Meditation is an ancient practice that dates back thousands of years. Despite its age, this practice is common worldwide because it has benefits for brain health and overall well-being. With the help of modern technology, researchers continue to expand their understanding of how meditation helps people and why it works.
Meditation is a practice that involves focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques.
Depending on the type of meditation you choose, you can meditate to relax, reduce anxiety and stress, and more. Some people even use meditation to help them improve their health, such as using it to help adapt to the challenges of quitting tobacco products.
The practice of meditation is thousands of years old, and different forms come from around the world. But modern science has only started studying this practice in detail during the last few decades. Some of the biggest leaps in science’s understanding of meditation have only been possible thanks to modern technology.
On the outside, someone who’s meditating might not seem to be doing anything other than breathing or repeating a sound or phrase over and over. Inside their brain, however, it’s an entirely different story. Modern diagnostic and imaging techniques, like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, show that meditation can positively affect your brain and mental health.
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Yes and no. Meditation has foundations in ancient philosophies and several world religions, but you don’t have to be religious to meditate.
Some examples of religious and nonreligious methods of meditation include:
There’s no one correct way to meditate. That’s because meditation can take many different forms. Experts have analyzed meditation practices and found that some common processes happen across different meditation forms. These are:
In general, people who meditate are more likely to see the following benefits:
Because mental health has a strong impact on the health of your body, those benefits also often bring improvements in how well you sleep, high blood pressure and heart function, and much more.
Thanks to advances in technology, researchers and healthcare providers can see how meditation affects your brain. However, to understand some of these changes, it helps to know a little about brain structure.
In your brain, you have billions of neurons, which are cells that use electrical and chemical signals to send signals to each other. One neuron connects to thousands of others, which is how your neurons form networks across different parts of your brain. Those networks form different areas of your brain, which have different jobs and specialties.
Multiple research studies have found that people who meditate regularly have certain differences in their brain structure. Those changes usually involve brain tissue that’s denser or certain areas of the brain that are larger than expected, which is a sign that the neurons there have more connections to each other and the connections are stronger.
The affected areas of the brain are usually those that manage or control your senses (vision, hearing, etc.), your ability to think and concentrate, and your ability to process emotions. That means the brains of people who meditate regularly are healthier and less likely to show age-related loss of function. They also have a stronger ability to deal with and process negative emotions like fear, anger and grief.
With so many different types of meditation to choose from, it can feel daunting to know which one you’re going to like best or will be most helpful for you. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to narrow it down.
Once you find a type of meditation to try, the following tips can help:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Meditation is an ancient practice that comes in many forms and types. While meditation historically was a religious practice, you don’t have to be religious to do it and experience the benefits yourself. Thanks to advances in medical technology and science, experts now better understand how meditation affects your brain and body. And research shows there are many benefits — for your mind and body alike — that come with regular meditation. Whether you’re familiar with meditation or starting new, there’s no shortage of information and resources to help you take a deep breath, focus and find a way to make meditation work for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/22/2022.
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