"Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak"
- Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
When we hear the words mindfulness and meditation, what do most of us imagine? Free-spirited people zoned out on woven grass mats.
The truth is mindfulness and meditation can have life-altering effects on people. These practices have been around for a long time and there's a reason why. Of course, mindfulness and meditation can integrate spiritual paths. But, there are more benefits to look into.
Meditation and mindfulness have their roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. But, modern meditation and mindfulness-based treatments form a more secular ground. People of various backgrounds and beliefs approach this treatment process. The end desire is to improve their quality of life.
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What are meditation and mindfulness?
Let's begin by understanding what these two terms mean.
Meditation has been in the world for centuries. You can find traces in Indian, Eastern European, and Asian history. The term refers to a set of practices that focus on the mind, the body, and the soul. Meditation benefits include mind and body integration through which one calms the mind. Meditation is a form of treatment to enhance the quality of life. Trying meditation for sleep and various such benefits has taken over the world.
Mindfulness is a form of mental practice. Meditation focuses on:
-repetitions of words and phrases.
Meanwhile, mindfulness is a way to open your mind to your surroundings. It involves paying attention to the present moment without any judgments. It builds awareness of one's surroundings.
A term that's thrown around is mindfulness meditation. It means combining the two practices to elevate the experience. The goal is to reduce symptoms related to stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. Most mindfulness-based programs have strategies that use various therapies together to help people. For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy with meditation and mindfulness helps in reducing stress.
Are these practices safe? Let's find out.
Are meditation and mindfulness practices safe?
Meditation and mindfulness are in general safe practices. Very few risks can associate with practicing mindfulness and meditation.
But, there are some risks related to mindfulness and meditation that need attention. The potential risks are especially high due to misguided practices. Mindfulness and meditation make people face their inner trauma, insecurities, fears, and more. If not handled well, the treatment can backfire. This is why the appropriate practice of such treatments is necessary.
How popular are meditation and mindfulness?
A 2017 U.S. survey showed a drastic rise in people practising meditation and mindfulness. The percentage of practitioners tripled from 2012 to 2017. The study revealed that adults are inclining more and more towards this practice. This includes meditation, mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation, or some form of mantra-based meditation.
The study showed that the popularity percentage increased from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017. Even in children aged 4-17 years, the percentage increased from 0.6% in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017.
Additionally, mindfulness programs are becoming a part of school curriculums. The intention behind doing so is to provide students a form of mental training. The goal is to teach students and teachers how to handle stress, anxiety, and depression. Along with that, the programs teach through mindfulness and meditation:
-how to resolve conflicts
-how to fight impulses
-enhance resilience and concentration.
Mindfulness and meditation practices now are valid techniques in various treatment programs.
Why do people practice mindfulness meditation?
Participants in these treatment programs want to achieve various goals like:
-Better lifestyle quality
-Better mental health
-Better physical health
A report by Harvard University on meditation and mindfulness spoke extensively about benefits. It mentioned that meditation can lead to less stress and more clarity of the mind. It can also increase the attention span of students while learning. A greater reason behind practising meditation and mindfulness is better sleep.
Do meditation and mindfulness actually work?
Several researchers claim how mindfulness and meditation affect the brain. Some claim that mindfulness meditation benefits the structure or functioning of the brain. Others claim that meditation and mindfulness have positive effects on behaviour. Some even theorised that mindfulness and meditation show positive mood changes in people.
So, what's the most possible explanation behind why mindfulness and meditation work?
It could be that meditation and mindfulness soothe the mind.
In a forever revolving and evolving world, the human brain needs rest at times. Most times, sleeping isn't enough to give the mind a break. Mindfulness and meditation work on providing the brain with a break from the stress in your life.
Mindfulness and meditation exercises work even better with some other types of treatment.
More research by NCCIH
Studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation give the brain a positive boost. NCCIH has held studies on the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation, like:
Studies have evaluated the positive response of the brain to mindfulness and meditation. This is especially true when both apply together. The results showed that mindfulness meditation can be a treatment for migraine.
Mindfulness-based treatment, when combined with medication, can have positive effects on withdrawal symptoms. Studies show that mindfulness therapy and buprenorphine can treat the opioid-addiction disorder.
A study under NCCIH showed that mindfulness based cognitive therapy can manage stress. Hence, the treatment used improves the mental health of law enforcement officers.
