Meditation Health Effects: 5 Benefits

More and more researchers are exploring and understanding the health benefits of meditation. While they often vary based on the individual, many studies have found an overall positive boost from the practice, both for mental as well as physical health. Here are five potential benefits you should know about: ​​

1. Sleep

Those who experience insomnia and associated fatigue may have an intervention that does not involve sleeping pills. "Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response," says Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

This can help target stress responses in the body, which are often a key factor when it comes to sleep disorders. Benson recommends the use of a calming focus (such as a phrase or a word) in a repetitive manner to help induce this response.

2. Pain

Experts note that meditation could be effective when combined with other traditional drug therapies, to work as an alternative to opioid treatment. Unlike the risk of addiction tied to the latter, the practice may be able to provide relief with minimal side effects as demonstrated by a number of studies. 

For example, findings from a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggested that meditation could help in reducing pain-related activation in the brain. Overall, participants rated a decrease in pain intensity and unpleasantness ranging from 11 to 70 percent and from 20 to 93 percent respectively.

3. Mood disorders

While it has not been found to be more effective, studies have shown that mindfulness meditation could be equally as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressants for certain individuals who experience anxiety or depression.

"This means that [mindfulness-based interventions] could be tried as an alternative to antidepressants for people who are hesitant or want to avoid the side effects of those medications," says neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes, Ph.D., a radiology instructor at Harvard Medical School and researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.

4. Emotional intelligence

In a new study which focused on academic staff members, transcendental meditation was found to improve emotional intelligence and reduce the perceived stress in the workplace.

Since psychological stress is a highly prevalent problem among employees around the world, researchers believe that meditation should be introduced as an optional workplace wellness program.

5. Relationships

Dyadic meditation refers to the practice of two people meditating together. It is believed that this could help improve relationships with a partner by promoting closeness and communication.

As researcher Bethany Kok notes, regular conversations are often constrained and focused on what a person should say next instead of listening to others. Dyadic meditation, on the other hand, teaches people to pay close attention and listen to their partner in a calm, accepting manner.