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Top 10 Scientific Benefits of Meditation - Two Steps From Bliss

Two Steps From Bliss

Meditation is a funny thing! If you are like most people, you probably feel you would like to meditate, you know some of the benefits of meditation, and you think that one day, you’ll go for it. Maybe you even practice now and again.

But the truth is that most people never develop a consistent practice, even though it is such a simple thing to do. We tend to overcomplicate meditation in our minds, making it much more difficult than it needs to be. My advice is keep it simple – that is the best way. 

The first step in your journey is to understand the amazing benefits that meditation can bring.

So, in this article I have covered the most well-documented benefits of meditation. These benefits are supported by scientific studies and links to modern research.

Meditation changes the entire structure of our brain. Over time, we begin to experience deep peace, lasting happiness and freedom from mental restlessness.

Sure, meditation can be challenging at times, but so is anything that is worth doing.

I want to help you start meditating as soon as possible, which is why I’m including a free meditation starter pack with this post. This is a totally free gift. It includes a how to meditate video, a guided meditation, a PDF, and a 30-day meditation calendar.

You can get it right here.

1. Meditation combats anxiety, stress, and depression

The modern world is fast-paced, vibrant and action-packed: alarms, caffeine, long work hours, social media, email, adverts, socializing, television, news, politics, alcohol, housework, job lists, and endless streams of information. Yep, it’s all pretty stressful. 

But stress increases cortisol levels in the brain, which disrupts sleep, increases weight, and leads to anxiety. It can also interfere with memory and lead to a long list of other health problems.

Many recent studies reveal the power of meditation to reduce stress. This helps us to overcome anxiety and depression.

One study observed the effects of meditation on 22 patients with anxiety disorders. After three months, 20 of them showed a significant reduction in anxiety and depression.

Another study of 1300 people revealed “substantial reductions” in stress levels after meditating. In both studies, participants maintained these reductions upon follow-up.

Five or ten minutes of meditation a day is enough to lower stress levels in a few weeks. Even one meditation can make you feel more relaxed. So let’s get to it…

More information: Springer, Jamanetwork, Psychomaticmedicine, Harvard

2. Meditation reduces negative emotions and increases positive emotions

We often fret over our appearance, financial situation, relationships, health or career prospects. We focus on all the problems and forget about the many blessings we experience each day.
 
Negative thought patterns are easy to fall into but not so easy to break. They can be so subtle that we hardly even notice them, but these thoughts lead to negative emotions. Before we know it, we are stuck in a cycle of doubt, self-criticism and bitterness. But fear-based thoughts and emotions like these activate the limbic system. This is the part of your brain responsible for survival and protective instincts, fight-or-flight.
 
When we meditate, we begin to deactivate the parts of the limbic system that create fear and anxiety. And as if that’s not enough, meditation also activates the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that manages stress and controls your emotions. 
 
Dr. Peter Van Houten puts it in this way:
 
“When we look at the brains of longtime meditators, what we see is a quiet limbic system and strong, robust prefrontal lobes.”
 
When we meditate, we shift away from negative, fear-based emotions. We also move towards positive emotions like gratitude, forgiveness and confidence. This leads to greater happiness, a clearer life purpose, better relationships, and improved health.
 

3. Meditation reduces physical and emotional pain.

Pain keeps us alive and protects us from all kinds of harm. It stops us from doing stupid things like putting a hand in a pot of boiling soup or cutting off a finger with a bread knife. There is a downside, though: it hurts. There’s a whole spectrum of physical and emotional pain that we have to experience throughout our lives.

Chronic pain affects about 1.5 billion people around the world. It is the most common cause of long-term disability.

Recent studies reveal that meditation improves our ability to cope with pain.

One study by Kober and associates found the following:

“The number of hours of meditation a person had completed was directly related to his or her ability to handle pain.”

Dr. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest Medical Center, reported that meditation was more effective than morphine in reducing pain.

