In recent years, researchers have been looking very closely at what meditation does for health. If you traveled back in time 2500 years, met the Buddha and asked him “What does meditation do for you?” it’s unlikely that health benefits would have been on top of his list. Back in the day, meditation was used for other purposes—getting to know the mind and working towards UNDERSTAND, for example—but one major goal of meditation, one of the things that meditation has been used for no matter what the ultimate goal might be, has always been to reduce suffering.
If science is so interested in meditation and its practical benefits nowadays, it’s because meditation has been shown to relieve suffering in very concrete ways. Those who learn how to meditate for health, and, more particularly, who learn how to meditate to reduce stress, have a good shot at managing any health conditions more effectively—and they don’t have to read the label. With meditation, generally speaking, the most common “side effects” are improved sleep, better management of chronic conditions, and lower stress levels
Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. A number of studies also have helped researchers learn how meditation might work and how it affects the brain.
Here are 8 things to know about what the science says about meditation for health:
- For people who suffer from cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, mind-body therapies, such as meditation, have been shown to help relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances, thus improving their quality of life. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines from the Society for Integrative Oncology recommend meditation, as well as other mind-body modalities, as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, chronic pain, and improve quality of life.
- There is some evidence that meditation may reduce blood pressure. A literature review and scientific statement from the American Heart Association suggests that evidence supports the use of Transcendental Meditation as an adjunct or complementary therapy along with standard treatment to lower blood pressure.
- A growing body of evidence suggests that meditation-based programs may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms. A 2010 review of scientific literature found that yoga, tai chi, and meditation-based programs may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms including the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress, and muscle and joint pain.
- There is moderate evidence that meditation improves symptoms of anxiety. A 2014 review of the literature found that mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain, and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health-related quality of life.
- Some studies suggest that mindfulness meditation helps people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but there’s not enough evidence to draw firm conclusions. A 2013 review of the scientific literature concluded that mindfulness training improved IBS patients’ pain and quality of life but not their depression or anxiety; however, the amount of improvement was small.
- Overall, there is not enough evidence to know whether mind-body practices are as effective as other treatments to help people quit smoking. To date, there have only been a few studies on mindfulness-based therapies to aid in smoking cessation.
- There isn’t enough evidence to support the use of meditation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a 2010 review of the science, because of the small number of studies conducted on meditation for ADHD, no conclusions could be drawn about its effectiveness for this condition.
- Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. However, people with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement.