We all have times when motivation is lacking. Contemplating the benefits of meditation can often give us the little bit of encouragement we need to get our bum on the cushion.
This article looks at five of the most researched, most important benefits of meditation:
- Improvements in concentration.
- Overall decrease in anxiety levels.
- Slows the process of brain ageing.
- A greater ability to emotionally self-regulate.
- Improvements in the quality of your relationships.
1. Improvements in Concentration
A great deal of research has been done into the concentration-building power of meditation. One recent study measured the attentional abilities of a group of meditators after a month-long retreat. Measures indicated a marked increase in their ability to steady their attention on a difficult task.
One of the authors of the paper, Anthony Zanesco, said that “This study, published in a special issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, adds to a growing body of evidence — both neural and behavioral — that suggests one’s attention may be improved through mental training….”1
B. Alan Wallace, a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, dedicated a whole book, The Attention Revolution, to an exploration of the attention-enhancing efficacy of meditation.
2. Overall Decrease in Anxiety Levels
Anxiety is one of the afflictions for which meditation is most commonly recommended. A 2012 meta-analysis that brought together 163 different studies shows that various techniques (particularly Transcendental Meditation) had a marked positive effect. The “rest and digest” part of your nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system) is activated during your session, which has both “in-the-moment” and long-term physiological and psychological benefits.
3. Slows the Process of Brain Ageing
A recent 2015 study suggests that long-term meditation practice can actually slow the brain’s natural ageing process. It’s normal for the human brain to deteriorate somewhat with age but the study, which involved 100 people (half meditators, the other half non-meditators) found, “…that individuals in the meditation group showed significantly lower grey matter loss in numerous brain regions, compared with those in the non-meditation group.”
4. A Greater Ability to Emotionally Self-Regulate
The ability to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way seems to be a common benefit associated with mediation. A 2013 study that involved 100 participants reported that a 9-week training programme, “…resulted in increased mindfulness and happiness, as well as decreased worry and emotional suppression.”
Respected teacher Sharon Salzberg writes that, “With practice, we learn to respond more quickly to negative tendencies. Instead of catching ourselves fifteen regrettable actions later, we develop a visceral sensitivity to what’s happening within us and curb our negative cycle right away.”2
5. Improves the Quality of Your Relationships
Whilst certain techniques – particularly mindfulness meditation – have received the lion’s share of attention, interest in others has been steadily growing. Emma Seppala, a research scientist at Stanford University, is one such person who has taken a keen interest in loving-kindness practice.
Her research indicates a link between loving-kindness meditation and a deepening of feelings of social connected-ness, empathy and a reduction in negative bias towards others.
References & Further Reading
An insightful article by Robert Schneider about some of the latest research.
2. Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness at Work.