5 Mental and Physical Changes You'll Actually Notice When You Start Meditating

Updated 07/10/17
a woman meditating
@biancamaycheah

Meditation is likely one of those things you put on your bucket list to learn later, or you tried one form, had difficulty doing it and then forgot about it. The thing you need to know about the practice is that there are 20-plus forms—so if you can’t sit still and stay quiet, there’s still one that may work for you.

Meditation is a practice of “concentrated focus” that enables you to calm down, become present, and find insight, and the science-backed benefits are pretty astounding. It's known to treat both physical and mental ailments (the benefits of meditation are so much more than just reducing stress, even though it’s top-notch at that, too). The more research is conducted, the more we realize that it might be the key to holistic health. Here are five science-backed reasons why you should get your om on.

It Reduces Anxiety and Depression

Let’s be honest, people started turning to meditation in recent years to combat their anxiety, and then learned that it helped with other ailments as well. There are a lot of studies out there that seem to point to the effectiveness of meditation on anxiety, but were they all really science-backed? That's the same question that researchers at John Hopkins had, which is why they looked into 19,000 meditation studies and found that there were 47 studies with substantial evidence that showed that mindfulness meditation in particular—a practice that focuses on your being present in the moment—helps ease anxiety. And when it comes to depression, a recent study also pioneered at Johns Hopkins found that mindfulness meditation was effective at treating depression at a level of 0.3, which is the same level of efficacy as antidepressants. The thing is there is no quick fix for depression, but meditation is a great tool for those coping with it.

It Stops Your Mind From Wandering

A common symptom of anxiety is that your mind tends to wander and you're constantly worrying about one thing or another. Wouldn't it be nice to turn off all that noise in your head? That's where meditation for health comes in. A study at Yale University found that practicing mindfulness meditation enables you to quiet down your default mode network, which is characterized as being "on" when you're not focused on thinking about something in particular. In fact, the research found that those who practice mindfulness are actually better able to get back on track if and when their minds actually do start to wander again. 

It Helps You Concentrate

Being able to focus, especially when it comes to standardized testing, is a challenge for many people. But perhaps meditation is the answer. A 2013 study found that those who meditated for just two weeks had increased levels of both focus and memory while completing a verbal reasoning section of the GRE (in fact, those who meditated had scores that increased by 16 percentile points). Because one of the main tenets of meditation is learning to focus on something, it makes sense that this level of concentration would carry over to standardized testing. 

It Improves Your Quality of Sleep

Meditation can be a great way for those suffering from sleep disorders to get a better night's rest (by the way, even Bella Hadid relies on listening to meditation music before bed). A yearlong study followed the sleep habits of 50 Americans over the age of 55 (about half reported sleep difficulties going into the trial). Half of the participants followed sleep hygiene guidelines like creating a regular bedtime and avoiding alcohol before sleep while the other group was trained in mindfulness meditation for six weeks in the hands of an experienced instructor. The group who practiced mindfulness reported increases in the quality of sleep greater than the others. The lead author of the study, David S. Black, said he believed the meditation helped "settle the brain's arousal symptoms," which in turn led to better sleep. 

It Boosts Creativity

Research in the Neverlands found that those who practiced "open-monitoring" meditation reported an increase in creative thinking. Open-monitoring meditation revolves around not focusing primarily on one thing (like your breath), but rather being open to what thoughts or feelings come. The study tested 19 adults who were given a task to come up with new ideas; those who meditated brainstormed significantly more unique options. 

Light a meditation candle with a soothing scent like the ones below to aid in your practice. 

Have you tried meditation? Tell us if you noticed any mental or physical benefits. Up next: the mental trick to improve focus

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