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Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind - PsyBlog http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/11/10-remarkable-ways-meditation-hel...

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Meditation benefits include lasting emotional control, cultivating compassion, reducing pain
sensitivity, boosting multitasking and more

Meditation is about way more than just relaxing.

In fact, if I listed the following meditation benefits from a new pill or potion, youd be rightly sceptical.

But all these flow from a simple activity which is completely free, involves no expensive equipment, chemicals, apps, books or other
products.

Ive also included my own very brief meditation instructions below to get you started.

But first, what are all these remarkable meditation benefits?

1. Lasting emotional control


Meditation may make us feel calmer while were doing it, but do these benefits spill over into everyday life?

Desborders et al. (2012) scanned the brains of people taking part in an 8-week meditation program, before and after the course.

While they were scanned, participants looked at pictures designed to elicit positive, negative and neutral emotional responses.

After the meditation course, activation in the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, was reduced to all pictures.

This suggests that meditation benefits lasting emotional control, even when you are not meditating.

2. Cultivate compassion
One of the meditation benefits long thought central is to help people be more virtuous and compassionate. Now this has been put to
scientific test.

In one study participants who had been meditating were given an undercover test of their compassion (Condon et al., 2013).

They were sat in a staged waiting area with two actors when another actor entered on crutches, pretending to be in great pain. The
two actors sat next to the participants both ignored the person who was in pain, sending the unconscious signal not to intervene.

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Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind - PsyBlog http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/11/10-remarkable-ways-meditation-hel...

Those who had been meditating, though, were 50% more likely to help the person in pain.

One of the studys authors, David DeSteno, said:

The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuousto help another who
was sufferingeven in the face of a norm not to do so.

3. Change brain structures


Meditation is such a powerful technique that, after only 8 weeks, the brains structure changes.

To show these effects, images of 16 peoples brains were taken before and after they took a meditation course (Hlzel et al., 2011).

Compared with a control group, grey-matter density in the hippocampusan area associated with learning and memorywas
increased.

The studys lead author, Britta Hlzel, commented on meditation benefits:

It is fascinating to see the brains plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing
the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.

4. Reduce pain
One of the meditation benefits is that regular meditators experience less pain.

Grant et al. (2010) applied a heated plate to the calves of meditators and non-meditators. The meditators had lower pain sensitivity.

Joshua Grant explained:

Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to be underlie their
lower sensitivity to pain.

5. Accelerate cognition
How would you like your brain to work faster?

Zeidan et al. (2010) found significant meditation benefits for novice meditators from only 80 minutes of meditation over 4 days.

Despite their very brief period of practiceand compared with a control group who listened to an audiobook of Tolkeins The Hobbit
meditators improved on measures of working memory, executive functioning and visuo-spatial processing.

The authors conclude:

that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been
reported with long-term meditators.

Improvements seen on the measures ranged from 15% to over 50%.

The full article: Cognition Accelerated by Just 4 x 20 Minutes Meditation

6. Meditate to create
The right type of meditation can help solve some creative problems.

A study by Colzato et al. (2012) had participants take a classic creativity task: think up as many uses as you can for a brick.

Those using an open monitoring method of meditation came up with the most ideas.

This method uses focusing on the breath to set the mind free.

7. Sharpen concentration
At its heart, meditation is all about learning to concentrate, to have greater control over the spotlight of attention.

An increasing body of studies now underline the meditation benefits for attention.

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Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind - PsyBlog http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/11/10-remarkable-ways-meditation-hel...

For example, Jha et al. 2007 sent 17 people who had not practised meditation before on an 8-week training course in
mindfulness-based stress reduction, a type of meditation.

These 17 participants were then compared with a further 17 from a control group on a series of attentional measures. The results
showed that those who had received training were better at focusing their attention than the control group.

The full article: How Meditation Improves Attention

8. Improve multitasking at work


Since meditation benefits different aspects of cognition, it should also improve work performance.

Thats what Levy et al. (2012) tested by giving groups of human resource managers tests of their multitasking abilities.

