The word meditation originates from the Latin word ‘meditatum’ that means ‘to ponder’. The earliest available evidence of people practicing meditation dates back to 1500 BC. Meditation was practiced at this time in history as an integral part of the Vedic or early Hindu tradition. The form evolved further when Chinese Taoists and Indian Buddhists developed their own form of meditation between the 6th and 4th century BC. In the west, the earliest traditions of meditation as an everyday practice can be traced back to the times of Philo of Alexandria, the Desert Fathers of the Middle East, and Saint Augustine.
Since then meditation has expanded its roots to different cultures, different societies, and different belief systems at a steady pace. However, over the past decade, the practice of meditation has witnessed an unmatchable growth. The latest available data suggests that since 2012, the number of people practicing meditation has almost tripled. It is also notable that a significant segment of the meditation-adopters has committed themselves to the practice on a long-term basis. 7 in 10 people who picked up meditation have continued to remain engaged to it even after two years since they started.
These facts suggest that its practitioners have realized the benefits of meditation. And that brings us to the pivotal question of this article: what are the benefits of meditation?
#1. Reduced Stress
Mental and physical stress results in the release of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, instigates the release of Cytokines. The increased release of Cytokines in the human body results in disrupted sleep, depression, and anxiety, increased blood pressure, and mental fatigue.
Meditation and meditation-induced mindfulness combat these after-effects of stress by reducing Cytokines’ inflammatory response. Additionally, meditation also provides relief from a lot of stress-related side effects in the body such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, etc. Studies show that mindfulness meditation practices are capable of reducing PTSD by 70%.
#2. Improves Emotional Health and Well-Being
Practicing meditation correctly has a big role to play in improving one’s self-image and self-worth. Meditation makes us focussed and mindful. With increased mindfulness, our mind becomes able to create a clear picture of our internal emotional dynamics; emotions that drive our actions. A large scale study conducted in 2005 scientifically established that increased mindfulness through meditation helps us to reduce the likelihood of developing mood-related disorders. Some forms of meditation also encourage practitioners to make progress on the path of positive thinking.
#3. Anxiety Control
Meta-analysis with a group of more than 1,300 adults showed that meditation proves super-effective in controlling anxiety disorders of the highest order. Along with helping to cope with high-level anxiety disorders, meditation also assists to combat generalized anxiety disorder and stress reactivity. Increased levels of anxiety often become the reason for inflammatory pain. A study done with 47 people suffering from chronic pain indicated that introducing a continuous practice of meditation for as less as eight weeks can show positive results. The program not only led to reduced feelings of pain but also helped decrease depression and anxiety. Another study showed that mindfulness meditation helps to reduce back pain by 30%.
#4. Enhances Empathy and Improves Cognition
Certain forms of compassion meditation activate some specific neural connections to our brain that work as the source of empathy and kindness. Meditation helps us to reach a deep state of flow. Inducing such deep states of flow inside the human body drives one’s persona to become more connected to society and become more affectionate and amicable.
Our professional progress often gets stalled due to a reduction in our problem-solving and decision-making capabilities with age. Studies have shown with ample evidence that meditation, both mindful and transcendent, helps us to unclog these capabilities by improving our cognitive capabilities.
#5. Combats Attention Deficiency and Dementia
The specific form of focused-attention meditation helps us to combat the problems of attention deficiency. Studies show that practicing the correct form of meditation starts showing results within the first four days. It has also been experimentally proven that practicing meditation regularly improves one’s performance on visual tasks. Another study proved with empirical data that practicing meditation for as short as a span of 13 minutes per day brings significant improvement in attention-spans within eight weeks.
As applicable for improving attention-span in the short-run, practicing meditation also helps to reduce the possibility of dementia or significant memory loss in old age. There are forms of meditation that work on a mantra or chant with repetitive motions of fingers that help to keep the memory robust. Practitioners who are well-versed with this form of meditation performs significantly better on neuropsychological tests than others.
#6. Combats Addiction
Meditation helps addicts to break their dependencies on external stimuli. By increasing self-awareness, meditation helps people to identify the triggers of addiction first. Then, by increasing self-control, meditation helps addicts to restrain themselves from getting activated by those triggers. Empirical data obtained from one study showed that the application of transcendental meditation among victims of alcohol-use disorder resulted in lower cravings. This improvement was triggered by reduced levels of stress and psychological distress that can be achieved through meditation.
Apart from disorders related to the use of drugs or alcohol, meditation also helps in controlling food cravings and helps reduce the habits of binge eating.
Driven by all these positives stated above, the size of the meditation-practicing population across the world has been increasing at a steady pace. Moderate estimates suggest that the size of the global population that practices meditation regularly may be as high as 500 million. Almost 40% of the adult US population meditate at least once a week. Trends indicate that these numbers are only going to grow in the days to come.
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