“We found […] about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”

Pain does not completely disappear when you start meditating of course. But as we become stronger through our practice of meditation, pain becomes much easier to cope with

More information: nccihdavidlynchncbi

4. Meditation improves relationships and social connections.

Humans are social creatures; we need others to survive and thrive. However, in today’s world, we lead busy lives and over-consume modern technology. Community life has also mostly given way to city life and travel.
 
As a result, many people feel lonely and isolated.
 
One study found that a third of Americans feel lonely at least once a week. Loneliness is a serious problem that can increase the risk of early death by over 50%. That’s even higher than obesity!
 
Meditation and prayer enhance brain areas associated with empathy and connection with others.
 
When we meditate, we become kinder, friendlier, and more compassionate. We are less critical and judgmental of ourselves and others and we gain greater emotional stability and self-love. This makes us more confident and courageous. As a result, we find that people want to be around us, and we are more able to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships.
 
This study found that when we meditate, we become more sensitive to facial expressions and emotional cues.
 
Another one measured how a course in compassion meditation improved connection and compassion. Meditation “resulted in significant improvement in all three orientations of compassion.”
 
As our compassion grows in meditation, the more we are able to connect with others, and the more they are drawn towards us
 
More information: researchgate, sagepub, plos
 

5. Meditation improves focus, attention, and productivity.

If you’ve made it this far, well done, because our attention spans are getting shorter and– Oh look, a funny cat video!
 
One study claims that thanks to smartphones, our attention spans may be even shorter than a goldfish’s!
 
ADD is on the rise and our focus jumps from one thing to the next like a double-espresso-drinking fly.
 
Attention is an essential part of our lives. It helps us get work done, learn new skills, and be productive from day to day. Focus is the basis for all success and joy in life, but it is becoming harder to maintain in the modern world.
 
Meditation involves concentration techniques, such as focusing on an object like the breath. Every time your mind wanders, you bring your attention back to the object. This trains the brain to focus, making us more effective at maintaining attention in daily life.
 
It doesn’t even take long to reach this level of focus. This study found that, “four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention.”
 
Another study gave participants a five-day mindfulness meditation course. They showed “significantly better attention and control of stress” than a control group.
 
So if you want to be a better listener, learn more effectively, and maintain your focus, meditation is the way to go. 
 
More information: sciencedirect, ncbi, springer, frontiersin
 
Grab your free meditation starter pack here:

6. Meditation improves learning and memory.

Do you ever feel frustrated because you just can’t remember the right word? Struggle to recall people’s names? Are you constantly searching for your keys or your wallet?

Well, you’re not alone. Many people experience the same struggle with memory, and some feel that modern technology may be to blame.

Thirty years ago, scientists claimed that when people reached the age of 22, their brains would stop developing. From then on, that was it — a one-way ticket to Moronville!

Luckily, thanks to modern research in neuroplasticity, we now know this isn’t true. As it turns out, the brain is highly changeable. There are steps we can take to improve its function and even its structure, and one of the best steps is meditation.

This study shows that meditation leads to an increase in grey matter density, which improves learning and memory. This increase leads to better information retention and recall.

Another study found that meditation has positive effects on cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s.

And this one found that meditation and guided relaxation improves recall in children.

So whether you’re young or old, meditation can help you improve your memory and change your brain for the better.

More information: sciencedirect, psynjournal,

7. Meditation improves physical health.

Our bodies and minds need to maintain equilibrium to function properly. This state is called homeostasis. The body achieves homeostasis when it functions in harmony. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety upset this natural balance.
 
Stress is an evolutionary, biological reaction that protects us from danger. The health problems start when that stress occurs over long periods of time.
 
Chronic stress can lead to many diseases and health problems. Hypertension, lowered immune response, and increased risk of a stroke or heart attack all arise from stress.
 
 
There is also evidence of meditation’s positive effects on asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches. It may even help in the battle against cancer!

8. Meditation enhances creativity and problem-solving.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”        – Picasso
 
An artist friend of mine once asked me to paint a picture in a booklet she was making.
 
