Gone are the days when meditation was a practice reserved mostly for yogis and Buddhist monks. Meditation is now a phenomenon that has transgressed set notions – thanks in part to the ubiquitous nature of apps like Calm and Headspace – most people have heard of meditation, even if they’ve never tried it. Celebrities such as the Beatles, Madonna and Oprah Winfrey have also played their part in helping meditation permeate into the mainstream.
In fact, the global meditation market was worth $1.2 billion in 2017, and this figure is set to reach $2 billion by 2022. Yet, while trying to find a balance between app subscriptions, self-reflection, hectic schedules and time constraints, if you’ve ever thought 'does meditation really work?', then you're not alone!
Several styles of meditation exist, with transcendental, mindfulness, mantra and gratitude meditation being three of the most widely practised. Any form of meditation can prove to be challenging – especially in the beginning. But science shows that if you find the right form of meditation for you, and be consistent with your practice – then meditation really does work. Let’s take a look at the proof after briefly revisiting some of meditation's benefits to the body.
While different forms of meditation exist, they all have a common aim – to train your mind to concentrate, and to direct your focus solely on one subject, be that the present moment in mindfulness meditation, or a mantra in mantra meditation.
Sofa, so good! Research to date suggests meditation does work shutterstock/fizkes
Thus, meditation is essentially a vital exercise for the brain that builds up your ability to ward away distractions and stay engaged. The more focused you are, the lesser you react to external distractions. This also teaches you to calm your senses and react in a sensible and productive manner.
There are other science-based benefits of meditation too – it helps alleviate stress, improves heart health and boosts brain power. The key parameter, nonetheless, is that one needs to be consistent with their chosen meditation practice in order to begin seeing any short-term or long-term benefits.
Indeed, science shows that consistent meditation rewires the brain by increasing the density of regions related to self-awareness, concentration, memory, and compassion. At the same time, the sections of the brain linked to stress and anxiety tend to become less dense.
There's been growing scientific interest in meditation in the past decade and the research clearly supports the idea that meditation does work. Let's take a look at some key studies.
A 2012 trial study by Goyal M et al. at Johns Hopkins University on more than 3,500 participants revealed that meditation could play a moderate role in managing cortisol, the stress hormone known to create responses like disrupted sleep, impaired judgment, rise in depressive thoughts and anxiety.
Another experiment by David M Levy et al. at the University of Washington found that mindful meditation can help reduce distractions and eliminate the tendency to multitask, thus helping individuals stay focused and feel more positive emotion regarding their task performance.
“All the recent science-backed evidence shows that meditation really does work – if you’re consistent with your practice.”
As for long-term benefits, meditation has been linked directly to a healthier and more preserved ageing brain. A study conducted by UCLA found that participants that practised meditation for an average of 20 years had more brain grey matter volume (responsible for processing information) than non-meditators.
And a systematic literature review by Amy Gimson et al. at University of Southampton and University College London implied that meditation could be an essential aid to prevent or alleviate the symptoms of anxiety for individuals in their 40s or above, thus lowering the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
Several new meditators mistakenly assume that they will begin to experience the full benefits of meditation within a few days. Others think of meditation as an over-the-counter instant pain-relief medicine, or as a cure-all for all their problems.
Using guided mediation apps work for many people shutterstock/Africa Studio
The truth is that meditation is not the quick-fix one may be seeking, and there's no set time period for it to start ‘working’. In fact, while some beginners may start noticing certain benefits immediately, most people would need to practice meditation on a regular basis to be able to appreciate its advantages.
The key here is to not overthink it and select a suitable meditation practice which you can perform consistently. There’s no set time for how long you should meditate – it’s ideal to observe how long you can manage or feel the need to meditate, especially when you’re just starting out.
It’s best to start small, and to not jump into extended meditation programs right away. Meditating for just three to five minutes has been proven to be beneficial. Finishing five-minute meditation sits initially for say, a week, will reward you with a feeling of accomplishment early on, allowing you to believe that you’re ready for longer meditation sessions.
A 2012 study showed that meditating for 11 minutes regularly for eight weeks resulted in improved mood and sleep, lower levels of perceived stress and reduced depressive thoughts in patients with cognitive impairment, and their caregivers.
“The truth is that meditation is not the quick-fix one may be seeking, and there's no set time period for it to start 'working'”.
Indeed, so far other studies point to the idea that consistency of meditation – not necessarily the duration – is key for you to start experiencing its benefits. You may find even one meditation session to be incredible, but the real power comes from being able to keep at it every single day.
Meditating is a simple process – it doesn’t require any magic tricks or hacks. All you need is a quiet place to sit in and concentrate. If you find it challenging to meditate amidst a chaotic day, we suggest a morning meditation upon waking is a calm and peaceful way to start your day before it becomes busy.
With time and practice, you’ll find it easier to keep thoughts and urges at bay, and your ability to concentrate will get stronger. Installing meditation apps on your phone may help you create a more suitable environment for meditation, and their guided meditations might make it easier for you to concentrate. Like we mentioned earlier, there’s no set rule or method for meditation, except that you should be consistent with your practice.
All the recent science-backed evidence shows that meditation really does work – if you’re consistent with your practice. If you’re still not convinced, we would encourage you to try it for yourself and experience the benefits.
Start small, as we’ve suggested. Even finding the time to meditate for two to five minutes every day will enable you to train your brain. As Arianna Huffington, co-founder of Huffington Post – who has been meditating since she was 13 says: “starting with just five minutes of meditation every day will open the door to creating a powerful habit, and the many proven benefits it brings.”
Main image: shutterstock/Koldunov
Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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