Over the last few years, meditation/mindfulness has officially become part of mainstream American culture. Google and Facebook offer it to support employees’ well-being and creativity. On Twitter you can find everyone from CEOs to celebrities tweeting about how it brings balance to their lives. A true sign of mainstream status, meditation has now even sparked its own media backlash and naysayers.
Is meditation the answer for everyone and every situation? Probably not since we don’t really live in a one-size-fits all world. But beyond the hype—whether you love it or hate it—some interesting studies have been conducted that highlight the real benefits of meditation/mindfulness. Here are five ways studies suggest that meditation can help you deal with the stress and increase your overall well-being.
1. Immune booster
Meditate to give your immune system a boost and reduce inflammation in your body. Various studies suggest that meditation stimulates the immune system brain-function regions. In one study, older adults saw a reduction of pro-inflammatory gene expression while in another HIV positive patients who meditated slowed down the reduction of their CD-4 cell count.
2. Less stress
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was involved in some of the first studies that looked at our brains on meditation. According to an interview in the Washington Post, she says, “The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group [of meditators] that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.”
3. Get focused
The ability to effectively focus on a task (think deadlines, meetings, homework etc.) and sustain your attention is a key component of being successful. In a recent study, meditators showed greater time on task and a reduced number of task-switches post-meditation training. The researchers believe this is an implicit effect of meditation training, since participants were not instructed during meditation training to shift their attention less often. So if you’re having trouble concentrating it might be time to take a break, clear your head and breathe.
4. Meditate to create
In a 2012 study at Leiden University, Netherlands, scientists reported that “open monitoring” meditation (observation of your thoughts over time without judgement) promoted “divergent thinking”, a type of thinking that allows new ideas to be generated.
5. Love yourself
In general studies have shown that meditators report significantly higher levels of mindfulness, self-compassion and overall sense of well-being, and significantly lower levels of thought suppression, fear of emotion, and difficulties with emotion regulation, compared to non-meditators.
While mediation has certainly had its media moment in the sun, don’t let that put you off. There are many truly beneficial aspects of a regular meditation practice. While it’s not the panacea for everything, it can be an extremely gratifying addition to your daily routine. Find a meditation style that works for you, give it a try and see what you think.