The Scientific Benefits of Meditation
14 Ways Meditation Rewires Your Brain for Happiness, Peace and Success
This is a guest post by Ian Luebbers of Minerva
I stand on stage in front of a packed room. My heart is pounding in my ears.
In twenty seconds, I have to walk up to the microphone and give an introduction to the audience. A horrible feeling is rising in my chest.
Terror. I feel terror.
I am an introvert. “I don’t do crowded venues,” I told myself after I was asked to give this introduction. I would rather take a plunge into the Arctic Sea than speak to a room full of people. But I pushed my fear away. “Sure. I’ll do it.”
Now that fear is bubbling up again. I need an escape. A safe place.
I close my eyes for a brief few seconds and focus only on my breath.
Breathe in. Breath out. The air tickles my nostrils.
Immediately, calm overtakes me. My heart rate slows. My nervousness turns to excitement. I step up to the microphone and open my mouth, and my voice is calm and powerful. I can do this.
For the past three years, I have been meditating every day. In this short time, meditation has profoundly transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. Whenever I am scared or nervous or anxious, I simply close my eyes and breathe and within seconds I enter a state of calm. This ability alone is worth more than anything money could buy. And this is just one of the countless life-changing benefits of meditation.
If you’ve ever read the book Bridge to Terabithia (or seen the movie), then you are familiar with Terabithia – an imaginary world that the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, create as a safe haven. It is somewhere they can go to be free from the cares and worries of the world.
Meditation has given me a Terabithia. I have created a clearing of calm and tranquility that I can enter into within seconds whenever I feel the need. I have a refuge no matter where I am or what I am doing. The worries of the world no longer threaten me.
Except this mental place isn’t imaginary, and it isn’t populated with trolls and wild creatures – it is as real as the world we live in.
Since starting my meditation habit, my brain has literally been rewired for happiness, peace and success. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- I rarely become angry.
- I find happiness in unexpected places.
- I form deeper relationships and build friendships more easily.
By far the largest benefit, however, is that a deep, serene calm and peace is slowly permeating into every area of my life.
At first meditating felt unusual – like I was stepping out of normal life and doing something that most people find strange. I soon realized, however, that this wasn’t true – millions of people meditate and many successful people attribute part of their success to meditation.
Here’s proof that meditation isn’t just for monks.
Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, Angelina Jolie… Any of these names sound familiar? All of these are famous meditators.
This list alone is powerful, but maybe you need a little more convincing that meditation is something you should try. Here is a short list of famous people who rely on meditation:
- Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Misty-May Trainor and Derek Jeter are just a few successful athletes who rely on meditation to get them in the zone. Here is a list of more famous athletes who meditate.
- Rupert Murdoch, Russell Simons and Arianna Huffington all practice meditation. Here is a list of more outrageously successful business executives who meditate.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eva Mendez are just a couple more celebrities that make meditation a daily habit. Here is a longer list of surprising celebrities who meditate.
And now for a few different types:
- Click here for a list of famous people who practice mindfulness meditation.
- Click here for a longer list of famous people who practice Transcendental Meditation.
- Click here for a list of famous people who do yoga.
I could go on, but you get the point. The most successful people in the world meditate and there is a reason why. Science backs up the effectiveness of meditation and has revealed an incredible array of benefits.
The Mind-Blowing Science of How Meditation Rewires Your Brain
At first, I couldn’t believe that a simple daily meditation practice affected my life so powerfully. So, I started doing research and devoured all of the scientific studies on meditation that I could find. I was amazed at what I found – it turns out meditation can transform nearly every area of your life.
Here are fourteen scientifically proven ways meditation rewires your brain for happiness, peace and success.
#1: Meditation reduces stress
Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practiced over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. If you want your stress levels to plummet, meditation may be the answer.
#2: Meditation increases your sense of well-being
Want to fill your life with happiness and energy? Mindfulness meditation increases your psychological functioning and in the process improves your sense of well-being. Yoga and tai chi have been found to do this also – according to studies, they have significant therapeutic effects and increase quality of life when practiced regularly.
#3: Meditation increases your sense of connectedness and empathy
Feeling a little disconnected from those around you? Try compassion meditation. Lovingkindess meditation (sometimes called Metta) is a compassion-based meditation that enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Not a hugging person? You just might become one after trying metta!