Those who practised meditation performed better on standard office taskslike answering phones, writing email and so onthan those
who had not been meditating.

Meditating managers were better able to stay on task and also experienced less stress as a result.

9. Reduce anxiety
Meditation is an exercise often recommended for those experiencing anxiety.

To pick just one of many recent studies, Zeidan et al. (2013) found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce
anxiety by up to 39%.

More about anxiety: 8 Fascinating Facts About Anxiety

10 Fight depression
A central symptom of depression is rumination: when depressing thoughts roll around and around in the mind.

Unfortunately you cant just tell a depressed person to stop thinking depressing thoughts; its pointless. Thats because treating the
symptoms of depression is partly about taking control of the persons attention.

One method that can help with this is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is all about living in the moment, rather than focusing on
past regrets or future worries.

A recent review of 39 studies on mindfulness has found that meditation benefits depression (Hofmann et al., 2010).

Read on: Depression: 10 Fascinating Insights into a Misunderstood Condition

How to meditate
Since meditation benefits are so great, here is a quick primer on how to meditate.

The names and techniques of meditation are many and varied, but the fundamentals are much the same:

1. Relax the body and the mind

This can be done through body posture, mental imagery, mantras, music, progressive muscle relaxation, any old trick that works.
Take your pick.

This step is relatively easy as most of us have some experience of relaxing, even if we dont get much opportunity.

2. Be mindful

Its a bit cryptic this one but it means something like this: dont pass judgement on your thoughts, let them come and go as they will
(and boy will they come and go!). When your mind wanders, try to nudge your attention back to its primary aim.

It turns out this is quite difficult because were used to mentally travelling backwards and forwards while making judgements on
everything (e.g. worrying, dreading, anticipating, regretting etc.).

The key is to notice, in a detached way, whats happening, but not to get involved with it. This way of thinking often doesnt come

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Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind - PsyBlog http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/11/10-remarkable-ways-meditation-hel...

that naturally.

3. Concentrate on something

Often meditators concentrate on their breath, the feel of it going in and out, but it could be anything: your feet, a potato, a stone.

The breath is handy because we carry it around with us. Whatever it is, though, try to focus all your attention onto it.

When your attention wavers, and it will almost immediately, gently bring it back. Dont chide yourself, be compassionate to yourself.

The act of concentrating on one thing is surprisingly difficult: you will feel the mental burn almost immediately. Experienced
practitioners say this eases with practice.

4. Concentrate on nothing

Most say this cant be achieved without a lot of practice, so Ill say no more about it here. Master the basics first.

Meditation benefits
This is just a quick introduction on meditation benefits but does give you enough to get started. Its important not to get too caught up
in techniques but to remember the main goal: exercising attention by relaxing and focusing on something.

Try these things out first, see what happens, then explore further.

Image credit: Andy Ramdin

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Meditation

This post is part of a series on meditation:

Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind


Meditation Changes How Genes Are Expressed
Cognition Accelerated by Just 4 x 20 Minutes Meditation
How Meditation Improves Attention
Meditation Can Debias the Mind in Only 15 Minutes
Meditation is an Effective Treatment for Depression, Anxiety and Pain
Mindfulness: 6 Steps to Better Memory, Verbal Reasoning and Improved Concentration
Mindfulness at School Decreases Chance of Developing Depression
8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate
Mindfulness Meditation: 8 Quick Exercises That Fit into Your Day
Meditation: The Minimum Amount That Works

Related Articles:

1. 4 Wonderful Ways Meditation Relieves Pain


2. 4 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Benefits So Many Conditions
3. Meditation is an Effective Treatment for Depression, Anxiety and Pain
4. Meditations Widespread Effect on How The Brain Ages
5. Meditation Can Reduce Loneliness in the Elderly

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Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind - PsyBlog http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/11/10-remarkable-ways-meditation-hel...

Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog and HealthiestBlog.com. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking
Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 19 November 2013

Text: All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License

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