That meditation has a wide range of effects, can not only be seen in the century long experiences of meditators. The last decades that is also confirmed by science. When Western scientists in the seventies of last century started to examine Buddhist monks with many years of meditation experience, they found lots of really interesting results. The interest in the effects of meditation was awakened with that and has grown ever since.
Especially since the turn of the century, there has been a lot of studies have been done on the effects of meditation and the last few years it is hard to keep up with the big amount of new research.
Between 2000 and 2018 there were more than 6000 scientific studies published, mainly about mindfulness meditation (see table on the right, scource: www.goamra.org/resources) and nowadays yearly more than a thousand are added to that.
The effects are found as well clinically, the experienced and measured effects, as neuroscientific, the objective changes in brain and nervous system and hereby the most modern techniques are being used.
Also the amount of publications in the media showed a strong growth in the last years. The picture on the right shows that as well scientific (black line) as media (dotted gray line) articles increased enormeously between 1970 and 2015.
The attention it drew to the public was at the end of last century bigger than that of the scientific world, but that has evened out the last decades. In 2015 there were around 33.000 meditation related articles in the media, a tendancy that only grew the last few years.
Despite the thousands of articles and promising results, research on meditation is still premature and has it’s limitations. Often there is no big funding for it because it is commercially (read: there can’t be made a lot of money on it). Also there are a lot of meditation methods and not every method has the same effects. Research shows that certain forms of meditation are more effective for decreasing pain than others (Grant 2014) or that some types of meditation have a more energising effect and others a more relaxing effect (Amihai 2014, Lumma 2015).
This is comparable to sports. With some types of sport you train more your flexibilty (like yoga), with the other more endurance (like running) and with another more strength (like weight lifting). Where the one aspect can be adressed more than the other, most of the sports improve as well flexibility, as endurance as strength. Same goes for meditation. As in sport, there are common denominators in the different forms of meditation. Therefore research of one kind of meditation can give an indication for what happens with other forms. It is for this reason that some scientists use several different forms of meditation for their research and a lot of effects are also found for multiple different meditation forms.
The fact that almost all the big universities worldwide are doing research on meditation, articles appeared in the biggest scientific magazines in multiple branches, it is being used in the critical business world and conservative medical world, the amount of research is big and almost all found effects of meditation are positive, give an important indication about the effectiveness of meditation.
Be critical and your own scientist
Although there is a big amount of scientific research available about the positive effects of meditation, it isn’t the solution for everybody and every situation. Stay critical and always be your own scientist and test if it works for you. Real evidence is in my opinion only found if you can reproduce the effects yourself and if you can personally experience them. Experience is more important than knowledge, whatever authorities say or found about it. When it comes to practical experience, there aren’t many areas that have a more widespread, longlasting and consistent amount of knowledge and experiences than that of meditation. Let science inspire you research yourself what it does for you!
Scientific research articles
In this overview you will find scientific articles that support lots of the positive effects through meditation. Effects that are as well mentally as physically.
Mental benefits of meditation are:
- Reduction of stress
- Reduction of sickleave and burn-out
- Clearer perception
- More productivity
- More ability to concentrate
- Making less mistakes
- More creativity
- Quicker and better functioning of the brain
- Better memory
- Better decision making
- Better sleep and less sleep needed
- Better in managing emotions
- More mental wellbeing
- More happiness
Physically meditation brings you:
- More relaxation
- More energy
- Better functioning of the immune systeem
- Less age related degeneration of the bodycells
- Less age related loss of brainvolume
- Positive changes in the structure of the brain
Finally we’ll have a look at what meditation can do with disease and how it is used as therapy, like with problems as stress, burn-out, ADHD, pain, inflamatory diseases and other mental and physical problems.
In this overview you will find almost 250 different research articles!
You can find each of them by clicking on the name of the author. You can find more and deeper explanations of the scientific research around meditation in my book Meditation, deeper explained, which unfortunately is only available in Dutch.
Meditation reduces stress
That people that meditate experience less stress is found by:
- Subjective experience and hormone ratings ( Hoge 2018 – Greeson 2018 – Rosenkranz 2016 – Nidich 2009 – Klatt 2008 – Tang 2007)
- Tests in the nervous- and hormonesystem ( Pascoe 2017 – Rubia 2009)
- Achievement tests (Leonard 2013 – Jha 2010)
- Brain research ( Taren 2017 – Tang 2015 – Hölzel 2010 – Chiesa 2009 – Rubia 2009).
