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5 Reasons You Should Start Meditating Today


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Learn five ways meditation can improve your mental and physical well-being.

why should I meditate?
Incorporating meditation is an important tool for overcoming stress. DragonImages/iStock/Thinkstock

If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me mention meditation as an excellent way to reduce stress and improve health (here, here, and here). Just last week I wrote about mindfulness (which can include mindfulness meditation) as a way to avoid a “near-life experience.”

We know that stress is a major contributor to almost every ailment imaginable, from thyroid disorders and diabetes to digestive issues. But it’s often difficult for people to commit to a stress-reduction practice like meditation, likely in part because stress-reduction can seem vague and hard to define compared with changing your diet, supplement, or exercise routine.

But when you look at the research, meditation as a form of stress-reduction has actually been studied in many randomized clinical trials that show concrete, measurable benefits. And the best part is that you can reap most of these benefits in just 10-20 minutes per day!

What Is “Meditation”?

There are several subcategories under the broad umbrella of ‘meditation’, but the two types most frequently studied are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation. The main difference between the two is that with transcendental meditation (TM), you focus on a mantra that you repeat in your head, whereas with mindfulness meditation, you typically focus on your breath or other physical sensations.

I was introduced to meditation through TM when I was 17 years old (thanks Dad!). After a few years I transitioned to mindfulness meditation, and eventually to Zen practice. Regardless of which form of meditation you practice, the goal is to develop greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations, and learn to observe them without reacting unconsciously. 

Here are my top five reasons you should start meditating today.

1. It Will Make You More Focused and Productive

I personally have had a pretty consistent meditation practice for more than 20 years now, and one of the areas I find it most helpful is for boosting productivity and improving focus. One study shows that meditating for just 10 minutes per day can improve focus and help the brain become more efficient at processing conflicting stimuli. (1)

Another study found improvements in attention and cognitive function after only four days of meditation training. (2)

There’s even convincing evidence that meditation actually causes physical changes in the gray and white matter of the brain, particularly regions responsible for awareness, self and emotion regulation, and memory. (3) By meditating, you can actually ‘re-wire’ your brain to be more effective and efficient.

2. It’s Good for Your Heart

Increased productivity and focus is great, but the benefits of meditation aren’t just mental. Several randomized controlled trials have shown significant decreases in blood pressure in participants assigned to meditation, compared with controls who were assigned to progressive muscle relaxation or health-education programs. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) This is important because high blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor for heart attack. Meditation is also associated with decreases in mortality in older patients with high blood pressure. (11)

Meditation improves other markers of heart health as well. (12) For example, in African American adolescents with borderline high blood pressure, four months of meditation resulted in significantly decreased left ventricular mass compared with controls receiving health education. (13) This is noteworthy because increased left ventricular mass is an early sign of left ventricular hypertrophy, which is a strong predictor of cardiovascular-related mortality. One small study even showed significant reductions in cholesterol levels in patients with high cholesterol who meditated for 11 months. (14)

3. You’ll Be Happier and Less Stressed

One of the more widely acknowledged benefits of meditation is improvement in mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Several trials have found meditation to be effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, even when compared with active controls (such as relaxation techniques). (15, 16, 17)

One difficulty in meditation research is setting up an appropriate control group, so I found this next study’s use of “sham meditation” interesting. They compared the effects of brief mindfulness meditation (20 minutes per day for three days) with the effects of sham meditation, where participants believed they were meditating but were not instructed to focus on the breath and let go of passing thoughts. Even though the trial lasted only three days, participants in the mindfulness meditation group reported significantly lower levels of depression, fatigue, and confusion at the end of it when compared with the sham meditation group. (18) All of the participants believed they were meditating, but the mindfulness meditation group still showed significantly greater benefits.

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4. It Might Reduce Inflammation

It seems logical that meditation could improve anxiety and depression by reducing mental stress and improving cognitive function. But we also know that symptoms of depression and anxiety can be caused by inflammation, and a few studies have actually shown that meditation can reduce gene expression for inflammatory cytokines.

One study assigned a group of premenopausal breast cancer survivors to a mindfulness meditation practice consisting of one 2-hour group class per week and 5-20 minutes of individual meditation per day. (19) After six weeks, the patients in the meditation group had reduced levels of pro-inflammatory gene expression and signaling compared with a control group who received no treatment.

A study on 45 dementia caregivers found that meditating for 12 minutes per day for eight weeks resulted in altered gene expression, with increased expression of immunoglobulins and decreased expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (20)

5. It Can Help You Sleep

Lack of sleep is a major contributor to chronic disease in our modern society. Even when people have time to get adequate sleep, they often can’t fall asleep because their brains are still in high-gear. Good sleep hygiene (like reducing nighttime exposure to artificial light) certainly helps, but by training your brain to let go of passing thoughts instead of pursuing them through meditation, you’ll make it far easier to “turn off” your brain when it’s time to sleep.

Several studies have supported meditation as an effective treatment for insomnia. (21, 22) One randomized controlled trial of 30 adults with chronic insomnia even found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation program was as effective at improving sleep as medication with Lunesta. (23)

Bonus Reason: You Have Nothing to Lose!

