Meditation has been around for centuries, but not every practice involves the same technique. According to Healthline, there are six types of meditation that have emerged as the most popular and effective. And, while they vary slightly, they all have one common goal: to bring a sense of calmness through mind training.
With roots in Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is the most practiced technique in the United States and encourages an individual to acknowledge his or her stream of consciousness without bias or judgment, per the publication. On the other hand, transcendental meditation is the most popular technique worldwide and has frequently been the subject of scientific research. It involves a customized mantra that must be repeated, as noted by Healthline.
Meditation can certainly be useful for those seeking focus and relaxation, but it also has some surprising fringe benefits — most of which stem from its amazing ability to reduce stress. Whether you’re hoping to get your asthma under control or seeking relief from insomnia, meditation can help you on your journey to good health. Moreover, it can change your body on a cellular level, as reported by Forbes. Read on to find out what exactly happens to your body when you meditate every day.
When you meditate every day, you may reduce your overall anxiety
Stress is a part of life. No matter how old you are or how you handle your day-to-day obligations, its almost impossible to not feel the effects of this perpetual daily pressure. The good news: Taking up a daily meditation practice can help alleviate the weight of our individual worries and woes.
An article published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine examined the relationship between "home practice of mindfulness" and "perceived stress," and found that those who spent time actively pursuing well-being via centering meditative exercises had improved psychological and physiological functioning and reduced anxiety symptoms.
This may sound rather vague, but the science checks out. In fact, some studies, as cited by Harvard Health Publishing, have shown that the brain can actually change in response to meditation. The brain’s mPFC or "me center" and the amygdala or "fear center" usually work together to cause depression. But meditation has been shown to break this connection. "When you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate," John W. Denninger of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine told the publication.
You can improve your attention span if you meditate every day
Meditation may sound like a super soothing activity, but it can actually be considered tedious work. Finding your zen might be less mellow, more monotonous. In fact, University of California–Davis researcher Katherine MacLean admitted to the Association for Psychological Science (APS) that many people take for granted how "challenging it is to just sit and observe something without being distracted."
As part of a study, MacLean and her colleagues set out to answer if Buddhist meditation could enhance an individual’s capacity for focus and attention. They observed 60 people — 30 of whom were sent on a meditative retreat for three months. Throughout the duration of the meditative study, eventually published in Psychological Science, participants were given computer tests three separate times to "measure how well they could make fine visual distractions and sustain visual attention." They had to stare at a screen and press a button each time a subtle change appeared. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly stimulating work. However, the participants’ ability to distinguish the short lines improved over time along with their potential to focus. The research noted that even five months after the study, those who meditated every day, reported improved attention spans.
Meditating every day can change gray matter volume in your brain
It’s understandable that meditation can relax the body, calm the mind, and soothe the soul, but it’s completely extraordinary that this daily practice can physically change the brain. Alas, scientific imaging has shown that a perpetual practice can have actual physiological effects.
One study found that regular and consistent meditation can cause gray matter concentrations to change within the brain. For example, it was shown to thicken gray matter distribution in the hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for "learning and memory," making it wholly conceivable that your capacity for attaining information also increases. Additionally, imaging indicated a diminishment in the amygdala’s cell volume. Since this part of the brain manages stress and fear, it correlates with a decrease in anxiety.
"It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life," Britta Holzel, study author and researcher at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, told The Harvard Gazette.
You can enhance your memory when you meditate every day
Kirtan Kriya, a type of meditation that takes just 12 minutes and has been practiced by generations of people for thousands of years, was shown to enhance memory in people suffering from cognitive issues and those at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2015 study. This indicated that the daily practice of Kirtan Kriaya, in tandem with other good lifestyle choices — like a healthy diet, physical exercise routine, mental exercise, and social stimulation — can be an important component to an Alzheimer’s disease prevention regimen.
Psychology Today noted that Kirtan Kriya helps to enhance "cerebral blood flow," which enables people to think more clearly while simultaneously improving "blood flow to the posterior cingulate gyrus," the area of the brain responsible for memory retrieval. Furthermore, it can improve "activity in the frontal lobe," which helps with attention and focus.
