The many benefits that may be reaped from a daily meditation practice extend into areas of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. While meditation is not a panacea for all ills, there is now a significant body of evidence of the benefits that flow from a regular practice.
Scientific studies have shown that a daily meditation practice can reduce anxiety (1) andstress by triggering the ‘relaxation response’, first described by Dr. Herbert Benson in 1975. (2) This relaxation response reduces the body’s heart and breathing rates, blood pressure and muscle tension.
A regular practice also helps to improve our ability to pay attention (3) and concentrate. When we learn to meditate, we learn to focus (4) and as we learn to focus on the breath, a mantra, a sound or a visualisation, we take our attention away from our thoughts. We see our thoughts, let them pass and return to the anchor. This process leads to a gradual development of our ability to focus on the task in hand, whatever that may be. In essence, the practice helps to clear the mind and calm the inner critical voice. Meditation helps to increase our generalfeelings of happiness and peace of mind as well as improving our relationships with others. (5)
Meditation also helps us to make better decisions, improves critical thinking and helps us to break unhealthy habits by helping to detach emotions associated with an action, from the action itself.
One of the other great benefits of a meditation practice is its ability to create mental space, as has been eloquently described by the Holocaust survivor and psychologist, Viktor E. Frankl who explained that: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”(6)
(1) Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School investigated the effects of an eight-week mindfulness course on generalised anxiety disorder. 90% of those taught the technique reported significant reductions in anxiety: Miller, John J, Ken Fletcher and Jon Kabat-Zinn. 1995.
(2) The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, 1975.
(3) “Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation” by Yuan Tang et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2007: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/43/17152.short
(4) “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental training” Fadel Zeidan et al., Consciousness and Cognition, 2009:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/42975499_Mindfulness_meditation_improves_cognition_evidence_of_brief_mental_training_Consciousness_and_Cognition_An_International_Journal_19_597-605
(5) Mindful Relating: Exploring Mindfulness and Emotion Repertoires in Intimate Relationships” by Karen Wachs and James V. Cordova, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, October 2007, Vol.33, No-4, 464-481:http://wordpress.clarku.edu/coupleslab/files/2013/09/3-2007-Mindful-relating.pdf
(6) Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”.