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Benefits of Meditation
There are many benefits of meditation practice. In recent decades, quite a bit of research has come forth to suggest mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation can help us in a number of ways. From physical benefits like reducing heart rate to cognitive benefits like increasing working memory, there are many ways in which mindfulness practice can help us in our lives.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Although we often think of meditation as a spiritual practice or something we do for the mind, there are many physical benefits of meditation practice. Here are nine powerful ways that meditation can improve your physical health.
1. Meditation Can Reduce Pain
A 2016 study found that meditation practice significantly reduced the intensity of pain and unpleasantness of pain in the body. Perhaps most interesting is that this effect was not mitigated by the presence of naloxone, a drug that blocks the opioid receptors. This suggests that meditation can reduce pain without acting upon the opioid receptors, and may pave the way for a deeper understanding of non-addictive pain management.
2. Mindfulness Lowers Blood Pressure
In 2013, Hughes, et al. published a study that found mindfulness practice reduced blood pressure. Following their study participants for two years, their findings suggest mindfulness practice may be an effective treatment or supplement to medication in treating individuals with high blood pressure.
3. It Lowers Heart Rate
A study published by the Association of Humanitas Medicinetook a look at the heart rate and respiratory rates of individuals practicing mindfulness meditation. The researchers found that the decrease in both heart rate and respiratory rate was significant for 6-8 months after the mindfulness-based intervention.
4. The Body Heals Faster
In one of the older studies related to this field, researchers discovered guided imagery practice helped improve postoperative stress and wound healing. Much of this is due to the nature of meditation practice to ease anxiety, thus lessening the stress response of the body while healing.
5. Meditation is an Anti-Inflammatory
In 2013, Richard J. Davidson found that meditation reduces inflammation all the way down to the cellular level. In a study at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the team found an extraordinary benefit of meditation: it actually changes the genes acting upon cellular structure in the body, reducing inflammation.
6. It Helps You Digest Your Food
Mindfulness has been shown many times to help people with inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that participants who engaged in a mindfulness-based intervention showed increased effectiveness of digestion, less anxiety in relation to their condition, and an overall increase in quality of life. This was an 8-week mindfulness course, and the benefits were observed six months later in study participants.
7. Your Immune System Strengthens
Mindfulness meditation can strengthen your immune system, increasing its function. A 2003 studypublished in Psychosomatic Medicine had people participate in an eight week mindfulness meditation course, finding that individuals had increased immune function when meditating when compared with the control group.
8. Meditation Helps Prevent Asthma
A meta-analysis published in August 2017 in the Journal of Asthma found significant evidence to suggest meditation increases quality of life in people with asthma, as well as helping relieve symptoms. The study authors conclude their research with a call for further studies, but this is a great step toward understanding this condition.
9. Mindfulness Can Ease Premenstrual and Menopausal Symptoms
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a meta-analysis in October 2006 investigating the medical benefits of mindfulness meditation. Among their findings was that meditation, meditative prayer, and yoga improved symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause.
Psychological Benefits of Meditation
There are some benefits of meditation practice on our psychological state. These benefits include reductions in anxiety and stress levels, increased creativity, and better self-esteem.
10. Meditation Helps You Sleep Better
Harvard Health reports that mindfulness meditation can help fight insomnia. Meditation can help you fall asleep more easily, and sleep more soundly. Many people find a period of meditation before bed is helpful, but these studies actually show meditation practice at any point during the day actually benefits our sleeping habits.
11. It Reduces Anxiety and Stress
Meditating to reduce anxiety and stress may not be something new to you. A core Buddhist teaching is that we meditate to see clearly and end dukkha, or stress. Hofmann, et al. found decreases in anxiety among study participants, whether or not they had a previously-present anxiety disorder. There are many studies suggesting meditation may have beneficial outcomes for those struggling with stress and anxiety.
Critiques of the Research
It would be irresponsible to talk about the research on meditation and mindfulness without discussing a few critiques. There are many critiques out there, but here are a few we see. To be clear, we are not taking the position that all mindfulness-based research is wrong or inaccurate. Rather, we must note that there are shortcomings and problems with the research.
Mindfulness Research is New
Finally, there is the point that this is a relatively new field of research. In fact, mindfulness is relatively new to the West in general. With the spread of Buddhism and mindfulness across the world in recent centuries, it has become an increasingly popular practice. The studies and research have really just begun. Because it is in its youth, the research we do have is laying groundwork. Like other scientific disciplines, we don’t have sure answers, only working theories!