#4: Meditation improves focus
Would you love to add razor-edge focus to your life? Research shows that meditation improves cognition and increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus. One study tested a variety of different meditation types, including Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation and Hindu Meditation, and found that they all improve focus by varying degrees. I used to think coffee was the best way to get focused – now I just meditate.
Sources: ResearchGate, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
#5: Meditation improves relationships
Want to strengthen your relationships? Meditation has been shown to better your ability to relate to others. How? It improves your ability to empathize, and it hones your ability to pick up on cues indicating how others are feeling. Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by any negative people in your life.
#6: Meditation makes you more creative
Ever feel like you could use some more inspiration? Meditation increases your creativity, according to various studies. It’s no wonder that famous creatives like Yoko Ono, David Lynch and Marina Abramović make meditation a major part of their life.
#7: Meditation improves memory
Whether you want to become a memory champion or you simply want to remember the name of that guy who works down the hall, meditation can help. Research has shown that it improves your ability to memorize things and to store and consolidate new information.
#8: Meditation improve your ability to make decisions
There’s a reason high powered executives turn to meditation to help them do their jobs better. Studies have found that both mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation help you make better decisions by improving the functioning of your brain’s decision-making centers. If you want to start cultivating your inner executive, give meditation a try.
#9: Meditation helps people overcome addictions
Do you know someone who has struggled with addiction? One of the most beautiful effects of meditation is that it can help people overcome powerful addictions. One fascinating study found that Vipassana meditation can be incredibly effective at helping people overcoming alcohol and drug related addictions, and similar effects have been found for various types of meditation.
#10: Meditation improves cardiovascular health
Want to get some of the benefits of exercise by sitting in one place? Researchers have found that both mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
#11: Meditation enhances your immune system
Do you get sick more often than you would like? Believe it or not, a variety of different types of meditation, from mindfulness to yoga, have been shown to strengthen the human immune system and make you more resistant to viruses and infections. Take that, cold season.
#12: Meditation helps you find “flow”
Have you ever felt totally, utterly absorbed in the moment? Maybe you were playing a sport or painting a picture, and the world around you just seemed to vanish. This is called “flow,” and is a rare state where the human mind is operating in complete harmony with itself, when you reach a challenge perfectly suited to your abilities. Meditation can help you reach this amazing state of mind, according to some fascinating research.
#13: Meditation reduces physical and emotional pain (better than morphine)
Perhaps the most amazing benefit of meditation is that it has the capability to reduce mental and physical pain better than morphine. Yep, you read that right. That’s a pretty incredibly scientific finding.
#14: Meditation takes you towards enlightenment?
Traditionally, the goal of meditation is to reach Enlightenment, or a state of perfect happiness and understanding. Can you reach enlightenment by meditating? Who’s to say? Many people say yes, although science still doesn’t have an answer. If you’re curious, there is a podcast dedicated to interviewing people who claim to have reached some stage of enlightenment called Buddha at the Gas Pump. Check it out here.
Want to read about even more benefits of meditation? Here is a fantastic article published on the site Live and Dare that recaps 76 benefits of meditation, and here is an amazing research summary put together by the app Headspace.
How Do I Start?
With so many different types of meditation, it can be hard to decide how to get started. To help, I’ve provided a short list of popular types of meditation, plus a method to help you find one that suits your personality.
Most of the studies summarized above reference mindfulness and transcendental meditation, however this is simply because they are the most widely researched types. Other types of meditation may be just as effective, maybe even more effective for your personally. In fact, simply picking the most popular type of meditation might not be a good idea. One study found that the type of meditation you practice makes a huge difference in whether you keep meditating. This means that it is important to find a type of meditation that you actually enjoy and can see yourself continuing to practice.
Different types of meditation have different effects, sometimes subtle, sometimes drastic. They all, however, can radically transform your life in positive ways if you make them a daily practice. Below is a list of nine of the major types of meditation, with a brief description of each so you can decide whether it could be right for you.
Nine Major Types of Meditation
Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment (Zon Zabat-Zinn)
Mindfulness stems from Vipassana meditation, which in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality.
Zen meditation or zazen meditation (which translated literally means “seated meditation”) involves focusing the mind on one thing. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.