Meditation is also effective with the prevention of stress because people that meditate have less stressreactions (Pace 2009 – Pace 2010), even after a meditationprogram of eight weeks ( Kersemaekers 2018 – Levy 2012 – Kaviani 2011 – Shapiro 2007), four weeks (Leonard 2013), five days (Tang 2007), four days (Hwang 2018), three days (Creswell 2014) and two days (Trowbridge 2018). It is even found directly after the first meditation session (Borchardt 2018 – Lopez 2018 – Iwakuma 2017 – Amit Mohan 2011). The effect is also seen outside of the meditation program (Desbordes 2012). Research also shows that people that meditate recover quicker after stress ( Roemer 2015 – Johnson 2014) and that this was more effective than reading a book or just sitting still (Borchardt 2018).
The effects of meditation are seen in the changes of activity and structure of the brain in regions related to stress (Gotink 2016 – Hölzel 2010 – Hölzel 2011). This is found in MRIscans of people with a lot of meditation experience (Brefczynski 2007) as well as with people that only had eight weeks of meditation training (Hölzel 2010 – Hölzel 2011).
Meditation reduces sick leave and risk for burn-out
Sick leave and inability to work nowadays are more due to mental problems than to physical compaints. Research shows that meditation reduces the amount of sick leave (Barret 2018 – Barrett 2012) and even more than physical training (Obasi 2013).
A burn-out is the result of continuous stress and burn-out complaints at their staff are a big and expensive problem for employers nowadays. Meditation is shown to be effective for the prevention of burn-out (Kersemaekers 2018 – Lomas 2018 – Riet 2018 – Busireddy 2017 – Orellana-Rios 2017 – Roche 2014 – Bazarko 2013).
Meditation increases the clarity of perception
Research shows that meditation makes us capable to perceive more information (Gundel 2018 – Slagter 2007), to have a more reliable peception and to have less false memories (Wilson 2015). Even a short meditation training leaves us with better dicision making, as well in the laboratory situation as in daily life (Papies 2015).
Meditation also increases the ability to perceive what happens in our body and in our mind (Gotink 2016 – Fox 2014 – Manna 2010 – Tang 2015 – Strawn 2016 – Kumar 2014 – Luders 2012). Als that meditation helps with making better quality decissions (Shapiro 2012) and improves your problem solving capacity oplossend (de Vibe 2018 – Fan 2015), shows in research.
Meditation increases productivity and the ability to concentrate
Scientific research shows that meditation add to as well effectiveness (Van den Hurk 2010 – Kozasa 2012 – Deepeshwar 2015 – Van Gordon 2017) as productivity (Chan 2007 – Levy 2012 – Mrazek 2012 – Good 2016). That is already measurable after four days of meditation (Zeidan 2010). Even after one meditation there is a visible increase in cognitive functioning (Saoji 2017), even after already ten minutes of meditation (Fitzgerald 2017).
Often this is related to the ability to be consciously present, an effect of meditation that is also supported by scientific research (Jha 2007 – Lutz 2008 – Lutz 2009 – Chambers 2008 – Tang 2009 – MacLean 2010 – Sedlmeier 2012 – Tang 2015 – Nasser 2017 – Fabio 2018 – Basso 2019). It even occurs under stressful circumstances (Leonard 2013 – Jha 2016).
Meditation also leads to being less distracted (Carter 2005 – Levy 2012 – Elliot 2014 – Garrison 2015 – Atchley 2016 – Xu 2017 – Rahl 2017 – Rooks 2017) and making less errors (Van den Hurk 2010 – Teper 2013 – Tarrasch 2016). Also there is scientific evidence that the increased attention and reduced mind wandering is also present outside of the meditation sessions (Hasenkamp 2012).
