If you’re someone who wants to reduce stress and anxiety, appreciate the subtle beauty and value of life, and strive to be the best you can be, you’ll be keen to learn the science-based health benefits of mindfulness meditation.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”
~ Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is simply a moment-to-moment awareness of your experience, without judgement. It’s a state that can help you feel calmer, less anxious, less stressed, more focused, and more in control of your reactions to the world around you.
There are certain practices that can cultivate mindfulness including yoga and tai chi, but one of the most strongly researched and proven ways (that also tends to work really well) is mindfulness meditation.
As of writing this post, there are close to 2500 studies on mindfulness meditation, which has shown promising results in alleviating “depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and substance abuse, as well as emerging efforts related to attention disorders, traumatic stress, dysregulated eating, and serious mental illness.”
In this post, you’ll discover five scientifically-backed benefits of mindfulness meditation along with practice techniques to help you bring more calmness, clarity and concentration into your life.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation?
In today’s fast-paced world, the pressures of work and life contribute to and aggravate stress. Learning how to control stress and minimizing the damage it can do to the mind and the body is important to maintain overall health and well-being.
So, it’s great to know that a research review of 40+ clinical trials demonstrated that mindfulness meditation programs showed “small improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain with moderate evidence and small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.”
Another study showed that mindfulness meditation can help lower the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, by “training the mind to focus on immediate experience,” rather than “ruminate about the past or worry about the future, thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release.”
Researchers discovered that even short-term mindfulness meditation training for as little as 4 days “significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning,” enhancing the ability to sustain attention and concentration. Other benefits included “reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness.”
The results of another study suggested that “attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention.”
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, night after night, you’ll appreciate the beneficial impact mindfulness meditation can have on promoting better sleep.
For those suffering from chronic insomnia, it’s refreshing to know that “mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia.”
Alleviates Chronic Pain
Millions of people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, and if you’re one of them you know how debilitating it can be. Most people who suffer from chronic pain, day after day, look to alternatives to medication to help them cope.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation “has been found to significantly reduce pain in experimental and clinical settings” and that it “significantly attenuates pain through multiple, unique mechanisms - an important consideration for the millions of chronic pain patients seeking narcotic-free, self-facilitated pain therapy.”
Mindfulness meditation has also shown to have a profound effect on the “psychological aspects on living with chronic pain, improving associated depression and quality of life.”
Feeling uneasy, fearful and anxious? We all experience anxiety at some point, but if you feel more anxious or worried than usual, it’s time to take action.
Research shows that even just one session of mindfulness meditation can help to reduce anxiety, and has a direct impact on lowering the risk of heart disease for those with moderate anxiety. Participants of the study also “reported continuing to use mindfulness after the initial session and anxiety scores were reduced even further one week later.”
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
There’s no one way to practice mindfulness meditation, but the goal of whichever technique you use is to achieve a state of focused relaxation by intentionally paying attention to your thoughts, emotions and sensations, without judgement.
You can learn to meditate on your own, or follow along using an app or video, or join a group session. Meditation practices may involve focusing on your breathing, repeating a mantra or phrase, and allowing continued waves of thoughts to simply come and go.
Below are a few mindfulness meditation techniques you can use:
Focused breathing — Find a quiet place to sit for a few moments and focus on your natural breathing. You can choose to silently repeat a mantra or a single word. As thoughts come and go, simply return your focus back on your breath or mantra.
Be aware of sensations — Be aware of each part of your body from head to toe, and notice subtle body sensations such as an itch, tense areas, tingling sensations without judgement, simply letting them pass.
Sensory awareness — Pay attention to different sounds, smells, sights, and touches around you. Categorize a bird chirping under “sound” or the sweet scent of Palo Santo burning under “smell,” again without judgement and let them go.
Emotions — Don’t reject emotions, but allow them to be present, again without judgement. Categorize emotions by naming them such as “anger,” “sadness,” “surprise,” “joy,” “frustration.” Accept their presence, and let them come and go.
As you do this practice, you’ll notice that all of the above makes up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to hold on to any thought, emotion or sensation, or latch onto the past or the future — but rather be a spectator of what comes and goes and discover what produces feelings of suffering or feelings of well-being.
Although the above might not sound relaxing at all, trust us, as you stay with it, mindfulness meditation can become the key to greater self-awareness and happiness, empowering you to practice acceptance, and making it easier for you to accept whatever comes your way.