My personal journey with mindfulness meditation began earlier this year while I was studying a leadership and communication skills course in France. During our last afternoon together, our professor decided to use some class time to teach us some easy meditation skills we could take with us back home. Whilst I was initially sceptical, I slowly relaxed as the professor’s soothing voice began to fill the room. By the end of the session, I was a believer.
Mindfulness meditation is a popular practice that uses specially designed exercises to help you steer and maintain your focus on the present moment, with the end goal of clarity, concentration and calm (Walsh & Shapiro 2006). Some studies have shown that meditation can have several beneficial effects, including the following:
1. Reduced Anxiety
One of the largest benefits meditation can bring is a reduction in anxiety. One study found that patients with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) experienced a physiological reduction in stress biomarkers after being treated with mindfulness meditation (Hoge et al. 2018). This confirmed the results of an earlier study where patients with GAD were shown to have missed significantly less work days as a result of decreased GAD symptoms (Hoge et al. 2017).
2. Improved Attention Span
The endless distractions and devices of today’s world hinder us from being fully in the present. This effect is compounded when we have mental health issues that even further drain our capacity to focus. However, meditation has demonstrated powerful potential in improving our attention spans, with studies showing that subjects who practiced regular mindfulness meditation have enhanced performance on tasks that require prolonged attention (Semple 2010).
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Given the physiological reductions in stress biomarkers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that meditation can have health benefits that extend even further. Mindfulness meditation may result in a considerable lowering of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Stancu et al. 2018).
4. Less Pain
A systematic review of mindfulness meditation as treatment for chronic pain showed that participants experienced a substantial reduction of chronic pain and the depression that often accompanies it. Subsequently, these patients reported an overall improved quality of life. Whilst mindfulness meditation is not a cure, it can provide additional symptom relief that patients may benefit from (Hilton et al. 2017).
If you’d like to give meditation a try, there are several guided meditation apps you can download on your smartphone. I personally use 10% happier – a step by step guide through the basics of meditation at home. Other well rated apps include Calm, Buddhify and Headspace. Download one of them on the App Store if you have an iPhone, or Google Play if you use an android.
So, take a deep breath in…and slowly breathe it out. Relax your shoulders. Let your feet sit firmly on the ground. Feel your body grow heavy. Let peace wash over you. Namaste.
Article written by: Angelica Carvajal
Angelica is a health science almost graduate with a keen interest in the environmental and physiological influences on mental health. She is an advocate for science communication without the jargon and enjoys singing, yoga and reading non-fiction books in her spare time.
Walsh, R & Shapiro, SL 2006, ‘The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: a mutually enriching dialogue’, American Psychologist, vol. 61, no. 3, pp. 227-239.
Hoge, EA, Bui, E, Palitz, S, Schwarz, NR, Owens, ME, Johnston, JM, Pollack, MH & Simon, NM 2018, ‘The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder’, Psychiatry Research, vol. 262, pp. 328-332.
Hoge, EA, Guidos, BM, Mete, M, Bui, E, Pollack, MH, Simon NM & Dutton, M 2017, ‘Effects of mindfulness meditation on occupational functioning and health care utilization in individuals with anxiety’, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol. 95, pp. 7-11.
Semple, RJ 2010, ‘Does mindfulness meditation enhance attention? A randomized control trial’, Mindfulness, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 121-130.
Stancu, C, Werner, C, Pechere-Bertschi & Zisiomopoulou, S 2018, ‘ Benefits of meditation on the hypertensive adult’, Revue Medicale Suisse, vol. 14, no. 618, pp. 1588-1592.
Hilton, L, Hempel, S, Ewing, BA, Apaydin, E, Xenakis, L, Newberry, S, Colaiaco, B, Maher, AR, Shanman, RM, Sorbero, ME & Maglione, MA 2017, ‘Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain: systematic review and meta-analysis’, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 199-213.