Meditation brings improved cognitive functioning
(quicker and better functioning of the brain, memory, creativity and ability to make dissicions)
Meditation training shows an increase in cognitive functioning (Chambers 2008 – Manna 2010 – Teper 2013 – Elliot 2014 – Gard 2014 – Ding 2015). Scientific research points out that the efficiancy of the functioning of the brain, like processingspeed of information, increases by meditation (So 2001 – Slagter 2007– Lutz 2009 – Gard 2014 – Hasenkamp 2012 – Ramsburg 2013 – Travis 2014 – Berk 2017 – Basso 2019), just like the effectiveness the different regions of the brain work together (Hasenkamp 2012 – Creswell 2016 – Jao 2016 – van Lutterveld 2017).
Also creativity increases by meditation (Greenberg 2012 – Colzato 2012 – Ostafin 2012 – Baas 2014 – Ding 2015 – Schrootsma 2017 – Fabio 2018 ), just like het ability to make dissicions (Jha 2010 – Shapiro 2012 – Travis 2014). Research also shows that the memory improves by meditating (Gard 2014 – Khalsa 2015 – Ching 2015 – Berk 2017 – Basso 2019).
It is therefore no surprise that people that study achieve better when they meditate (Nidich 2011 – Colbert 2013 – Mrazek 2013 – Tang 2014). Research also finds that the learning ability itself increases through meditation (Ching 2015 – Tang 2015). Because meditatating even decreases the agerelated degeneration of the cognitive abilities and brainvolume (Pagnoni 2007 – Gard 2014 – Marciniak 2014), the ability to learn even stays better even at a higher age. This even shows on scans of the brain (Pagnoni 2007) and with people that have cognitive problems (Wells 2013) or dementia (Russell-Williams 2018 – Innes 2017).
Meditation improves sleep and decreases the need for sleep
Meditation is measurably effective to improve sleep (Greeson 2018 – Rusch 2018 – Crain 2017 – Black 2015 – Greeson 2014 – Klatt 2008) and the effects are still measurable after three to six months (Querstret 2017). There even is research that shows it is more effective than specific sleep training with insomnia and tiredness (Black 2015). Researchers found that improvement of sleep can already occur with six weeks of meditation (Klatt 2008 – Black 2015) and even four weeks (Querstret 2017).
Meditation brings more control over emotions
That meditations helps to handle your emoties, is shown by scientific research lots of times ( Broderick 2005 – Creswell 2007 – Tang 2009 – Manna 2010 – Erisman 2010 – Wadlinger 2011 – Robins 2012 – Levy 2012 – Shapiro 2012 – Garland 2015 – Crosswell 2017 – Fisher 2017 – Guendelman 2017 ). The ability to control emotions also is applicable in stressfull situations like with soldiers (Jha 2010), prisoners (Leonard 2013 – Nidich 2016) and people that work in healthcare (Guillaumie 2017 – Thimmapuram 2017 – Krasner 2009).
The better handling of emotions is present during and outside of the meditation (Desbordes 2012). Meditation leads to more emotional acceptance and being able to handle negative experiences better (Teper 2013). Research even shows that people with meditation experience have less negative emotions (Sedlmeier 2012).
Meditation provides more mental well-being
A lot of scientific research points out that meditation influences the amount of mental wellbeng in a positive way (Pace 2009 – Wadlinger 2011 – Shapiro 2012 – Shonin 2014 – Rosenkranz 2016 – Fredrickson 2017 – Kyeong 2017 – Thimmapuram 2017 – de Vibe 2018 – Travis 2018 – Lomas 2018 – Basso 2019). That this is occurs rather quickly is shown by the results of research after four weeks of meditation (Jain 2007), two weeks (Tang 2012 – Berghoff 2018), five days (Tang 2007), four days (Zeidan 2010) and even three sessions (Harnett 2010). Even directly after the first session of meditation people notice an improvement of their mood (Yu 2011 – Johnson 2015 – Edwards 2018). Also was found that people felt better at the days they meditated compared to the days that they didn’t (Lacaille 2018).
Also people with health problems experience an improved wellbeing through meditation. This has been found by people with decreased mental wellbeing (Broderick 2005) or health issues (Grossman 2004 – Long 2017 – Pagnini 2017). Also this was seen by research among cancer patients (Speca 2000 – Carlson 2005 – Piet 2012 – Boxleitner 2017 – Zimmermann 2018) and patients with anxiety, depression and diverse psychiatric or medical conditions (Hofmann 2010). With depression meditation even is more succesful as a treatment than regular therapy (as well the pharmaceutical approach with anti-depressants as with the non-pharmaceutical) and as well as treatment as with prevention for relaps (Eisendrath 2016 – Kuyken 2015).
