By Emma Stessman
Skin, cleared. Anxiety, cured. Flowers, blooming…everywhere. After a meditation class, it can feel like all (or at least most) of your problems have been left in the past.
And there’s a scientific reason for that: Study after study has shown that meditation is really really good for your body, brain, and overall health. Okay, it won’t actually shrink your pesky pimples or give you a green thumb, but research shows it can definitely boost your confidence and help you make better food choices.
To see those benefits, though, most experts agree you’ll have to be consistent. “The entire basis of this practice is about establishing healthy mental and emotional habits,” says Jackie Stewart, a meditation teacher at MNDFL. If you’ve had trouble getting the hang of meditation, you may just be struggling with one of these common roadblocks to establishing a regular practice. But once you get in the flow, you can expect to see at least a couple of these amazing benefits in your everyday life.
5 Science-Backed Meditation Benefits
1. Stress relief
Meditation is most often touted for its stress-reducing benefits, so you definitely saw this one coming. But the truth is that it’s worth repeating over and over because everyone is stressed…and it really works. Numerous studies have shown that meditation can change the way your body responds to stress.
And it’s not just the average mildly-stressed individual who benefits. People with more serious stress-related issues, like anxiety, see intense relief from taking up a meditation practice. In fact, studies show that the higher your stress levels, the greater the benefit. A 2018 study found that people with generalized anxiety disorder who implemented mindfulness meditation practices into their daily routines lowered their hormonal and inflammatory responses to stress, making them more prepared and resilient to stress’ negative effects.
2. Improved attention and memory
When your mind is flying a mile a minute, you’re not effectively processing your surroundings, and you’re definitely not storing these events in your brain as distinct memories. “In meditation, we’re cultivating the habit of stabilizing our minds from constantly chasing after every thought that arises,” says Stewart. “When our mind is more stable, our attention becomes more focused, and we’re able to take in the details and subtleties that might be right in front of us.” Recognizing these details, without distraction from other thoughts, can help create clearer memories.
A 2013 study put meditation’s memory-boosting effects to the test. Researchers found that students who integrated a daily mindful meditation practice for two weeks scored higher on the GRE and a subsequent working memory test than their non-meditating classmates.
3. Deeper sleep
Wandering thoughts keep you up? Meditation can help. “Disruption of sleep happens because we’re not able to let go of the overwhelming barrage of thoughts that cycle through our minds,” Stewart says. “Meditation helps us develop the skill of noticing when we’re caught in a cycle like this and reorients the focus of our attention to something like intentionally relaxing the body.” While racing thoughts can lead to a racing heart rate, using meditative practices like deep breathing can bring your body into a state of calm making for a seamless road to sleep.
But it’s not just the in-the-moment calm that meditation provides that can lead to a deeper slumber, it actually changes how you sleep. Studies show that meditation can increase natural melatonin levels (making it easier to fall asleep) and enhance REM sleep, allowing for a deeper, more reviving night’s rest.
4. Weight management
The benefits of meditation aren’t just mental. When you eat mindlessly, you’re more likely to overeat. Think about the last time you sat in front of the TV with a snack; those potato chips seem to disappear a lot faster when you’re not paying attention. Actually focusing on your food (by using a mealtime meditation, for instance) can help you slow down and be mindful of your food choices. In fact, studies show that employing mindful eating practices can be an effective way to manage weight, and can even help in the weight loss process.
5. Increased self-esteem
Most meditation teachers will tell you if there’s one thing that you should never bring to the mat, it’s judgment. Whether it be judgment of yourself, your practice, or your thoughts (that somehow always start drifting to burritos mid-meditation). Meditation allows you to experience these things simply as they are, instead of looking at them in a negative light, Stewart says. “Bringing this element of non-judgment to our thoughts and emotions already begins to loosen up the added pressure and stress we often unconsciously place on ourselves,” she says. As you begin to apply this non-judgment mentality to your meditation practice, you’ll also start to apply it to yourself. A small study showed that a mindfulness-based meditation practice can increase self-esteem and lower negative self-talk.