You can reduce your blood pressure by meditating every day
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of people in the United States have high blood pressure or hypertension "and many do not have it under control." While specific treatment measures may need to be pursued, taking up a meditation practice can be a great way to naturally help lower those numbers.
A study published in Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation demonstrated that meditation has a hormonal effect that, ultimately, reaches the central nervous system and aids the whole body. Researchers determined that meditation of all kinds helps to lower blood pressure, improve insulin resistance, and enhance all sorts of cellular activity — particularly those associated with the heart.
Another study examined the effects of transcendental meditation in particular. In this type of meditation, the participant strives to attain "perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries," according to WebMD. The results showed that this variation was more effective at lowering the systolic blood pressure of older patients — especially those who already had blood pressure that was above normal.
When you meditate every day, you improve the quality of your nightly sleep
It turns out that counting sheep has nothing on sitting still. Since insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints, doctors and researchers are always on the lookout for new therapies that go beyond the standard medications — which come with their own slew of potential problems — and cognitive behavioral therapy. Fortunately, meditation has been shown to be incredibly effective for many people suffering from perpetual sleeplessness.
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia can both help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), for example, is an eight-week "psychoeducational program" that combines meditation practice, general well-being education, and functional support whereas mentalization-based treatment (MBT-I) blends more specific cognitive treatments for chronic sleeplessness with the basic foundation of mindful meditation. To that end, a study published in the Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine found a slightly higher success rate in those who tried MBT-I.
Still, exhausted individuals who want to give it a try should understand that it takes a certain level of commitment, but is ultimately worth the effort as, per the study, "mindfulness techniques have shown to be well accepted by patients with long-lasting effects."
Meditating every day could help you conquer an addiction
Addiction is a tricky disease to address. While there is certainly not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan for every addiction nor every person, there is hope that mindful meditation can help make one’s journey to recovery more successful.
In a 2013 study, researchers found that after two weeks of consistent mindful meditation, smokers reported a 60 percent reduction in smoking. That’s an amazing number, especially when compared to the zero percent reduction in the control group that spent the same two weeks doing relaxation training. What’s more, brain imaging of smokers in the meditation group found a boost in activity in their respective anterior cingulates and prefrontal cortexes: the two parts of the brain that primarily confront self-control.
Since "mindfulness meditation involves a systematic training of attention and self-control with an attitude of acceptance and openness to internal and external experiences, according to the study, it can be considered a valid tool in "coping with these addiction symptoms and with the accompanied negative emotion and stress activity." Other studies have also demonstrated meditation’s ability to aid in the recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.
Meditating every day can alter a cancer survivor’s cells
Everyday life is stressful, but cancer survivors face even more anxiety as they have the additional worry of potential disease recurrence. Managing this anxiety is certainly easier said than done, but a groundbreaking study published in the American Cancer Society Journal showed that meditation can not only relieve a survivor’s intense worry but also change the structure of his or her cells.
In an astonishing find, researchers discovered that the telemeres — or the "protein caps at the end of our chromosomes that determine how quickly a cell ages," as explained by Science Alert — "stayed the same length in breast cancer survivors who meditated" as part of a regular routine over the course of three months versus the telomeres of survivors who did not practice. In fact, those survivors’ telomeres were actually shortened. Scientists have long believed that shorter telomeres are associated with disease of all kinds, whereas longer ones are thought to have a more protective effect.
"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," researcher Linda E. Carlson of the University of Calgary said of the results.
Meditating every day may help you naturally control pain
Chronic pain is sadly a common problem in the United States, affecting approximately 50 million adults, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the wake of an opioid crisis, doctors are looking to other means of treatment to help patients manage their pain.
Traditional painkillers work by altering the "molecular events engaging the opioid receptors in the brain," The Journal of Neuroscience highlighted. But researchers found that through its blend of intentional breathing and singular focus, mindfulness meditation can diminish pain without affecting the brain’s opioid receptors. Furthermore, brain scans conducted in the study showed "similar brain areas are activated during both mindfulness meditation and pain-modulation techniques mediated by opioid receptors." When the scientists "blocked the opioid receptors by naloxone during meditation, they discovered that naloxone failed to block the pain-relief effect of mindfulness meditation." Mind over matter, indeed.