That meditation leads to less negative emotions is a tendency that is seen with multiple different meditation techniques (Sedlmeier 2012). Also research shows that it leads to less worrying (Riet 2018 – Sevinc 2018 – Nasser 2017 – Xu 2017 – Svendsen 2016 – Sauer-Zavala 2013) and a reduction of suicidal thoughts when these are present (Johnson 2018 – Barnhofer 2015 – Forkmann 2015). Science also point out that meditation decreases selfcriticism and depressive thoughts (Shahar 2014), increases selfesteem (Goldin 2010), brings more body acceptance, a less negative self image and less shame for the way you look (Albertson 2015 – Samuelson 2007 – Shonin 2013).
Meditation makes happier
Because meditation reduces stress, increases emotional control and imporves well-being, it isn’t a suprise that it also increases happiness. Research also shows that there are in the regions of the brain that are active when we experience hapiness (Lutz 2004). These parts of the brain are measurably more active with people that meditate and also better developped (Lutz 2004 – Luders 2009). Changes in the brain that indicate the experience of more happiness find place after a while of meditation. This is seen on MRI scans after five weeks of meditation (Moyer 2011) and eight weeks of meditation (Davidson 2003).
Meditation brings relaxation
Meditation relaxes the body and this is shown in research for several different meditation forms, like:
- Zen meditation (Chiesa 2009 – Wu 2008 – Takahashi 2005)
- Mindfulness meditation (Sevinc 2018 – Jones 2018 – Hughes 2013 – Carlson 2007)
- Transcendental meditation (Travis 2018 – Bai 2015 – Nidich 2009 – Maxwell 2007 – Rainforth 2007 – Walton 2004)
- IBMT – integrated body-mind training (Tang 2009)
- Amrita meditation (Vandana 2013)
- Raja meditation (Vyas 2002)
Researchers even found that meditation brings more physical relaxation than relaxation exercises (Tang 2009), sitting still with the eyes closed (Borchardt 2018 – Irrmischer 2018) or distraction (Borchardt 2018 – Garrison 2015) . Also does meditation lead to a quicker recovery after stressful training, which showed in research in the military (Johnson 2014).
Meditation reduces fatigue and increases energy
Meditation strengthens immune system
Meditation improves the functioning of the immune system and that is found in research with different forms of meditation (Househam 2017), like:
- Mindfulness meditation (Gonzalez-Garcia 2013 – Creswell 2009 – Davidson 2003)
- IMBT – integrated body-mind training (Fan 2010 – Tang 2007)
- Compassion meditation (Pace 2009)
- Transcendental meditation (Infante 2014)
The increased functioning of the immune system can take place quickly. Research shows that is already happens after eight weeks (Davidson 2003), six weeks (Pace 2009), four weeks (Fan 2010 ) and five days (Tang 2007) of meditation and even after one session there already is a measurable difference (Torkamani 2018).
It also works for people with a reduced functioning of the immune system. Research with HIV-patients shows that after eight weeks of meditation there is a reduced decrease of resistance cells (Gonzalez-Garcia 2013 – Creswell 2009).
Meditation decreases aging of the brain and body cells
Scientific research shows that meditation reduces the loss of volume of the brain that normally occurs while aging (Chételat 2017 – Kurth 2017 – Laneri 2015 – Last 2017 – Luders 2016 – Pagnoni 2007 – Lazar 2005). Researchers found that this applies for young and aged, for different meditation techniques and for all regions of the brain (Luders 2015). Scientists even found that the volume of the brain with forty to fifty year olds that meditated a lot is equal to that of people in the controlgroup of twenty to thirty years of age (Lazar 2005).
Cel aging in the whole body can be seen in the length of the telomers. Telomers are a sort of protective caps at the ends of the chromosomes and the longer these telomers, the less cel aging. The length of the telomers decreases under stress, inflammation and reduced functioning of the immune system. Meditation not only indirectly has a positive indirect effect on cel aging by reducing these factors (Jacobs 2011), it also brings a direct increase on telomere length (Thimmapuram 2017 – Alda 2016 – Schutte 2014 – Hoge 2013 – Jacobs 2011). Research even shows that meditation has a bigger positive effect on telomere length than other, positively proven factors like physical exercise, healthy diet and social support (Epel 2009).