“I can’t paint,” I said.
 
Just shut up and do it,” she replied.
 
So I did. And let me tell you, it was….
 
Terrible!
 
But it didn’t matter.
 
At that moment, I realized that if we want to unleash our creativity, we have to stop thinking and just do it. All we need is the confidence to fail and the humility to be terrible at something. So long as you keep trying, one day you’ll find that you’re getting better and you can actually do it.
 
Nature is a “great engine of creativity” (Terence McKenna), and we are a part of nature. Creativity is part of our essence, part of who we are.
 
Your creativity is waiting to be unleashed upon the world. You might believe like so many people that you are “not a creative person.” But the only reason you might believe this is because at some point, you lost touch with your creativity.
 
To find it again, you need to quiet your mind and access a place deeper than your thinking brain.
 
This study suggests that meditation can promote creative thinking in only one sitting, even if you’ve never meditated in your life.
 
 
Meditation gives us the confidence to embrace failure and the courage to persevere. It also detaches us from our ego so we can get lost in the creative process and enjoy it without over-analyzing. We would be wise to meditate and then follow the advice of my friend:
 
Just shut up and do it.

9. Meditation improves decision-making.

You have to make difficult decisions every day, big or small. Whether to watch one more episode of Game of Thrones? To get out of bed or hit the snooze button? To go down the gym or have a glass of wine?
 
These decisions and your ability to make them determine who you are and how your life goes.
 
Our indecisiveness and bad decision-making are often caused by high stress levels and cluttered minds
 
Luckily, meditation helps to clear your mind.
 
The mind is problem-oriented by nature. When we quiet the mind, we find we’re able to make better decisions and find solutions to difficult problems. Often when we try to think our way out of a problem, we find that we get more confused. Real solutions come when we quiet the mind and allow our natural intuition to take control.
 
A UCLA study found that long-term meditators have more gyrification (or folding) in the cerebral cortex. This improves processing, decision-making, and memory. They even found a direct link between the number of years a person has been meditating and the amount of gyrification in their cortex.
 
 
We have decisions to make in each moment. When we are calm and our minds are still, we can make fast and effective decisions. These small decisions can really improve the quality of our life.

10. Meditation improves sleep.

 
You may not be an insomniac, but we’ve all had sleepless nights! Your mind starts racing and you worry you won’t be able to sleep. So you look at the clock and immediately regret it. Five hours until you have to wake up! Then you close your eyes and try your hardest to sleep, but the harder you try, the more awake you feel. You tell yourself to stop thinking, but you can’t, so you lie awake and worry.
 
Many people experience this on a weekly or even daily basis.
 
Lack of sleep creates huge challenges: low energy, inability to concentrate, and slower reaction time. It also reduces clarity, causes relationship problems, and triggers mood swings.
 
“When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake. With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.”Fight Club
 
Meditation relaxes the body and mind and helps slow down the train of thought that prevents sleep. As a result, people who meditate find it much easier to relax and sleep well.
 
This study gave half of its participants a mindfulness and meditation course. The other half a sleep education class. The people in the mindfulness group reported reduced insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of six sessions.
 
Another study revealed the positive effects of meditation on insomnia.
 
More information: ncbi, doctorsontm

So Let’s Begin

Grab a copy of the meditation starter pack below. It contains everything you need to start meditating on your own so you don’t have to depend on guided meditations.

You may begin to feel the benefits of meditation shortly after you start—even within a few days or weeks, but the true benefits are the ones that come from making meditation a long-term daily practice. Just as with exercise, if you stop meditating, the benefits will stop as well.

Start by meditating just a few minutes every day. The beginning is all about forming the habit—consistency is the key.

And don’t get too hung up on results! Just release your expectations and allow yourself to meditate without being attached to outcomes. 

Later down the line, you’ll look back and you won’t believe how much you’ve changed.

Do you practice meditation? What other benefits have you experienced? Share your experience in the comments below.

RELATED POST: TOP 10 SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

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