The Health Benefits of Meditation

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Published: 17 March 2018

Meditation is widely understood to provide a range of health benefits.

What is Meditation?

Meditation, which described by Better Health Channel (2015) as the ‘focusing of attention to bring about feelings of calm and heightened energy and awareness’, can help to reduce anxiety and stress.

There are several types of meditation, including:

  • Concentrating on your breathing
  • Grounding and mindfulness - a technique that involves being aware of and observing your inner experiences without judgement
  • Empyting your mind by allowing thoughts to flow in and out or gently pushing away stray thoughts
  • Focusing your attention on a certain object
  • Movement (e.g. yoga, qi gong or tai chi)
  • Using a mantra (a word or phrase that you repeat over and over to focus your attention).

(Better Health Channel 2015)

Medical professionals are able to detect the changes in brain activity that take place while meditating using electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology (Better Health Channel 2015).

The question is, what role does meditation have in evidence-based healthcare and best practice nursing?

Health Benefits of Meditation young woman

Meditation for Mental and Physical Health

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Goyal et al. (2014) focused on meditation for psychological stress and wellbeing, concluding that meditation programs can reduce stress with a small to moderate effect.

While there was limited evidence that meditation can produce slight improvements in stress and quality of life, the study found moderate evidence that meditation can generate small improvements in anxiety, depression and pain (Goyal et al. 2014).

It's also interesting to note that there was not enough evidence to conclude whether meditation can help to improve the health behaviours that are linked to stress (Goyal et al. 2014).

Similarly, a systematic review of mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare was completed by Gotink et al. in 2015.

The review outlined that there is evidence to support mindfulness in the easing of mental and physical symptoms ‘in the adjunct treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, depression, anxiety disorders and in prevention in healthy adults and children’ (2015).

Again, similar suggestions of the health and wellbeing benefits of mindfulness were raised by a systematic review and meta-analysis of Galante et al. (2014). This review focused on 'kindness-based mindfulness' (KBM), which is meditation aimed to improve consciousness of kindness.

The review states that the quality of included reports was low or moderate, yet concluded that there was evidence KBM could benefit health via its influences upon wellbeing and socialisation (Galante et al. 2014).

A systematic review of mind-body interventions to relieve anxiety in pregnancy was carried out by Marc et al. in 2011.

This review indicated that mind-body approaches could possibly help to reduce anxiety in pregnancy. However, conclusive evidence was limited due to the blinding and randomisation methods utilised during trials (Marc et al. 2011).

Similarly, Salhofer et al. (2016) completed a systematic review that found there to be insufficient quality evidence to conclude or evaluate the effect of meditation on people with haematological malignancies.

Bloack and Slavich (2016) stated in their systematic review of randomised controlled trials that:

‘The findings suggest possible effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological ageing, but these results are tentative and require further replication.’

Additionally, Goyal et al. (2014) describe meditation as a skill that requires professional or expert guidance and training to achieve competency. Thereby, the amount of practice that a person has with meditation along with the qualifications of their instructor are likely to affect the health outcomes of meditating.

Thus, Goyal et al. (2014) convey that health professionals should discuss meditation programs to prevent stress for clients.

Obviously, there is a need to evaluate the meditation program in terms of the qualifications of the instructor(s), mental activities promoted by the program, religious/spiritual appropriateness to the client, and whether the meditation program is part of a larger therapy course that includes other aspects of training such as yoga (Goyal et al. 2014).

Either way, it is fascinating to see that different applications of meditation are being explored in terms of health benefits and links to the idea of holistic healthcare, or care of the spiritual and inner self, as well as the physical self.

Note: Those living with severe mental illness should only perform meditation under the guidance/supervision of a professional (e.g. psychologist, medical doctor etc.) (Better Health Channel 2015).


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