Meditation changes the brain structurally
Through the years there has been a lot of scientific research that has shown structural developments in the brain as a result of the mental training of meditation. It leads to an increased volume, blood circulation and amount of neural connections in the brain regions. MRIscans show this applies as well for the more primitive regions of the brain as for the regions there for more complex skills (Kang 2013).
Also the collaboration between the different regions is improved in people that meditate. During meditation as well as outside the meditation (Hasenkamp 2012 – Creswell 2016 – Jao 2016 – van Lutterveld 2017). These effects occur through meditation and for example not as a result of relaxation exercises (Creswell 2016).
There is also research done on the effect of meditation on specific parts of the brain. There are on an MRI scan measurable changes found in the regions related to:
- Concentration and awareness (Jang 2011 – Hölzel 2008 – Kumar 2014 – Kurth 2015 – Tang 2017 – Sharma 2018)
- Stressregulation (Brefczynski 2007 – Hölzel 2010 – Hölzel 2011 – Gotink 2016 – Kral 2018 – Weng 2018)
- Consciousness of body and emotions (Lutz 2004 – Lazar 2005 – Luders 2012 – Manna 2010 – Kang 2013 – Kumar 2014 – Fox 2014)
- Information processing (Luders 2012 – Acevedo 2016 – Gundel 2018)
- Spacial orientation (Hölzel 2008)
- Memory (Hölzel 2008 – Marciniak 2014 – Acevedo 2016)
- Control over pain (Grant 2010 – Tang 2012 – Kumar 2014)
- Regulation of van emotions (Hölzel 2008 – Luders 2009 – Kumar 2014)
- Motoric centers for heart, lungs and motor skills (Kumar 2014)
A review study of 2014 shows that there is scientific evidence that many different forms of meditation lead to structurl changes in the brain. This is proven for the regions related to awareness, body awareness, memory, self control and emotion regulation and the areas that improve the collaboration between the parts of the brain (Fox 2014).
This can happen quickly. There are measurable changes on MRI scans found after twelve (Strawn 2016), eight (Hölzel 2010 – Hölzel 2011 – Gotink 2016) and even four weeks of meditation (Tang 2010 – Xue 2011 – Tang 2012).
Meditation as therapy
The services of Meditatie Amsterdam are not focussed on meditation as therapy. To get a broader perspective though about the effectivity of meditation I will provide you with a short overview of how meditation is being used in the medical world. Scientific research has shown that meditation is an effective intervention with:
- A broad range of psychiological problems and mental diseases (Khoury 2013 – Shonin 2015 – Graser 2018)
- Anxiety (Hofmann 2010 – Chen 2012 – – Gotink 2015 – Tomljenović 2016), even more effective than individual psychotherapy sessions (Sundquist 2015), regular treatment (Orme-Johnson 2014) or stressmanagement courses (Hölzel 2013 – Hoge 2017)
- Depression (Britton 2012 – Potes 2018), as wel in the acute as in the subacute phase (Felipe 2015) and more effective as individual sessions of psychotherapy (Sundquist 2015), rest or education (Winnebeck 2017) or physical exercise (Alsaraireh 2017) and as effecive as regular treatment in general (Chiesa 2011), antidepressants (Segal 2010) or regular non-pharmaceutical treatment (Eisendrath 2016). Meditation decreases the risk on relaps of depression (Piet 2011 – Fjorback 2011 – Williams 2014 – Creswell 2017 – Velden 2017) and is in that even slightly more effective than antidepressants (Kuyken 2015).
- Stress (Khoury 2013 – Sundquist 2015), even with people that suffer from post traumatisch stress syndrome (Hankley 2007 – King 2013 – Polusny 2015 – Barnes 2016 – Rees 2014)
- Burn-out (Roeser 2013 – Elder 2014)
- ADHD/ADD with as well children as adults (Zylowska 2008 – Grant 2013 – Schoenberg 2014 – Mitchell 2015 – Crescentini 2016 – Herbert 2017 – Rice 2018) and shown to be as effective as psychotherapy (Hoxhaj 2018).
