When your to-do list feels as long as a marathon, taking a break to sit quietly may seem like a waste of time. But if you mindfully sit — even for a few minutes — you can reap at least some of the benefits of meditation.
And you may find that you are calmer, more productive, and able to breeze through your tasks with pep left for an evening workout.
“Meditation can be beneficial for anyone, whether you are looking to reduce stress or boost your energy for a specific event,” says Cody Braun, CPT.
Plus, since there’s no “best” way to meditate, you can try different techniques until you find one that appeals most to you.
“Meditation is any practice that allows for a de-excited mind and body, or that allows for a state of focus or present-moment awareness,” explains meditation teacher and podcast host Light Watkins, author of Bliss More, How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying.
“There could be thousands of approaches to meditation. All do the same thing, but each has a different operating system.”
1. Reduced Stress
Perhaps one of the best-known health benefits of meditation is that it can help manage stress. For one, meditation reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
For another, researchers believe meditation increases activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (our “rest and digest” side), which encourages relaxation.
“Meditation helps to slow or quiet these incessant thoughts that are constantly streaming through our heads.” says Keisa Parrish, RYT 500, a yoga teacher and mindfulness instructor.
Research also found that people who meditated regularly had fewer flare-ups of stress hormones compared with non-meditators. And experienced meditators reported boosted well-being and resilience.
2. Less Anxiety
Constant distress can lead to worrying and anxiety. But since reduced stress is one of the benefits of daily meditation, the practice can also help with everyday or occasional anxiety.
When meditation rookies used a guided practice for just 13 minutes a day for eight weeks, they experienced less anxiety and improved mood.
A study published in Psychiatry Research also found that the amygdala — the area in the brain that initiates the fight-or-flight stress response — shrank in people who meditated daily for eight weeks.
This connection to your fight-or-flight response is how yoga and meditation can help mitigate anxiety.
3. Supported Brain Health
Meditation doesn’t just have psychological benefits — it has physiological benefits, too.
Research published in NeuroImage found that 50-year-olds who maintained a long-term meditation practice had larger brains (equivalent to people 7.5 years younger) compared with their same-age peers who did not meditate, which indicates that meditation could be beneficial for brain preservation.
Other research touts similar findings, stating a close link between meditation and brain structure. And, meditation might be a useful tool to maintain brain “strength” as we age.
4. Better Sleep
“When the mind is calm, it is easier to manage your thoughts and fall asleep easier,” Braun explains.
5. Increased Energy
Some meditation practices use visualization: You imagine in vivid detail what you would like to happen. This could help amp you up.
“Athletes use tools like this when they need to get pumped up so they can reach the optimal level of arousal for peak performance,” Braun says. “By mentally placing yourself in a setting that demonstrates success through visuals, sensations, and actions, you can help boost your energy.”
This could work before sports, workouts, job tasks, or even dates.
6. Better Focus
Another benefit of meditation? Over time, you may find you can pay attention to a task, rather than have every phone notification distract you.
“Meditation asks you to call a timeout on everything else and just focus on the now,” says meditation and yoga teacher Hope Zvara, E-RYT 500, CPT, and CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga.
Studies link mindfulness meditation with reduced mind wandering. This may happen because evidence shows meditation reduces activity in the default mode network. (That’s the part of our brain that’s working when our mind isn’t focused.)
7. May Promote Healthy Blood Pressure
Meditation can relax more than your muscles. “When you incorporate deep breathing, it also slows and regulates the heart rate,” says Parrish. That may also apply to blood pressure.
A 2015 review and meta-analysis found that a type of meditation called Transcendental Meditation does have potential benefits for hypertension, though more research needs to be done.
Ready to reap all the benefits of meditation? Start with BODi’s Sound Meditation series, led by Scarlett de la Torre, creates soothing frequencies using “singing bowls,” a harp, a didgeridoo, gongs, and other harmonic instruments.
Each session lasts 10 to 45 minutes and is designed to shift your brain into a more relaxed, meditative state.
8. Greater Self-Compassion
Learning a mindfulness practice could help you be kinder to yourself. In a study, researchers asked stressed college students to use a meditation app for at least 10 minutes a day for eight weeks.
Compared to a control group who didn’t meditate, these students not only experienced less stress and more mindfulness, they also improved their self-compassion.
“Meditation helps us focus and tune into what is going on within us so we can see ourselves in a new light,” Zvara says. In turn, this may lead to being happier.
9. Better Overall Emotional Health
A consistent meditation practice can boost your overall sense of well-being. One study in Neuroscience Research found that people who meditate are less affected by the bad or negative things in life, and they are able to process “posi vibes” in the same beneficial way.
Other studies show that meditation can help with burnout. The conclusion to a study found that meditation is an efficient method for medical practitioners to combat burnout and enhance overall wellness.
10. Eased Tension
We tend to think of the mental and spiritual benefits of meditation, but there are also physical benefits of meditation, including reduced muscle tension.
“The use of progressive relaxation and visualization can help get you to a place where you feel the muscular tension leave the body,” Braun says.
And if you tend to “hold” your stress in certain parts of your body, as that stress dissipates, you may also experience the same tension release.
11. May Help You Heal
12. Stronger Intuition
“You have an internal GPS system that guides you along your path,” says Watkins. But when your body isn’t balanced?
“It’s hard to tap into that. You end up making a lot of head-based decisions rather than heart-based decisions,”
he says. Meditation can help strengthen your connection to your intuition, he adds, which can “lead us to what we would determine to be our purpose and maybe even our passion.”
13. Healthier Choices Become the Default
Meditation may even help you stick to your healthy eating routine and know when to take a rest day from exercise.
“Regular meditation practice begins to anchor your awareness in your body,” explains meditation teacher Byron Wild.
“This embodied self-awareness is the process of receiving, accessing, and appraising internal bodily signals and contributes to knowing when you are hungry, tired, or in pain. In other words, meditation helps us make healthy real-time choices based on accurately understanding our current body-state,” he explains.