The verdict is in… yes they do really work. The fact is that science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.
Before we dive in, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page when we say “mindfulness” and “meditation.”
Meditation is an ancient practice defined as “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.” It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body.
Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to talk about a few of them below, and refer to it as “mindfulness” for the rest of the post.
The link between mindfulness and health = stress reduction
Have you heard the staggering statistics on how many doctors’ visits are due to stress? Seventy-five to ninety percent! I bet this doesn’t surprise you as you’re sitting there feeling stressed about work, family, endless to-dos or big life questions.
So, if you ask me, it makes a ton of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues too.
Mindfulness reduces inflammation, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.
I’ll briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, headaches, and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas too.
Mindfulness for mood
The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.
In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.
Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.
While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.
Mindfulness for headaches
Knowing that mindfulness supports decreased inflammation in the body, it makes sense that symptoms rooted in inflammation, such as headaches, would improve with the practice of mindfulness.
A meta-analysis of several studies reviewed the effects of mindfulness on headache pain. The analysis found that mindfulness helps to reduce headache pain intensity.
Because headaches are a common and complicated beast, I know you are probably doubtful of any lasting effects of mindfulness on your headache pain. Mindfulness is intended to be a practice rather than a “here and there” approach for best results.
Another study found the improvements in pain intensity and pain interference that mindfulness provided the participants were maintained at the 6-month follow-up. However, those who experience chronic headaches recognize that a relapse is inevitable – living entirely free from headaches for the remainder of your life is highly unlikely.
Thankfully current results demonstrate that mindfulness may be particularly well-suited to equip patients with the necessary pain coping skill-set to effectively deal with these set-backs, helping patients to continue to engage in meaningful life activities despite the pain.
Mindfulness for gut health
Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones, and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other critters that help your digestion). In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut’s microbes.
Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care.
The research here is just starting to show us the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.
Ultimately, science is confirming some amazing health benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation. For mood, headaches, gut health, and more.
Relaxing Herbal Teas
There are many relaxing herbal teas that would be great after meditation.
Try any of these by steeping in boiling water:
- Green tea (has a bit of caffeine, or you can choose decaffeinated green tea)
- White tea (also has a bit of caffeine, or you can choose decaffeinated white tea)
- Rooibos tea
- Peppermint tea (or steep fresh peppermint leaves)
- Ginger tea (or steep slices of real ginger)
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can add a touch of raw honey or a drop of stevia if desired.
Before writing mindfulness meditation off as too woo-woo to have any benefits or not important enough to make a regular practice, consider that if a new drug were to have the results of the aforementioned studies, it would be sweeping the nation. Its effects are too powerful to be left by the wayside.
Do you regularly include it in your life? If so, have you seen benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?
Let me know in the comments below.
BONUS Guided Meditation Resources (videos, apps & podcasts)
Cambridge English Dictionary