Meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its many health benefits.
You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and even increased pain tolerance.
This article reviews 12 health benefits of meditation.
1. Reduces stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.
One review concluded that meditation lives up to its reputation for stress reduction (1Trusted Source).
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the 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 (2Trusted Source).
Furthermore, research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia (3, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
2. 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. Notably, this effect was strongest in those with the highest levels of anxiety (6Trusted Source).
Also, one study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, along with increasing positive self-statements and improving stress reactivity and coping (7Trusted Source).
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 over 1 year (8Trusted Source).
What’s more, some research suggests that a variety of mindfulness and meditation exercises may reduce anxiety levels (9Trusted Source).
For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and physical activity (10Trusted Source).
Meditation may also help control job-related anxiety. One study found that employees who used a mindfulness meditation app for 8 weeks experienced improved feelings of well-being and decreased distress and job strain, compared with those in a control group (11Trusted Source).
3. 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 (12Trusted Source).
Similarly, a review of 18 studies showed that people receiving meditation therapies experienced reduced symptoms of depression, compared with those in a control group (13Trusted Source).
Another study found that people who completed a meditation exercise experienced fewer negative thoughts in response to viewing negative images, compared with those in a control group (14Trusted Source).
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 (15Trusted Source).
4. Enhances self-awareness
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self.
For example, self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you.
Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
One review of 27 studies showed that practicing tai chi may be associated with improved self-efficacy, which is a term used to describe a person’s belief in their own capacity or ability to overcome challenges (19Trusted Source).
In another study, 153 adults who used a mindfulness meditation app for 2 weeks experienced reduced feelings of loneliness and increased social contact compared with those in a control group (20Trusted Source).
Additionally, experience in meditation may cultivate more creative problem-solving skills (21Trusted Source).
5. Lengthens attention span
Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.
For example, one study found that people who listened to a meditation tape experienced improved attention and accuracy while completing a task, compared with those in a control group (22Trusted Source).
A similar study showed that people who regularly practiced meditation performed better on a visual task and had a greater attention span than those without any meditation experience (23Trusted Source).
Moreover, one review concluded that meditation may even reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying, and poor attention (24Trusted Source).
Even meditating for a short period each day may benefit you. One study found that meditating for just 13 minutes daily enhanced attention and memory after 8 weeks (25Trusted Source).
6. May reduce age-related memory loss
Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young.
Kirtan Kriya is a method of meditation that combines a mantra or chant with repetitive motion of the fingers to focus your thoughts. Studies in people with age-related memory loss have shown it improves performance on neuropsychological tests (26Trusted Source).
Furthermore, a review found preliminary evidence that multiple meditation styles can increase attention, memory, and mental quickness in older volunteers (27Trusted Source).
In addition to fighting normal age-related memory loss, meditation can at least partially improve memory in patients with dementia. It can likewise help control stress and improve coping in those caring for family members with dementia (28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source).
7. Can generate kindness
Some types of meditation may particularly increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others.
Metta, a type of meditation also known as loving-kindness meditation, begins with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward yourself.
Through practice, people learn to extend this kindness and forgiveness externally, first to friends, then acquaintances, and ultimately enemies.
A meta-analysis of 22 studies on this form of meditation demonstrated its ability to increase peoples’ compassion toward themselves and others (30Trusted Source).
One study in 100 adults randomly assigned to a program that included loving-kindness meditation found that these benefits were dose-dependent.
In other words, the more time people spent in weekly metta meditation practice, the more positive feelings they experienced (31).
Another study in 50 college students showed that practicing metta meditation 3 times per week improved positive emotions, interpersonal interactions, and understanding of others after 4 weeks (32Trusted Source).
These benefits also appear to accumulate over time with the practice of loving-kindness meditation (33Trusted Source).
8. May help fight addictions
The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors (34Trusted Source).
Research has shown that meditation may help people learn to redirect their attention, manage their emotions and impulses, and increase their understanding of the causes behind their (35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
One study in 60 people receiving treatment for alcohol use disorder found that practicing transcendental meditation was associated with lower levels of stress, psychological distress, alcohol cravings, and alcohol use after 3 months (37Trusted Source).
Meditation may also help you control food cravings. A review of 14 studies found mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce emotional and binge eating (38Trusted Source).
9. Improves sleep
Nearly half of the population will struggle with insomnia at some point.
One study compared mindfulness-based meditation programs and found that people who meditated stayed asleep longer and had improved insomnia severity, compared with those who had an unmedicated control condition (39Trusted Source).
Becoming skilled in meditation may help you control or redirect the racing or runaway thoughts that often lead to insomnia.
Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep.
10. Helps control pain
Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions.
Some research suggests that incorporating meditation into your routine could be beneficial for controlling pain.
For example, one review of 38 studies concluded that mindfulness meditation could reduce pain, improve quality of life, and decrease symptoms of depression in people with chronic pain (40Trusted Source).
A large meta-analysis of studies enrolling nearly 3,500 participants concluded that meditation was associated with decreased pain (41Trusted Source).
Meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.
11. Can decrease blood pressure
Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart.
Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to poor heart function.
High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies enrolling nearly 1000 participants found that meditation helped reduce blood pressure. This was more effective among older volunteers and those who had higher blood pressure prior to the study (42Trusted Source).
One review concluded that several types of meditation produced similar improvements in blood pressure (43Trusted Source).
In part, meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the “fight-or-flight” response that increases alertness in stressful situations (44Trusted Source).
12. Accessible anywhere
People practice many different forms of meditation, most of which don’t require specialized equipment or space. You can practice with just a few minutes daily.
