Mindfulness meditation isn’t a temporary fix for a temporary problem. Mindfulness meditation, like physical exercise, is a practice that will reap both short and long-term benefits. Similar to exercise, we can’t expect to work out until we’re in top shape and then just stop exercising for 6 months and expect to be in the same condition. Meditation, like physical wellness, is a habit that we need to accept as a long-term lifestyle change.
But what exactly are these benefits? Unlike working out, you don’t get the reward of seeing your body transform before you and it’s a bit more difficult to notice your mind and energy changing. So in case you were thinking of temporarily throwing in the towel, or not meditating at all, here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t.
In the 80s, scientists discovered a very interesting fact about our immune systems. They discovered that our immune system cells participated in the chemical messages that our brain sent to various parts of our bodies. This meant that whenever our brains sent out a signal about our thoughts, emotions, sensations or expectations, that signal was transmitted to our immune system cells as well. What this, in turn, meant was that our immune systems were inextricably linked to our brains and were greatly influenced by them. Because of this, scientists nicknamed the immune system “the floating brain”; a name that’s stuck throughout the years.
Since our emotions affect our immune systems, anything that affects the part of our brains that controls them, such as our prefrontal cortexes and hippocampi, will inevitably affect our immune systems as well. This was proven in a study published in the Psychosom Medical Journal in 2004. In this study, it was observed that mindfulness meditation directly stimulated these areas. Because these regions are also the command center of our immune system, having them stimulated strengthened the immune system of the study’s participants. After only 8 weeks it was observed that the 48 test subjects’ antibody levels had increased substantially, thus strengthening their “floating brains”.
In addition to boosting our immune systems, meditation can also be incredibly helpful in losing weight healthily. A clinical study conducted in 2011 revealed that mindfulness meditation played a part in helping people lose weight. A few days of mindful meditation reduced stress-eating substantially in participants. It also prompted them to begin eating more mindfully; slowing down to truly enjoy what they were eating and thus not eating as much as they used to.
It’s no secret that mindfulness meditation increases people’s attention spans and concentration. But this is a fact that merits being reiterated, especially considering what short attention spans we, the internet generation, have. It’s been observed in various studies that doing mindfulness meditations for just 4 days back to back increases our ability to sustain our attention for longer periods of time, while improving our working memory.
An unexpected positive effect of mindfulness meditation is that it decreases age-based and racial bias in groups, as well as in individuals. We all have our biases. For better or for worse, it’s a natural instinct that helps us navigate the world. For instance, we have certain food biases that determine our food preferences. But some biases, which we inherit from the societies we live in, are detrimental to us, such as racial bias. Mindfulness meditation can be an effective way of breaking them down over time by expanding our sense of empathy, understanding and compassion.
A 2015 study done in Central Michigan University showed that mindfulness meditation decreased age-based and racial bias substantially, in groups, as well as in individuals. The study also found that the participants trusted strangers of all ages and races more than they had before trying mindfulness meditation.
Another surprising benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it improves our perceptions of our bodies. Feeling unhappy with your experience, or struggling with body dysmorphia is something many of us face every day. It can cause a great deal of sadness, frustration, shame, and fear in how we go through our day to day activities. In searching for ways to address this, researchers Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, Kristin D. Neff and Ellen R. Alberton gave research participants a 1-week-long self-compassion meditation training. After just a week, it became clear that participants’ dissatisfaction with their bodies and body shaming decreased while the link between their self-worth and their looks began to dissolve and their levels of self-compassion increased, proving that meditation had directly improved their self-image.
There are so many little habits we have to take care of ourselves. Brushing our teeth, eating nutritious food, taking time for a hobby, exercising, showering, moisturizing our skin, wearing sunscreen, and even making sure to drink enough water—these are all habits we know we should do habitually. Likewise, mindfulness meditation is a habit we must start to consider as essential to maintaining our physical and emotional wellness. The well-being of ourselves and those around us count on it.