Stress, Depression, and anxiety
NCCIH reports a 2018 study on the subject. It included 142 groups diagnosed with disorders like stress, depression, and anxiety. The study examined the effects of mindfulness meditation in two ways:
-One without any other treatment
-One with established treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressant medications.
The analysis included over 12,000 people. The participants suffered from clinically-diagnosed disorders like stress, anxiety, and depression. The study revealed that mindfulness-based treatment worked well in both cases. It worked for both with and without other approved treatments. The analysis implied that mindfulness-based treatment was better than no treatment at all.
An analysis in 2019 studied the effects of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga on people. The analysis considered 23 studies with 1373 participants from various colleges and universities. It tested the effects of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga on stress and anxiety. The study showed some positive result. But it was eventually disregarded due to the high risk of bias.
Top 3 health benefits based on science
There are a multitude of benefits of meditation and mindfulness. No, we are not just saying it. There are, in fact, scientific studies that prove the benefits. Researches done show the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness on:
-withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, nicotine, and opioids.
However, not every research done is valid enough. Some studies stopped at a preliminary stage while others were not scientifically thorough. The results also varied because of:
-Studying different types of mindfulness and meditation practices.
-Intention of interruptions of results. Some researchers were too optimistic.
Nevertheless, here are top 3 benefits of meditation and mindfulness with valid research. Let's dive into these.
High Blood Pressure
The positive effects of meditation and mindfulness on blood pressure is widely known. Most practitioners promise improved blood pressure through mindfulness and meditation. And, they aren't wrong.
In 2017, the American Heart Association found that meditation may improve blood pressure. The specific effects are yet to be found but the study showed that it can lower higher blood pressure.
In 2020, 14 studies examined the benefits of mindfulness on blood pressure. The study included more than 1000 participants. It included people who were suffering from various health conditions. Participants had varying conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. The study revealed that people targeted by these diseases can benefit from mindfulness. It also showed a significant reduction in blood pressure in most of the participants.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma is one of the key reasons why most people want to try mindfulness and meditation. Certain events can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder. Patients suffering from PTSD are generally advised to try meditation and mindfulness. But, are they helpful in providing relief? There are some scientific studies that support this claim.
In 2018, the NCCIH held 2 studies to examine the effects of meditation on PTSD symptoms. The studies had 179 participants. The NCCIH also held 6 more studies to research on the effects of meditation on PTSD symptoms. The study included people from various backgrounds with interpersonal violence experiences. Out of 8 studies, 6 showed reduced PTSD symptoms in patients. A majority of participants showed positive results after receiving mindfulness-based treatment.
The U.S. Department of Defense also held a clinical trial in 2018. The trial compared three PTSD treatments:
-Prolonged exposure therapy. (A treatment to reduce PTSD symptoms by recalling traumatic experiences and memories).
The study included 203 veterans with PTSD symptoms caused by active military service.
The studies revealed that meditation and prolonged exposure therapy were equally effective. Both treatments worked in reducing PTSD symptoms. Not only that, meditation was also effective in reducing symptoms for depression. In fact, meditation was far more successful than PTSD health education. Veterans practising meditation showed an impressive boost in mood and quality of living.
Weight control and eating behaviour
Yes, meditation may have a positive result if you want to lose weight. Studies have suggested potential benefits of mindfulness and meditation on weight loss. These studies also show benefits of meditation and mindfulness in improving eating behaviours.
A review released in 2017 revealed the results shown by 15 studies. The studies included 560 participants. The objective was to see the effects of mindfulness on mental and physical well-being. This was especially with regards to people dealing with obesity. The results supported that meditation and mindfulness help in managing eating behaviours better. Additionally, mindfulness meditation techniques also improved anxiety and depression in obese people.
In 2018, a study included over 1160 participants. The aim was to test the possible effects of mindfulness on weight loss and eating disorders. It included people going through: restrictive eating, emotional eating, and binge eating disorders.
More analysis revealed that mindfulness-based treatment helped lose weight and improve eating behaviours. They showed that to reveal effective results, you must try mindfulness-based treatment with:
-Mindfulness-based stress reduction
-Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
-Formal and informal mindfulness exercises
These are the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. There's so much to discover about the wonders of mindfulness and meditation techniques. However, that doesn't mean the practice is pointless. As you can see from the evidences gathered above, there is a large potential here. Mindfulness and meditation can have positive effects that can last you for life. The question once again is on your belief. For any treatment to work, you need to believe that it will.
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