What Does Meditation Do?

What Does Meditation Do?

First of all, to find the answer to the question, “What does meditation do?” we need first to understand that meditation is part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Most Westerners assume that yoga is simply the postures done at an organized yoga class; however, those postures, or asanas, are only one of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. 

Yoga actually means union or yoking. When we talk about union in this capacity, envision how one would bring two animals together by yoking them around the neck so they can travel in unison along the fields for plowing. 

In the case of meditation however, yoking, or union, actually refers to bringing ourselves back into alignment, or yoking, in body, mind and spirit. In essence, it can become the catalyst  to restoring ourselves to homeostasis in these three states of our human existence. 

One of the greatest benefits of meditation is that it can be practiced anywhere and at any time. But here are just a few of the many other scientifically proven benefits of what meditation can do:

Reduces Stress

Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.

Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. 

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. It helps your body deal with stressful situations. When we find ourselves in stressful situations, our brain triggers the release of cortisol through the sympathetic nervous system — the “fight, flight, or freeze” systemWhile the short-term release of cortisol can help you run quickly from danger, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps Over time, this can lead to an array of health issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, mood irregularities, and low energy levels. 

An overabundance of stress causes a harmful release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.

These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.

In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress 

Additionally, research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorders, and fibromyalgia and a whole host of other physical ailments which can be traced back to stress. 

Controls Anxiety

Meditation can reduce stress levels, which translates to less anxiety.

A meta-analysis including nearly 1,300 adults found that meditation may decrease anxiety. What’s very interesting is that this effect was strongest in those with the highest levels of anxiety Also, one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD for short, along with increasing positive self-statements and improving stress reactivity and coping.

Another study in 47 people with chronic pain found that completing an 8-week meditation program led to noticeable improvements in depression, anxiety, and pain. Additional research suggests that a variety of mindfulness and meditation exercises may reduce anxiety levels For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and the physical activity that accompanies it. Back to this notion of the yoking of body, mind and spirit. 

Promotes Emotional Health

Some forms of meditation can lead to improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life.

For example, one review of treatments given to more than 3,500 adults found that mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of depression (Similarly, a review of 18 studies showed that those practicing meditation experienced reduced symptoms of depression, compared with those in a control group.

Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. And unfortunately, depression is also fairly common. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 18.5 percent of American adults had symptoms of depression in any given 2-week period in 2019. 

Though depression and grief share some features, depression is different from grief felt after losing a loved one or sadness felt after a traumatic life event. Depression usually involves self-loathing or a loss of self-esteem, while grief typically does not.

In grief, positive emotions and happy memories of the deceased typically accompany feelings of emotional pain. In major depressive disorder, the feelings of sadness are constant.

People experience depression in different ways. It may interfere with your daily work, resulting in lost time and lower productivity. It can also influence relationships and some chronic health conditions.

Another study found that people who meditate experience fewer negative thoughts in response to viewing negative images, compared with those in a control group (Furthermore, inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which are released in response to stress, can affect mood, leading to depression). A review of several studies suggests meditation may also reduce depression by decreasing levels of these inflammatory chemicals.

So, what does meditation do? It is clear that there are a plethora of benefits of a daily meditation practice. Other benefits include:

  • Enhances self-awareness
  • Lengthens attention span
  • May reduce age-related memory loss
  • Can generate kindness
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps control pain.