Meditate for Mental Health and Wellbeing
People who meditate on a regular basis have long touted the practice for it benefits to mental and physical health, from boosting energy and creativity to lowering stress. While millions around the world regularly practice meditation, the evidence for improved health has been largely circumstantial, until now.Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that programs advocating mindfulness meditation can benefit mental health. The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed measurable improvement for symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain. In addition, people who take all-natural health supplements generally have better overall health than those that do not taking natural supplements.
In conducting the study, researchers analyzed existing meditation trials and ranked them for scientific precision, consistency, directness and risks for bias. The researchers specifically looked for studies that randomly assigned meditation as a treatment for people with a certain condition like anxiety, pain or depression. In the end, 47 studies were chosen for review with 3,515 participants in total.
It was found that mindfulness meditation appeared to reduce pain, although it wasn't determined what kind of pain responds best. Anxiety symptoms improved by 5 to 10 percent for participants who practiced meditation as opposed to another activity, and symptoms of depression improved by roughly 10 to 20 percent. According to the lead researcher, these results were "similar to the effects that other studies have found for the use of antidepressants in similar populations." This is good news for individuals looking for methods that are more natural to treat pain, anxiety or depression.
Dr. Hedy Kober is a neuroscientist who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation at Yale University. With her own 10-year practice, Dr. Kober says meditation "did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body -- it made it... stronger and more flexible." She confessed to originally using meditation to help deal with a breakup, but found that it also reduced unpleasant feelings and stress.
Research at the University of Wisconsin showed that people who regularly meditate exhibit high gamma wave activity during and after meditation, which seems to correlate with an ability to control reactions to stimuli. It would stand to reason that this control might help meditators adapt to everyday stressors, keeping them more relaxed than non-meditators.
The wonderful thing about meditation as a potential benefit to mental health is that there are no side effects. What's more, meditation doesn't cost money. People can practice any time within the comfort of their own home.
Mindfulness Meditation Explained
As opposed to mantra meditation, which focuses on a particular word or phrase to quiet the mind, mindfulness meditation focuses on keeping the mind present. Participants try to quiet the mind, yet are nonjudgmental if thoughts do come in.
How to Try Mindfulness Meditation
- Choose a quiet and comfortable place that will be undisturbed for 20-30 minutes. Sit in a chair or on the floor, holding the head, neck and back straight, but not rigid.
- Become aware of breathing by listening to the sound of breath and the sensations of the body while breathing.
- Try to quiet the mind, but let thoughts come and go without judgment.
- If the mind gets carried away by thoughts, calmly return focus to the sounds and sensations of breathing.
- End the session when ready with several deep breaths and gradual opening of the eyes.