How Meditation Benefits Both Your Mind AND Body

People have been enjoying the benefits of meditation for many years — possibly as many as 5,000. But more recently scientists have begun to study how and why these benefits occur.

Study results show what those long ago likely felt: that meditating brings calming effects. In addition to those feelings of relaxation, people who meditate also may experience physical benefits as well as actual changes within the brain.

“One study found that meditating as little as 12 minutes a day over eight weeks produced noticeable changes in the brains of study participants.”

Meditation Is More Than a Stress-Reliever?

With meditation, the goal is to focus your attention on breathing to help increase your awareness of the present. This type of mindful meditation has long been used for reducing stress. People who practice meditation often report feeling less anxiety. But the benefits don’t stop there. Studies show when you meditate on a regular basis, you may also experience:

  • Improved mood and brain function
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Better pain tolerance
  • Improved sleep
  • An overall sense of well-being
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • A boost to your immune system
  • Strengthened memory
  • Reduced feelings of depression and anxiety

Scientists Exploring the Why

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Neuroscientists, explains Brenda Bodenmiller, RN, manager of Premier Healthy Living, “are investigating what changes are going on behind the scenes that produce these outcomes.” Consider these study findings:

  • A 2015 study published in Frontiers in Psychology compared the brains of people who regularly practice meditation for extended periods with those who don’t. Results showed that those who meditate have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter plays a part in memory, learning and emotional control.
  • Another study at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that, in people who meditate, the brain’s gray matter increased despite aging. “This is a significant finding, because normally gray matter decreases as we age,” Bodenmiller says. This suggests that people who meditate may raise their chances of retaining memory function as they age.
  • Other studies are focused on certain areas of the brain. One shows that the part of the brain called the amygdala — which is involved with processing emotions — is affected even when the person is not meditating. Other results show that meditation may increase the brain’s ability to process information.

Starting Your Own Meditation Practice

So how can you begin reaping these rewards? Try these tips to get started:

  • Clear all distractions. Turn off phones, TVs and any other gadgets that might distract you while you’re meditating.
  • Aim to clear your mind of all thought.
  • Focus on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Have an open attitude. Let your thoughts come and go without judging them.
  • “There’s an app for that.” Several apps are out there that guide listeners step-by-step through a mindful meditation practice.
  • Check out classes your employer offers. Many companies are bringing meditation to the workplace as a resource for managing stress and promoting wellness. Premier Health’s Well-Being Center offers community wellness courses and workshops, including meditation classes. 

“What’s nice about meditating is that it doesn’t take much for results to show,” Bodenmiller says. “One study found that meditating as little as 12 minutes a day over eight weeks produced noticeable changes in the brains of study participants.”

Small Steps: Take a Stress Time-Out
Break the cycle of stressful feelings by taking a walk to reset your frame of mind.