With more and more people touting its life-changing benefits (we’re looking at you, Anderson Cooper!), it’s safe to say that meditation has gone mainstream. But unlike questionable cleanses, this practice can do your body, mind, and entire existence a whole lot of good.
Given all the buzz, it’s tempting to see meditation as trendy, but really it’s a thousand-year-old practice of calming the mind and halting day-to-day stressors. And doing so benefits every area of life, says Josh Korda, dharma teacher at Dharma Punx NYC.
See, when you meditate, you put your guard down, let energy in, and get yourself out of a stressful self-defense mode, says Sonia Choquette, a meditation teacher with more than 35 years of experience. “It’s pressing a pause button and giving yourself room to breathe,” she says. “And when you have room to breathe, you access your greater potential and your greater state of being.” It can also even out your mood and energy levels, says Gabrielle Bernstein, a certified meditation teacher and New York Times best-selling author. “We experience more even-keeled energy," she says. "And that expands to how we show up in the world.”[AD]
With those kinds of benefits, why isn’t everyone (and their mother) meditating? Well, skeptics might be turned off by the negative—and false—stereotype that meditation is hippie-dippy and too good to be true. But there’s plenty of solid evidence to satisfy all the naysayers out there. And even better, science suggests you may experience the brain benefits related to the practice even when you’re not actively meditatingEffects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Desbordes G, Negi LT, Pace TW, et al. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Nov. 1 2012. doi: 10.3389.. Plus, it may even help you save money on your healthcareChanges in physician costs among high-cost transcendental meditation practitioners compared with high-cost nonpractitioners over 5 years. Herron RE. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2011 Sep-Oct;26(1):56-60. doi: 10.4278/ajhp..
Need more convincing? Here's 19 awesome, science-backed benefits of meditation!
1. Ditch depression.
Research suggests that 30 minutes of meditation improves depression symptoms (along with anxiety and pain)Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine.2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001.. In fact, the practice could possibly prevent depression and pain altogether—scientists discovered that people who meditate may have more control over how their brains process and pay attention to negative sensations (like pain) and negative thoughts (like depression triggers).
2. Stress less.
Nix those nail-biting moments already. When you meditate, you’re able to override a part of the brain responsible for the fear mechanism (which releases cortisol, the damaging stress hormone that’s responsible for a whole grab bag of health issues), says Korda. One study suggests that meditation can cut back on anxiety by almost 40 percentNeural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. Zeidan F, Martucci KT, Kraft RA, et al. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. (2014) 9 (6): 751-759. doi: 10.1093.. And it doesn’t take a ton of time to reap these keep-calm-and-carry-on benefits. Just 25 minutes of meditation (done three times per week) may make tasks feel less stressful, according to recent researchBrief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Creswell JD, Pacilio LE, Lindsay EK, et al. International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology. June 2014 Volume 44, Pages 1–12..
3. Relieve headaches.
Meditation may be an excellent line of defense against those horrible head-pounding episodes. Recent research finds that the practice leads to major relief of tension headaches (though it’s worth noting that the treatment program in this study involved both meditation and medication, like muscle relaxants)Effect of rajyoga meditation on chronic tension headache. Kiran, Girgla KK, Chalana H, et al. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 2014 Apr-Jun;58(2):157-61..
4. Be nicer.
Meditation may help you kill ‘em with kindness. In one study, the practice was linked with more empathy and laughter, being more social, and having a more team-oriented mentality (the meditation practitioners in the study used the word “we” more than “I”).
5. Boost memory.
If your desktop is wallpapered with sticky note reminders and you often find your mind jumping from thought to thought, you may want to turn to meditation. It’s been shown to not only improve memory but to help cut back on distracting thoughtsMindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Mrazek MD, Franklin MS, Phillips DT, et al. Psychological Science. March 28, 2013, doi: 10.1177..
6. Get more out of your workout.
Exercise, especially HIIT workouts in full-blown #beastmode, can do a number on your muscles and your central nervous system But meditation allows you to rest your body and mind very deeply, removing stress from your physiology and priming you for excellent sweat sessions, says Ben Turshen, a former lawyer who’s now a fitness professional and qualified independent teacher of Vedic Meditation in New York City. With meditation's ability to reduce our stress levels, we’re able to perform our workouts that much better and enjoy them that much more, he says. And studies support Turshen's point. Plus, meditation might also help minimize sensitivity to pain (read on for deets on that!), meaning it might be just the boost you need to take on new fitness challenges.
7. Keep colds away.
No need to buy that jumbo 12-pack of tissue boxes. Research links meditation with having fewer respiratory illnesses, quicker recovery times, and needing fewer sick days from workMeditation or Exercise for Preventing Acute Respiratory Infection: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, et al. Annals of Family Medicine. July/August 2012 vol. 10 no. 4 337-346..
8. Build better relationships.
Meditation will absolutely help you maintain healthy relationships, say Bernstein and Korda. Not only does it let you be more present in relationships, but it also helps you approach tricky situations with a calm mind and body. In fact, it may help you avoid big blowouts when dealing with a relationship issue (he/she said what?!). In one study, people who meditated and tried to problem-solve with their partner approached the issue with less hostility and a better moodContemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses. Kemeny ME, Foltz C, Cavanagh JF, et al. Emotion, Vol 12(2), Apr 2012, 338-350..