Get started here: Zen Mountain Monastery Zazen Instructions
Metta is another Pali word that literally translated means “Lovingkindness.” Its goal is to cultivate a feeling of goodwill towards all living beings, starting with oneself and expanding the circle of compassion outwards.
Heartfulness is based on ancient Yogic science of Raja Yoga – Yoga of the Mind. Science of People reader Amrutha reached out and provided a beautiful description of Heartfulness for this article:
“When we strengthen the connection between the Heart and the Mind with regular practice of Heartfulness, we learn to maximize the efficiency of the Mind and begin to feel the beauty, joy, and wonders of the Heart.”
Get started here: Experience Heartfulness
5. Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation originated in the Vedic tradition of India, and involves the repetition of a sound or phrase, called a mantra. Acem meditation is an example of a secularized type of mantra meditation that originated in Norway. Typically, in mantra meditation you allow your thoughts to drift freely rather than making any effort to suppress or control them.
6. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental meditation is a highly popular form of mantra meditation practiced by Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Jerry Seinfeld and many other celebrities. The goal of Transcendental Meditation is to “transcend” thought and reach a state of deep brainwave coherence.
Get started here: Learn TM
7. Christian Meditation
Christian meditation is a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to become aware of and reflect upon the revelations of God. If you are a Christian looking to add some of the benefits of meditation into your life, this may be the ideal option for you.
Get started here: How to Meditate on God
Didn’t know you could meditate while moving? Yoga is an ancient form of exercise and meditation that comes from India and has a whole slew of scientifically backed benefits. Recently secularized, yoga has made a surge in the West, but make no mistake: it’s been around for thousands of years, and it comes from a rich and diverse spiritual tradition.
Get started here: Yoga 101
9. Qigong/Tai Chi
Qigong is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation used for health, spirituality and martial arts training. Tai Chi is one type of qigong that is a Chinese martial art. It is practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits.
There are many more forms of meditation, and all can be tremendously beneficial. If you want to explore even more types, here is a longer list of 23 types of meditation.
How do I pick the best type of meditation for me?
So, how do you find a type of meditation that you enjoy and are likely to continue practicing? It’s easy to get overwhelmed with so many different varieties.
The solution? Run a meditation experiment.
Pick two or three different types that you think might be suitable for you. Then practice each for a week, journal your progress and at the end of the three weeks pick one to go forward with.
This will ensure that you find a type of meditation that is suitable for your personality type and that you enjoy enough to continue.
Here are two great guides if you want more resources to help you get started meditating:
In case you were curious…
Dying to know how me and Vanessa meditate? We thought you’d never ask…
Here’s how Vanessa meditates:
“I started learning to meditate with a free application called HeadSpace. They teach you to focus on breath. Once I got comfortable with that I tried walking meditations. I live right on a big forest and go hiking once per day so this was a really easy fit for me. The thing I have been trying recently are single word meditations. So once I get my breath nice and even I think about one word–it could be calm, or strength, or courage–whatever I feel I need in the moment. I find it is better than a nap or a cup of coffee in terms of energy and a daily reset. I will add one additional note here: don’t get frustrated if it is hard to turn off your thoughts. I used to (and sometimes still do) get really frustrated when I can’t seem to calm my mind. Eventually I have become ok with the fact that merely trying to calm my brain is helpful. So, be patient and gentle with yourself!”
Here’s how I meditate:
My current meditation routine is half an hour of mantra meditation every afternoon before lunch, plus three sessions of lovingkindness – morning, afternoon and evening. Mantra meditation helps me enter a state of deep relaxation and the lovingkindness punctuates my day with periods of guaranteed bliss. I have previously meditated anywhere from 5-90 minutes every day and have also practiced mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi at different times.
The ways to meditate are as varied as the benefits of meditation, and they all have the potential to transform your life in massively positive ways. A year from today will you be happier, healthier and more peaceful than you are now? If you meditate, then the answer is YES!
So pick a few types you like and get started with your meditation experiment!
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This post is guest was written by Ian Luebbers who is the founder of Minerva, a site dedicated to helping introverted entrepreneurs nail their pitches effortlessly and instantly build authentic connections with anyone in the room. You can get his free report Speak Like Steve Jobs: The Introvert’s Secret Guide to Nailing Your Next Business Pitch here.