- Addictions to drugs (Bowen 2009 – Shonin 2013 – Garland 2016 – Li 2017 – Lyons 2018), sigarets (Tang 2007 – Brewer 2011 – Westbrook 2013 – Li 2017 – Goldberg 2018 – Tapper 2018 ), sexual feelings (Papies 2015 – Van Gordon 2016) and too much and unhealthy eating (Kristeller 2014 – Katterman 2014 – Papies 2015 – Tapper 201 – Graser 2018 – Carrière 2018). For losing weight due to unhealthy eating meditation is shown to be more effective than weight loss programs (Carrière 2018). For sigaret addiction, meditation is as effective to twice more effective than regular therapy (Davis 2014 – Spears 2017), where the effect after four months is two (Oikonomou 2017) to even five times (Brewer 2011) bigger. and five hours of meditation was proven enough to reduce smoking with 60% (Tang 2007). It also decreases the relaps risk with drug use (Bowen 2014 – Witkiewitz 2010) and alcohol addiction (Bowen 2014).
- Inflammation (Rozenkranz 2013 – Rozenkranz 2016 – Creswell 2012 – Creswell 2016 – Hoge 2018) where eight weeks of meditation is even more effective than physycal exercise and a healthy diet (Rozenkranz 2013) and three days of meditation leads to a clear decrease of an important biomarker for inflammatory diseases like cancer, Alzheimer and auto immune diseases (Creswell 2016).
- Pain in general (La Cour 2015 – Garland 2014), in the lower back (Cherkin 2016 – Morone 2016 – Ardito 2017 – Luiggi-Hernandez 2017) and headache (Bakhshani 2016 – Gu 2018). Four days of 20 minutes meditation a day can already lead to a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57% decrease of the unpleasantness of the experience of the pain (Zeidan 2011). Also meditation leads to a higher level of pain control and pain acceptance (La Cour 2015). The effects of meditation are not only there right after the intervention, they remain present after three months (Garland 2014) or half a year (La Cour 2015 – Morone 2016) afterwards. Also the urge for painreducing medication reduces through meditation, as well as the abuse of these kinds of medication (Garland 2014). Meditation has shown to be a lot more effective than placebo (Zeidan 2015) and also the brain activity present with pain reduces measurably (Grant 2010 – Orme-Johnson 2006 – Zeidan 2011 – Zeidan 2015).
Meditation is a relatively cheap form of therapy that can be taught in groups and afterwards easiliy applied by oneself, without lifelong medication use with all its negative side effects. Meditation can help to reduce medical costs. Research shows that doctors costs billed with the Insurance company by ‘high cost’ patients that meditated were 28% lower than a comparable group that didn’t meditate (Herron 2011). Another research whowed that people that received meditation and yoga had an averge decrease of medical costs of 43% where the costs for the control group only increased (Stahl 2015). These findings were done after studies of five and eight years and a very bog research population. Also there is research that points out that meditation reduces the amount of sick leave with flue and colds (Barrett 2012).
Also as prevention meditation effective. Reducing stress doesn’t only prevent lickleave and burn-out, it also helps against heartdisease. As well as it lowers the general riskfactors for heartdisease (Paul-Labrador 2006 – Ray 2014 – Bernardi 2017 – Pascoe 2017 – Shi 2017 – Yang 2017), like specificly cholesterol levels (Vyas 2002 – Walton 2004). In patients with cardio-vascular disease it is shown to reduce anxiety, also a risk factor for heartproblems (Tacon 2013). It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that research has shown that meditation reduces the amount of deaths, heart attacks and heart strokes by no less than 48% in a group of patients with heart disease (Schneider 2012).
Meditation is more and more being prescribed by docktors because of all the results found by scientific research. Meditation and medication derive from the same Latin word: ‘medert’, which means as much as ‘healing’. Meditation is cheap and there can’t be made too much money in it, especially compared to medication, it probably will take a little while before it can become a competitor of the mighty farmaceutical industry, especially for their best selling products in cholesterol and bloodpressure medication and antidepressants. The many positive results of meditation so far gave this tendancy a start already.