Helps to Fight Addictions

Meditation can help to develop beneficial mental disciplines that help in breaking dependencies by increasing awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors and increasing self-control. Meditation helps people to redirect their attention, control emotions and impulses, increase understanding of what’s behind behaviors, and increase willpower.

A study of 19 recovering alcoholics, who were taught how to meditate showed that the volunteers who received meditation training, controlled their cravings better and had less craving-related stress. A review of 14 studies showed that mindfulness meditation also helps to control food cravings. The participants showed decreased binge and emotional eating.

Meditation develops willpower and mental discipline. It helps to avoid triggers and unwanted impulses. Meditation can help with weight loss, recovering from addiction, and changing unwanted habits.

9. Improves Sleep

Insomnia, at some point or another, will affect nearly half the population.  A study looking at two mindfulness-based meditation programs, assigned participants to two different groups at random – one that practiced meditation and the other that didn’t.  Those who meditated fell asleep much sooner and slept for longer. Those who didn’t meditate did not have the same result.

Meditation is a skill, and embracing and learning that skill can help you to redirect and control racing thoughts that can often result in insomnia.  In addition, it helps the body to relax, release tension, and arrive in a peaceful state where the body and mind are more likely to fall asleep.

There are a number of meditation techniques that help with relaxation and control of the runaway thoughts that disrupt sleep. Meditation can help to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, along with improving sleep quality as well.

10. Helps to Control Pain

The evidence exists that meditation can help some people with pain reduction. Research shows that meditation increases use of the brain’s own pain-reducing opioid and uses neural pathways that make the brain less sensitive to pain. Pain perception is directly connected to states of mind, and in stressful situations, pain can be elevated.

Mindfulness meditation has been found to lessen pain through increased mental and emotional control, as well as shifting one’s evaluation of events. A study that looked at MRI brain activity of participants experiencing painful stimuli found that the volunteers who had participated in a four-day mindfulness meditation program beforehand showed enhanced activity in the brain centers that control pain, and they also experienced less pain as a result.

A large study of 3,500 people researched the effects of meditation on pain, and the study found that regular meditation helped to reduce complaints of intermittent or chronic pain. Studies that looked at patients who meditate suffering from terminal diseases found that meditation helped to alleviate pain and decrease suffering at the end of life.

In all of the studies comparing meditators and non-meditators who were experiencing similar causes of pain, those who meditated showed better pain management and in some, a reduced amount of pain. Clearly, meditation can reduce the brain’s perception of pain, helping to reduce chronic pain and be used as an additional therapy.

11. Helps Decrease Blood Pressure

Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder which can ultimately lead to weaker heart function. High blood pressure can also add to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). This can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

A study of 9996 participants found that blood pressure can be reduced by approximately  five points when meditation was practiced and the meditators concentrated on a silent mantra, a repeated, non-spoken word. Interestingly, the study was found to be more effective on older participants suffering from high blood pressure already. 

A review of various studies showed that different types of meditation gave similar blood pressure improvements, helping reduce strain on the heart. Meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that work with the tension in blood vessels, coordinating heart functions, and the fight or flight response that heightens in stressful scenarios.

Blood pressure can decrease by meditation, and it’s also been proved that over time, it will decrease further with habitual meditation. It can aid in reducing heart strain and help to prevent heart disease.

Meditation comes in many forms, and people practice all different kinds. You don’t usually need any space or special equipment. You can choose how long you practice for each day, from a few minutes to 20 for results. 

And while it may be easier to connect to stillness in an idyllic location or in a spot that’s devoid of sound, it’s not necessary. The truth is, you can meditate anywhere that’s safe and comfortable — from your bed, porch, during an afternoon stroll and even sailing on the San Francisco Bay.

If you want to begin meditating, it’s recommended to explore different types of meditation based on your goals, to reduce stress, improve concentration or any of the positive benefits afforded by a practice. Moreover, varying your meditation settings can further enrich your practice. Consider meditating in studios, utilizing online platforms or apps, or immersing yourself in the tranquility of natural environments, such as the open sea. Surprisingly, sailing emerges as a profound avenue for mindfulness, effortlessly guiding practitioners into a state of serene awareness.

Here at Passage Nautical specializes in crafting sailing and meditation experiences that seamlessly merge the mental, emotional and cognitive expanding qualities of meditation with the tranquil beauty of the open waters. Our offerings provide a unique opportunity to explore mindfulness in a setting where the boundaries between self and nature blur, fostering a profound sense of connection and serenity. Keep exploring and discovering the benefits of meditation that work best for you, and enjoy the journey towards greater peace and well-being.