At Ahimsa Meditation we are constantly on the lookout for the most recent scientific research and publications from credible authors on meditation and its benefits for everyone’s mental, emotional and physical health. We have so far collected a lot of information that we’d like to share with you. We are grateful to all below-mentioned scientists, psychologists, mindfulness teachers and psychotherapy practitioners for their data, research and dedication. If you want to dig deeper into a particular work, we have duly indicated the source of each research as the below is just a robust summary of them.
Meditation benefits: the big picture
Meditation practice is able to help all of us to:
- Lessen the anxiety
- Overcome past emotional traumas and pain
- Deal with attention deficit
- Cope with anger and manage the response to everyday stress factors.
Learning meditation and mindfulness techniques and regularly practising it assists our kids’ education and supports their efforts. Students can boost their mental working capacity and they would be able to prepare for the exams more effectively.
Rick Hanson PhD is confident that mindfulness goes very far by changing how your brain operates. He quotes the following in his book “Just one thing”:
“Studies have shown that regular practices of mindfulness:
- Thicken cortical layers in regions of the brain that control attention (Lazard et al, 2005)
- Add neural connections in the insula, a part of the brain that supports both self-awareness and empathy for the emotions of others (ibid)
- Increase the relative activation of the left prefrontal cortex, which helps control and reduce negative emotions (Davidson 2004)
- Strengthen your immune system (Davidson et al, 2003)
- Reduce the impact on pain and accelerate post-surgical recovery (Kabat-Zinn 2003; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth Burney 1985”
Mindfulness helps to tend to causes instead of effects. We urge you to tend to causes! As we cannot make a tree to grow apples, we can only do is promote the causes of the results we want.
Benefits to your mental and physical health
We, therefore, promote nonviolence for good mental health and nutrition:
- You are responsible for the causes you can tend to. If you are not getting the results you want in your life, ask yourself: am I truly doing everything I reasonably can to promote the causes of those results?
- You can relax attachment to results. When you understand that much of what determines whether they happen or not is out of your hands, you worry less about whether they’ll happen, and you suffer less if they don’t.
There is no anxiety about imperfection; there’s only simplicity, directness, engagement – and peace. When you focus on the love you give rather than the love you get, then you are at cause, rather than at effect.
Meditating on breath lowers your blood pressure, slows your heart rate and eases your anxiety.
Mediation as an adjunct to traditional or alternative medical treatment can help to heal from various illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
It can help manage pain and prevent illnesses by helping you stay physically balanced and healthy. Meditation creates contentment, peace and joy. It promotes longevity. Meditations also sharpen your mind for self-development and self-realisation.
You may have noticed that it is harder to pay attention with so much noise from technology. Meditation allows you to re-learn this ability and thus enliven your senses and enrich your life. Learn to live your life in the present and to appreciate the life you have.
Having mental peace and less emotional reactivity are just two of the benefits of long-term meditation practice. Meditation helps to heal psychological problems (addictions, unresolved grief or trauma).
In order to reap the benefits, it is important to develop a consistent practice, daily if possible (quoted in “The Meditation Bible” by Madonna Gauding)
In research published in 2013, Benson and his team found that meditation doesn’t just change brain activity, blood pressure and reports of how stressed people feel. It changes the activity of certain genes. And it does it so within minutes. Even first-timers show an increase in the activity of genes involved in the function of mitochondria and secretion of insulin (which regulates blood glucose levels). There is also a drop in the activity of genes involved in triggering potentially damaging inflammation (linked to depression) and stress-related pathways. Benson investigated that duration of individual meditation should be 10-20 minutes a day (quoted by Emma Young in her book “Sane”)
Scientific studies prove meditation benefits
Here is a huge list of benefits quoted in a wonderful book “The Science of Meditation” by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson:
- First rigorous studies of how meditation affects attention were done by Amishi Jha et al., “Mindfulness Training Modifies Subsystems of attention” in Cognitive, affective and behavioural neuroscience. 7:2 (2007)”
- After 8 weeks of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program – better focus and attention. The program consists of mindfulness of breath, body sensations scan, attentive yoga and moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts and feelings. It’s a daily attention practice.