9. Protect your heart.
Here’s a pretty great (and totally unexpected) way to boost your heart health—no burpees involved. Yep, we’re talking about meditation! In one study, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced meditation had a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and even deathStress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Schneider RH, Grim CE, Rainforth MV, et al. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. November 13, 2012, doi: 10.1161..
10. Catch more Zs.
In a world where we take our phones and tablets to bed, shuteye has become a pretty precious thing. The problem? Quieting the mind enough to actually be able to fall asleep. That’s where meditation comes in. Not only does science suggest it may help treat insomnia, but experts believe that meditating can help keep your mind in check throughout the day and reduce stress, thus leading to a better, more restful night’s sleep.
11. Amp up creativity.
The possible cure for a creative rut? Meditation. “When you’re in a listening state of mind, you put yourself in a position to receive new ideas and inspiration that you weren’t able to receive before because you were guarded and protected,” Choquette says. So new ideas, solutions, and “aha!” moments will start pouring in. And science agrees: In one study, participants who practiced a particular kind of meditation were better at coming up with many possible solutions for a problem.
12. Improve your 9-to-5.
Here’s an argument for meditating on company time: Your on-the-job performance may benefit from the practice. In one study, multitasking office workers who meditated improved their performance and memory of the tasks they’d worked on as well as their emotional state and awareness.
13. Be more youthful.
The fountain of youth is as real as calorie-free cookies (insert sad-faced emoji here), but meditating may actually help make you younger. Because, science. Middle-aged participants who practiced meditation had younger biological ages than those who didn’t, according to one studyThe effects of the transcendental meditation and tm-sidhi program on the aging process. Wallace RK, Dillbeck M, Jacobe E, et al. International Journal of Neuroscience. 1982, Vol. 16, No. 1 , Pages 53-58.. Plus, another study suggests that meditation may diminish age-related brain deterioration.
14. Cut back on painkillers.
Stop the pill popping! Scientists suggest that meditation may thicken your brain (particularly the portion that regulates pain), slashing your sensitivity to any ouch-inducing actions, and any dependency on meds.
15. Pump up your GPA.
Looking for a totally by-the-book way to earn higher marks the next time a test rolls around? Here’s your answer. According to one study, meditation leads to better focus and higher scores on cognitive tests—all after just 4 days of 20-minute sessionsMindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Zeidan F, Johnson SK, Diamond BJ, et al. Consciousness and Cognition. Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 597–605.. In another study, students who meditated before a lecture (and subsequent quiz) did better than those who didn’t. Research also suggests that the practice leads to a better attention span—an effect that lasts over time, especially in those who continue to meditate every day.
16. Banish burnout.
When you’re on the grind 40+ hours per week, it’s all too easy to feel overworked. Enter, meditation. Research suggests that taking time to quiet your mind leads to fewer feelings of work-related exhaustion. It’s even been part of medical students’ training at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with this particular aim in mind.
17. Battle bad eating habits.
Disordered eating is a pretty scary and harmful thing. But there’s hope in the form of meditation. Research suggests that meditating may help you cut back on binge eating and emotional eatingMindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, et al. Eating Behaviors. 2014 Apr;15(2):197-204. doi: 10.1016.. While this is awesome news, it’s still important to consult a doc for an appropriate and effective course of treatment.
18. Add sizzle to your sex life.
Your time between the sheets could benefit from meditation—seriously. In one study, women that added meditation to their lives experienced a boost in arousal and satisfaction in their after-hours action—not to mention fewer difficulties in reaching the finish lineGroup mindfulness-based therapy significantly improves sexual desire in women. Brotto LA, Basson R. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2014 Jun;57:43-54. doi: 10.1016.. Big O, anyone?
19. Tone down your temper.
Feeling your blood boil on the regular is undoubtedly bad for your health. So don’t get mad, get meditating! Research suggests that the good-for-you-habit cuts back on anger and the tendency to dwell on angry episodesThe impact of mindfulness meditation on anger. Hirano M, Yukawa S. Shinrigaku Kenkyu. 2013 Jun;84(2):93-102.. And Korda agrees. “If you’re aware of your mind, body, and breath, you can calm yourself and step away from the initial reaction and begin to think of different ways to respond to the situation,” he says. “The more inner awareness you have, the less you’re going to be triggered by other people.
Kicking Off Your Practice
Now that you’re armed with knowledge and ready to pick up the practice, don’t get derailed by thinking that meditation will be a burden to your schedule—though you’re definitely not alone if that’s the case.
One of the most common excuses for not meditating is being strapped for time. “We have a culture of being busy, and a work culture of constant communication and accessibility,” Turshen says. “We live in a culture that has a false sense of emergency.” Despite this, the fact of the matter is that you do have time to meditate—just consider all the time you spend tweeting, snapping, stalking on Facebook, and browsing on Instagram.
Still wary? Remember that you definitely don’t have to invest hours upon hours to reap the good-for-you benefits we listed above. “Even one minute a day offers such a great gift,” Bernstein says. One of her quick-and-easy techniques? Follow this pattern: Breathe in for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, and then breathe out for five seconds, and continue moving through this practice for a full minute. And voilà: Meditation really can be as easy as that.