Below are some of the most popular facts about meditation studies published here on PsyBlog.
Click the link in each of the facts about meditation to learn more about the study.
1. Meditation fact: it changes your personality
Meditation is linked to higher levels of extraversion and openness to experience and lower levels of neuroticism, research finds.
Neuroticism is a personality trait that is strongly linked to anxiety, sadness, irritability and self-consciousness.
Extraversion, along with its well-known attribute of engaging with other people, is linked to higher levels of positive emotionality.
In other words, people who meditate probably experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions.
Openness to experience is the quality of being receptive and curious, as well as imaginative and sensitive to feelings.
2. Deep meditation linked to improved gut health
Regular deep meditation could lower the risk of mental and physical health problems as well as improve gut health, a study of long-term meditators suggests.
The research found that Tibetan Buddhist monks had substantially different gut microbiomes from their secular neighbours.
The gut microbiome has been strongly linked to mood and behaviour.
It affects the stress response, hormonal signalling and the vagus nerve, which are all part of the parasympathetic nervous system.
3. Mindfulness meditation has some distressing side-effects
Mindfulness-based meditation is often thought to have no problematic side-effects — but that is not one of the true facts about meditation.
When asked the right questions, some admit it makes them hypersensitive, others that it causes nightmares and that they continue to re-experience traumatic events, research reveals.
The most common side-effect from meditation is ‘dysregulated arousal’, which means either people feel too agitated or too flat.
In other words, some experience anxiety and others feel emotionally disconnected after meditating.
Emotional disconnection might be a positive for some people, although it depends on the situation.
4. Mindfulness best for anxious and depressed
While meditation is often thought of as a purely beneficial experience, a study finds otherwise.
People with negative patterns of thinking, such as anxiety or depression, are more likely to have bad experiences while meditating.
The research found, people who practised deconstructive forms of meditation were at an increased risk of unpleasant experiences compared with those using other types.
‘Deconstructive’ practices of meditation include Vipassana (insight) and Koan practice (used in Zen Buddhism).
In comparison, the risk was lower for attentional and constructive types of meditation.
In other words, if you are anxious or depressed it may be better to stick to mindfulness, breathing and loving-kindness meditation.
5. Fact: How meditation changes the brain
The uplifting emotions that many feel when practising meditation are accompanied by specific changes in the brain, research finds.
Meditation does not just lift depression and anxiety, neuroscientists now think it acts on the brain in a similar way to therapy and antidepressants.
The method of meditation used in the study was Transcendental Meditation.
Transcendental Meditation involves repeating a ‘mantra’ to oneself for around 15 to 20 minutes per day.
Transcendental Meditation is thought to be one of the most widely used types of meditation around the world.
6. Just 10 minutes meditation works
Just 10 minutes meditation by a total novice is enough to improve thinking skills, research finds.
People who listened to a 10-minute meditation tape were more accurate and performed faster on a cognitive test afterwards.
All the people in the study had never meditated before in their lives.
Longer meditation sessions, or multiple sessions meditation might provide greater improvements to people’s cognitive abilities.
7. A body scan reduces anxiety quickly
A single one-hour session of meditation using a ‘body scan’ can reduce anxiety and improve heart health, research finds.
It is well-known that repeated meditation is beneficial, but this study shows how even a relatively small amount can help.
Even one week after a single session of meditation, people still had lower anxiety levels than before.
The type of meditation used in the study was a ‘body scan’.
A body scan involves focusing intensely on one part of the body at a time over a thirty-minute period.
This was done after first spending twenty minutes doing a meditation induction and was followed by ten minutes self-guided meditation.
8. Meditation conserves the brain’s gray matter
Meditation conserves the brain’s gray matter — used for processing thoughts — against age-related degeneration, a study finds.
From around the late twenties, people’s brains start to reduce in size and weight.
With these changes come worse memory, slower processing and the other cognitive changes associated with age.
The research shows that older people who meditated had preserved more gray matter.
So, not only can meditation preserve the brain’s white matter — used for communication between different areas — it can also preserve the brain’s gray matter, which is where cognition ‘happens’.
9. Fact: Meditation helps prevent memory loss
Meditation and yoga are more effective than memory games or crosswords for fighting memory problems linked to Alzheimer’s, according to a study.
Researchers compared two groups of people aged over 55 who reported memory problems like losing things, forgetting names and appointments.
One group were given crosswords and memory training to do over 12 weeks.
The other group did both yoga and meditation for an equivalent amount of time.
People in the yoga group practiced 20 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation, which is a part of Kundalini yoga.
Kundalini yoga involves focusing on breathing, chanting as well as the visualisation of light.
People who did yoga and meditation had better visuo-spatial memory: the type used for navigating and recalling locations.
Yoga and meditation also had better results in reducing depression and anxiety.
It helped people develop higher levels of resilience and increased their ability to cope.
10. Fact: Meditation reduce loneliness
It one of the facts about meditation that it can reduce feelings of loneliness and the expression of genes which cause inflammation, a study suggests.
After the eight-week study, participants who had been meditating felt significantly less lonely.
But the benefits did not end there, the researchers also found that meditation altered the genes related to inflammation.
After meditating, participants showed lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and there were beneficial alterations in a genetic transcription factor (NK-kB) which has been found to be important in heart disease.
While inflammation is one of the body’s natural reactions to disease and other attacks, when it becomes long-lasting it can cause other diseases and depression.
→ Read on: Mindfulness Meditation: Guide And Research On Attention