If you want to start meditating, try choosing a form of meditation based on what you want to get out of it.
There are two major styles of meditation:
- Focused-attention meditation. This style concentrates attention on a single object, thought, sound, or visualization. It emphasizes ridding your mind of distractions. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra, or calming sound.
- Open-monitoring meditation. This style encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought, and sense of self. It may include becoming aware of suppressed thoughts, feelings, or impulses.
To find out which styles you like best, check out the variety of free, guided meditation exercises offered by the University of California Los Angeles. It’s an excellent way to try different styles and find one that suits you.
If your regular work and home environments do not allow for consistent, quiet alone time, consider participating in a class. This can also improve your chances of success by providing a supportive community.
Alternatively, consider setting your alarm a few minutes early to take advantage of quiet time in the morning. This may help you develop a consistent habit and allow you to start the day positively.
The bottom line
Meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional health.
You can do it anywhere, without special equipment or memberships.
Alternatively, meditation courses and support groups are widely available.
There’s a great variety of styles too, each with different strengths and benefits.
Trying out a style of mediation suited to your goals is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if you only have a few minutes to do it each day.
Which Type of Meditation Is Right for Me?
What meditation is all about
Meditation may be an ancient tradition, but it’s still practiced in cultures all over the world to create a sense of calm and inner harmony.
Although the practice has ties to many different religious teachings, meditation is less about faith and more about altering consciousness, finding awareness, and achieving peace.
These days, with the greater need to reduce stress in the midst of our busy schedules and demanding lives, meditation is increasing in popularity.
Although there isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate, it’s important to find a practice that meets your needs and complements your personality.
There are nine popular types of meditation practice:
- mindfulness meditation
- spiritual meditation
- focused meditation
- movement meditation
- mantra meditation
- transcendental meditation
- progressive relaxation
- loving-kindness meditation
- visualization meditation
Not all meditation styles are right for everyone. These practices require different skills and mindsets. How do you know which practice is right for you?
“It’s what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice,” says Mira Dessy, a meditation author and holistic nutritionist.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of meditation and how to get started.
Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular meditation technique in the West.
In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. You don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them. You simply observe and take note of any patterns.
This practice combines concentration with awareness. You may find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.
This type of meditation is good for people who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone.
Spiritual meditation is used in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Daoism, and in Christian faith.
It’s similar to prayer in that you reflect on the silence around you and seek a deeper connection with your God or Universe.
Essential oils are commonly used to heighten the spiritual experience. Popular options include:
- palo santo
Spiritual meditation can be practiced at home or in a place of worship. This practice is beneficial for those who thrive in silence and seek spiritual growth.
Focused meditation involves concentration using any of the five senses.
For example, you can focus on something internal, like your breath, or you can bring in external influences to help focus your attention.
Try counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame.
This practice may be simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes at first.
If your mind does wander, it’s important to come back to the practice and refocus.
As the name suggests, this practice is ideal for anyone who requires additional focus in their life.
Although most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation, this practice may include walking through the woods, gardening, qigong, and other gentle forms of motion.
It’s an active form of meditation where the movement guides you.
Movement meditation is good for people who find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander.
Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “Om.”
It doesn’t matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly. After chanting the mantra for some time, you’ll be more alert and in tune with your environment. This allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness.
Some people enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. This is also a good practice for people who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.
Transcendental Meditation is a popular type of meditation. This practice has been the subject of numerous studies in the scientific community.
It is more customizable than mantra meditation, using a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner.
This practice is for those who like structure and are serious about maintaining a meditation practice.
Also known as body scan meditation, progressive relaxation is a practice aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting relaxation.
Oftentimes, this form of meditation involves slowly tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time throughout the body.
In some cases, it may also encourage you to imagine a gentle wave flowing through your body to help release any tension.
This form of meditation is often used to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
Loving-kindness meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others.
It typically involves opening the mind to receive love from others and then sending a series of well wishes to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings.
Because this type of meditation is intended to promote compassion and kindness, it may be ideal for those holding feelings of anger or resentment.
Visualization meditation is a technique focused on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualizing positive scenes or images.
With this practice, it’s important to imagine the scene vividly and use all five senses to add as much detail as possible.
Another form of visualization meditation involves imagining yourself succeeding at specific goals, which is intended to increase focus and motivation.
Many people use visualization meditation to boost their mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.
How to get started
The easiest way to begin is to sit quietly and focus on your breath. An old Zen saying suggests, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
All kidding aside, it’s best to start in small moments of time, even 5 or 10 minutes, and grow from there.
“Couple that with an additional 2 to 5 minutes of meditation throughout the day to break up the chaos, and you will soon be feeling the benefits.”
Why meditation is beneficial
There’s much evidence supporting the numerous benefits of meditation.
Meditation can help:
- lower blood pressure/Trusted Source
- reduce anxiety/Trusted Source
- decrease pain/Trusted Source
- ease symptoms of depression/Trusted Source
- improve sleep/Trusted Source
Whether the benefits are anecdotal or scientifically proven, those who follow a daily meditation practice are convinced of the benefits in their lives.
The bottom line
Whether you’re looking to reduce stress or find spiritual enlightenment, find stillness, or flow through movement, there’s a meditation practice for you.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try different types. It often takes a little trial and error until you find the one that fits.
“Meditation isn’t meant to be a forced thing,” Dessy says. “If we’re forcing it, then it becomes a chore. Gentle, regular practice eventually becomes sustaining, supportive, and enjoyable.
Open yourself up to the possibilities. There are so many different forms of meditation that if one isn’t working or isn’t comfortable, just try a new one.”