If you were to be told that you could take one small (completely natural and side-effect-free) pill a day, which would boost your immune system, reduce your stress levels, help you sleep better, boost your self-esteem and improve your skin - would you not want to take it?  In fact, many people would pay lots of money just to get their hands on a pill like that. 

There is a vast body of research which demonstrates that the benefits of meditation include all of those things which taking this magic pill would achieve.  Yet very few people meditate because they believe that it has to involve just sitting cross legged, thinking about nothing.  There are actually many different forms of meditation and you can choose to practice whichever suits you best.  It is also possible to harness the benefits of a meditation practice by incorporating Mindfulness techniques into your daily life.  If you would like to learn more about meditation and Mindfulness, we are holding a free open session on Mindfulness on the 7th August which you can sign up for here: https://www.byrnedean.com/event/mindfulness-open-course/

Meditation can benefit mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being in a number of different ways.  The various techniques used in different forms of meditation require a focus of attention which induces a relaxed state and this in turn brings about the physiological changes which can improve health and well-being. Scientific advancements have resulted in technology which demonstrates that meditation brings about changes in the spectral band frequencies that are emitted by the brain (Lagopoulos et al., 2009) [1]. These changes, together which the physiological changes which they stimulate, are responsible for the health benefits that have been reported to arise from certain meditation practices.  

Meditation can improve mental well-being and reduce the effects of stress.  Several studies have demonstrated that certain forms of meditation can reduce stress levels and therefore improve well-being (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992) [2] (Kao et al., 2014) [3].  Meditation achieves this by reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body (Turakitwanakan et al., 2013) [4].  Meditation has also been shown, in certain circumstances to help people with specific mental health problems.  For example, a systematic review of studies examining the benefits of meditation on mental health demonstrated the efficacy of meditative techniques for patients coping with medical and psychological problems.  The review concluded that there were benefits for those suffering with premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms. Benefit was also demonstrated for mood and anxiety disorders, as well as autoimmune illnesses.

Meditation can also be beneficial to physical health as it has been shown to have the potential to boost the immune system. There are several studies which demonstrate that meditation may be able to improve immune function by increasing antibody count or delaying the progress of viral infections.  For example, one study demonstrated that 48 employees, after being given weekly meditation training for 8 weeks, had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the control group (as well as having higher levels than they started off with before the study) (Davidson et al., 2003) [6].  Another study conducted by the university UCLA, demonstrated that HIV positive patients who practice mindful meditation slow down the reduction of the immune cells that are usually destroyed as a result of the condition (Creswell et al., 2008) [7].

The combined stress-reducing and immune boosting qualities of meditation can also result in many improvements to the physical appearance of meditators, which in turn can boost confidence and therefore mental health.  For example, studies have demonstrated that a lot of the common skin complaints that we see day to day, such as adult acne, psoriasis and eczema can be exacerbated when the sufferer is chronically stressed (Heller et el., 2011) [8] (Chiu et al., 2003) [9].   Such conditions also often arise as a result of a weakened immune system.  As meditation can both boost the immune system as well as reduce stress it can also help to manage skin disorders.  In one study, mindfulness meditation helped to clear the skin of psoriasis sufferers (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1998) [10].  Another study conducted in 2005, demonstrated that patients with a skin condition called dermatomyositis, were able to heal the condition faster using transcendental meditation (Collins & Dunn, 2005) [11]. 

Meditation may also help to slow the rate of cell ageing.  We often think of stress as being incredibly ageing and some studies have shown that dealing with life stresses can result in accelerated ageing of our cells (Epel et al., 2004) [12].  As meditation can help to reduce stress and re-balance hormones (including through cortisol reduction), various studies have suggested that meditation may be able to slow the rate of cellular ageing (Epel et al., 2009) [13]. 

As meditation has been shown to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a further physical benefit of meditation is that it helps to reduce the likelihood of stress related weight gain. Research has been done to demonstrate that high stress levels and therefore high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to weight gain (especially abdominal weight gain) (Moyer et al., 1994) [18].  If elevated cortisol can cause weight gain and meditation reduces cortisol levels, meditation could help to reduce the likelihood of stress-related weight gain.  Several studies have also demonstrated that mindfulness meditation may be able to help those with obesity-related eating disorders to control their erratic eating patterns (O et al., 2015) [14]. 