- Mindfulness also improves working memory: students up scores by more than 30% (Michael Mrazek et al., “Mindfulness Training Improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering” Psychological Science 24:5 (2013): 776-81)
- Just 3 x 10 minutes meditations improve cognitive control. Mindfulness also improves working memory: students up scores by more than 30% (ibid)
- Better impulse inhibition went along with a self-reported uptick in emotional wellbeing. Cliff Saron’s study shows meditation improves the ability to inhibit impulse as stated by Bajinder K. Sahdra et al., “Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning” Emotion 11:2 (2011): 299-312”. The study suggested 10 h of mindfulness over 2 week period.
- The brain’s default mode activates when we are doing nothing that demands mental effort -> we are constructing ‘self’. Mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation quiet the default mode circuit. It means that self-focused thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind have much less “grab” and decreasing ability to hijack attention.
- Mindfulness practice lessens inflammation day to day (not just during meditation). Benefits show up after just 4 weeks of mindfulness practice (~30hrs) as well as loving-kindness as quoted by E. Walsh “Brief Mindfulness Training Reduces Salivary, IL-6 and TNF-α in young women with depressive symptomatology” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 84:10 (2016) and T.W. Pace et al., “Effect of Compassion Meditation on Neuroendocrine, Innate Immune and Behavioural Responses to Psychological Stress” Psychoneuroimmunology 34 (2009): 87-98)
- A large drop in cortisol under stress seems to kick in with continuous practice, so it’s easier to handle life’s upsets.
- Unemployed job seekers showed reduced destructive self-talk that floods us with thoughts of hopelessness and depression -> how we relate to our gloomy self-talk has a direct impact on our health.
- Meditation helps with high blood pressure.
- Just 14 minutes of meditation practice in a group who suffered from kidney disease, cardiac or hypertension lowered the metabolic patterns that lead to these diseases. It was stated by Jeanie Park et al., “Mindfulness in African-American Males with Chronic Kidney Disease”, American Journal of Physiology 307:1 (July 1, 2014)
- Meditators have shown “down-regulation” of inflammatory genes. Such drop, if sustained, might help combat diseases with onset marked by chronic low-grade inflammation. These include cardio disorders, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
- Loneliness spurs high levels of pro-inflammatory genes. MBSR can not only lower these levels but also lessen the feeling of being lonely, as quoted by J.D. Creswell et al., “Mindfulness-based stress reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomised control trial” Brain, Behaviour and Immunity 26 (2012).
- Mindfulness associated with increased telomerase activity, in the work of N.S. Schutte and J.M. Malouff “A meta-analytic review of the effects of mindfulness meditation on telomerase activity” Psychoneuroendocrinology 42 (2014).
Summary of meditation benefits depending on the length of practice
Daniel Goleman and Richard J Davidson go further and summarize the above studies to draw the following main benefits to meditation:
- improvement of attention,
- better focus,
- improved working memory;
- less reactivity to stress;
- more empathic;
- lessen inflammation markers.
Long-term (over 1000 hours) meditators:
- brain and hormonal indicators of significantly lowered reactivity to stress and lessened inflammation;
- lower levels of cortisol;
- stronger selective attention, decreased blinks, ease in sustaining attention, better reaction and response;
- slower breath rate;
- enhances the immune system.
Neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin found that after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice, participants experienced a significant change in the activity from the right to left. It corresponded with the increased feelings of happiness and well-being (taken from “Get some headspace” by Andy Puddicombe).
Physical, mental and lifestyle-related issues to be solved by meditation
Will Williams in his book “The Effortless Mind” states another list of issues that meditation can help with:
- Physical: digestive problems, high blood pressure, chronic pain, headaches, immune disorders.
- Mental: anxiety (OCD, PTSD, panic attacks), depression (and related like SAD or mood swings), anger.
- Lifestyle-related: insomnia, weight management, relationship challenges, addictions (alcohol, drugs, smoking).
Benefits of mindfulness meditation were also stated by Dan Siegel in his book ‘The Mindful Therapist’: bodily regulation, attunement, emotional balance, response flexibility, lowering fear, insight, empathy, morality, intuition.
Meditation benefits go beyond simple relaxation
We see that meditation is not just another relaxation exercise. It surely helps your mental health, but as you also change your mindset, you start changing your lifestyle patterns and begin fixing your physical health issues. This is all so beneficial with no pills and no side effects apart from living a better life!
Start your meditation practice today with our simple instructions on concentration meditation (on breathing) or develop your regular meditation practice with our Insight Meditation (vipassana) instructions. Please get back in touch if you want to suggest a piece of research that we’ve missed or you have any questions.