By meditating every day, you can reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are two gastrointestinal disorders that can cause stomach pain and irregular bowel activity — and both conditions are thought to be worsened by stress and anxiety. However, a study cited by The Harvard Gazette found that a nine-week relaxation response training program — which includes extensive meditation practice — can dramatically relieve the symptoms of both these conditions and vastly improve a patient’s overall outlook.
"What is novel about our study is demonstration of the impact of a mind/body intervention on the genes controlling inflammatory factors that are known to play a major role in IBD and possibly in IBS," Braden Kuo, coauthor of the study and Boston-based gastroenterologist, explained to the publication. Remarkably, the relaxation response was found to actually lower the expression of many genes that are associated with the inflammatory effects of IBD.
If you meditate every day, you may be better able to control your asthma
As noted by Verywell Health, stress can cause inflammation, which can in turn trigger an attack in those suffering from asthma. It is no surprise, then, that many patients and parents of asthmatics turn to meditation as a means of relieving stress and stopping subsequent inflammation.
However, focusing on your breathing can seem counterintuitive to a person with asthma, explained Asthma.net, so you can feel free to find a different subject on which to place your focus. The site suggested going for a stroll and "focusing on the feeling of your feet hitting the ground. You can meditate while listening to music, focusing on listening for parts of the song that you haven’t heard before." Or, the site suggested, you could simply perform a "quick check-in with your body" at a few different moments throughout the day. In short, it is more about getting out of your head and finding some inner serenity.
When you meditate every day during pregnancy, you help prepare your body for labor
Pregnancy takes a toll on the body, naturally, but it can also be taxing on the mind and spirit. Meditation can help alleviate some of the stress many expecting women experience and help them get in tune with their feelings. As noted by Healthline, high levels of stress have been associated with preterm delivery or low birth weight, so it’s no surprise that many doctors recommend that their pregnant patients practice some degree of mindfulness.
Furthermore, many different types of relaxing meditation can help with the array of unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and sleeplessness, explained What to Expect. But, perhaps most useful of all, meditation can prepare the body for labor and delivery. Using deep breathing techniques in conjuction with meditative practice "can help to soften and relax the central nervous system during childbirth, improve your labor experience and reduce your perceptions of the pain and length of labor," according to What to Expect.
Meditating every day can improve your immune system
Chronic stress can lead to inflammation — a major culprit behind lots of different ailments and diseases. Ultimately, it can also cause a decline in your immunological health, as noted by the Cleveland Clinic’s HealthEssentials. Citing mounting evidence, the publication explained that "training the immune system through stress reduction can be done through practicing what some have called mind-body medicine." While it’s been proven that "even a single day of mindfulness training can have a tangible effect on the way our genes are turned on and off," these effects take patience, practice, and consistency.
Studies involving patients diagnosed with HIV found that T lymphocyte cell count — "a standard immune cell signal of disease progression" — was either increased or experienced a "buffered" decline after regular practice of mindfulness meditation. Since the T cell count drops as the disease progresses, this is an encouraging find; meditation can be a helpful tool when used in tandem with medication and other traditional treatments.
You may find yourself in a better mood if you meditate every day
Since meditation has been proven to have significant physical, mental, and emotional benefits to those who practice it, it’s also logical — if not downright obvious — to say that it’s a habit that will make you happier.
Meditation’s ability to boost one’s mood has been most obvious in those individuals suffering from depression. "Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude," John W. Denninger of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine explained to Harvard Health Publishing.
The publication noted that one of meditation’s main goals is to help people realize that they don’t have to act on feelings of negativity. Simply by breathing or using a mantra, you can quell that critical inner monologue. Dr. Denninger elaborated, saying that this type of focused meditation can enable people to create space between themselves and "negative thoughts or stressful feelings, allowing you to recognize that, although they affect you, they are not you." And can’t we all use a little bit of that?