At the same time as improving mental health, meditation can also help to improve emotional well-being, improving self-esteem and helping meditators to manage anger.  Studies have also demonstrated that meditation may help to improve memory (Khalsa, 2015) [19].  Certain forms of meditation also encourage meditators to engage more in the present moment and allow for a heightened sense of awareness. 

Therefore, many studies have demonstrated that meditation can have a wide range of benefits.  Whilst you may have always thought meditation was boring and you would prefer to just have a drink instead...would you really want to turn your back on something that could significantly improve your mental, physical and emotional health as well as help you to look younger?...

[1] Lagopoulos, J., Xu, J., Rasmussen, I., Vik, A., Malhi, G., Eliassen, C., Arnstsen, I., Saether, J., Hollup, S., Holen, S., Davanger, S. & Ellingsen. (2009), Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditationThe Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 15, Issue 11, November 18, 2009, 1187-1192: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19922249 

[2] Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. &  Santorelli, S. (1992), Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disordersAmerican Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 149, Issue 7, July 1992, 936-943: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1609875

[3] Kao, H., Zhu, L., Chao, A., Chen, H., Liu, I. & Zhang, M. (2014) Calligraphy and meditation for stress reduction: an experimental comparison, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 7, 47: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928403 

[4] Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C. & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013) Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical studentsJ Med Assoc Thai, 2013 Jan, 96 Suppl 1, S90-5: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724462 

[5] Arias, J., Karen, S., Bangra, A. & Trestman, R. (2006), The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2006 Oct, 12(8), 817-832: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17034289

[6] Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K. & Sheridan J. (2003) Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditationPsychosomatic Medicine, 2003 Jul-Aug, 65(4), 564-70: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12883106 

[7] Creswell, J., Myers, H., Cole, S. & Irwin, M. (2008) Brain Behav Immun 2008: http://www.anticancerbook.com/post/Mindfulness-meditation-boosts-the-immune-system.html 

[8] Heller, M., Lee, ES. & Koo, JY. (2011) Stress as an influencing factor in psoriasisSkin Therapy Letter, 2011 May, 16(5), 1-4: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21611682 

[9] Chiu, A., Chon, SY. & Kimball, AB. (2003) The response of skin disease to stress: changes in the severity of acne vulgaris as affected by examination stressArch Dermatol 2003, 139(7), 897https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26862380 

[10] Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M., Cropley, TG., Hosmer, D. & Bernhard, JD. (1998) Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA)Psychosomatic Medicine, 1998 Sep-Oct, 60(5), 625-32: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9773769 

[11] Collins, M. & Dunn, LF. (2005) The effects of meditation and visual imagery on an immune system disorder: dermatomyositisAlternative and Complementary Therapies, December 2005, 11(6), 275-280: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15865493 

[12] Epel, E., Blackburn, E., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F., Adler, NE., Morrow, J. & Cawthon, R. (2004) Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stressProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2004 Dec 7, 101(49), 17312-5: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15574496 

[13] Epel, E., Daubenmier, J., Moskowitz, J., Folkman, S. & Blackburn, E. (2009) Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeresAnn N Y Acad Sci, 2009 Aug, 1172, 34https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057175/ 

[14] OMindfulness-Based Interventions for Obesity-Related Eating Behaviors: A Literature ReviewObes Rev., 2014 Jun, 15(6), 453https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046117/ 

[15] Nidich, S., Rainforth, M., Haaga, DA., Hagelin, J., Salerno, JW., Travis, F., Tanner, M., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S. & Schneider, R. (2009) A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adultsAm J Hypertens, (2009) 22 (12), 1326-1331: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19798037 

[16] Tooley, G., Armstrong, S., Norman, T. & Sali, A. (2000) Acute increases in night-time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditationBiological Psychology, Volume 53, Issue 1, 1 May 2000, Pages 69: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10876066 

[17] la Cour, P. & Petersen, M. (2015) Effects of mindfulness meditation on chronic pain: a randomized controlled trial641-52: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25376753 

[18] Moyer, A., Rodin, J., Grilo, CM., Cummings, N., Larson, LM. & Rebuff, M. (1994) Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in womenObesity A Research Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, May 1994, Pages 255: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16353426 

[19] Khalsa, D. (2015) Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer's Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence StandsJournal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2015, 48(1), 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923750/