There are many more conditions than I’ve listed here that stand to benefit from regular meditation practice. Meditation has been shown to increase longevity in elderly nursing-home residents (24); increase telomerase activity in immune cells (25, 26); and improve immune strength and resistance to the flu (27). Meditation has also been studied and found to be helpful in disordered eating (28), fibromyalgia (29, 30), chronic low back pain (31), insulin resistance (32), and psoriasis (33).

But the cool thing about meditation is that you really don’t need a huge list of tightly-controlled trials to assess its safety and prove that it works. It’s not a drug. There are no side-effects. It doesn’t cost money. So you have nothing to lose by just giving it a shot, and everything to gain.

There are tons of free resources online for getting started with meditation. Lifehacker has some helpful information, and the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has a free meditation podcast with guided weekly meditations. I also like the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, and some people have found apps like Headspace to be helpful.

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Join the conversation

  1. Great article Chris.

    I’ve spent the last 16 years or so practicing different forms of meditation: 10 years of mindfulness in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh, 2 years of Vipassana in the lineage of S N Goenka, 2 years of Binaural Beats in the form of Holosync and most recently 2 years of TM.

    As someone who suffered from burnout whilst traveling through the Fat East, I have been on a healing quest to get back to good health and meditation formed a big part of that. Besides having a Paleo diet I would say meditation would come a close second to enabling me to get back to rude health. It has been over 2 years now that I feel back to my old self after 10 years of fatigue and feeling generally quite low.

    All of these mediation practices have been helpful, to some degree, in helping me to get back good health. But it’s TM that has helped me by far the most. I’m actually constantly amazed how this very simply daily practice continues to help me in my daily life. From the very first session I could not believe the ‘depth’ that I went to with this practice. After only a couple of minutes I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole to ultimate bliss. I had only felt like this a couple of times before and usually after a week or more on retreat with 10 hrs of sitting practice. To feel deeply rested, peaceful, happy, blissful and at one with everything after a couple of minutes was astonishing. Maybe if I hadn’t spent the previous 14 years or so practicing other forms of meditation I wouldn’t have arrived here so quickly. Or maybe I wouldn’t have recognized the state for what it was.

    So I’m totally sold on TM. It’s a wonderful effortless practice that has brought me much joy and improved my life beyond what I thought was possible a few years ago. Sitting twice a day for twenty minutes silently ‘reciting’ my mantra has eradicated all my fatigue issues and brought me so much joy, peace, clarity of thought and strangely improved my confidence. It has improved all areas of my life, much more so than anything else that I have done.

    I think part of it’s magic is that it effortless (not just a case of mechanically reciting a mantra) and extremely enjoyable and even pleasurable to practice. Though it isn’t cheap to learn compared to mindfulness. It cost me about a 600 euros. But it was easily the best money that I ever spent on myself.

  2. I am a meditator too, i would highly recommend anyone reading this thread to please google, “michael domeyko rowland”! this guy really knows about meditation, i have learned basically everything there is to know about it from him. He has a few secrets nobody else knows about, including the big one about meditation, “you don’t do it, it does you”!

  3. I have been a meditator 15 years now, and the best thing I know of to help us meditate is the Shambhala-Meditation-Healing Tools, created by Buddha Maitreya. The Shambhala Healing Tools bring out profoundly deep, healing meditation. And fast. People are blown away by how rejuvenated they feel by even 5 min’s with these amazing tools.
    The other thing I recommend is to attend the OM Pyramid Meditation, which is an online worldwide meditation and teaching hosted by Buddha Maitreya, happening most Sundays. Buddha Maitreya is the most wise, awesome being I know. Both the Tools and the OM Meditation can be found at http://www.shambhalahealingtools.com. Also I should say that with a real, awake teacher, meditations benefits go far beyond stress relief. Its helps bring out our potential.

  4. Your description of meditation, like some others I’v read, seems to be all about physical benefits. But in fact the practice was designed to be a spiritual one, meant to gain inspiration and intuitions from higher intelligence. You do not address that aspect at all; and I wonder if there is now a popular sub-category of meditation for folks who want to just feel good and improve their stamina.

    Maybe what you are promoting is just relaxation techniques. I imagine calmness would offer many of the benefits you are discussing– lower blood pressure, better sleep, etc. No argument with that– but it seems mislabeled. Shouldn’t it be made known that you are dealing with relaxation and making no attempt to access higher worlds?

    (I really want to know.)

    • Chris is naturally going to deal with the health benefits of meditating. Higher world/spiritual benefits thru meditating is best addressed on other sites that deal specifically with spirituality.

  5. I found qigong to be a kind of walking and still meditation. Very fun and amazingly healthy. I am putting together my own practice. You can find many kinds of qigong on utube

  6. For anyone who has never tried mediation before, I’ve found the apps from Headspace or Calm to be very helpful.

  7. One problem – what exactly is meditation? Is it just sitting quietly? Is it focused breathing? There’s thousands of different definitions and practices of meditation. Which one actually works? Nobody knows.

    • In his article, Chris is recommending mindfullness or mantra based meditation, so start there if you are new to meditation.

    • Another good reason to use a binaural-beat audio program to meditate. These have been demonstrated with brainwave measuring devices to produce an ideal meditative state first time, every time. No need to worry about doing it right.

    • John, I don’t think it needs to be complicated.

      Meditation is basically a mindfulness practice. You sit still and become aware (mindful) of your thoughts.

      Watch them collide, argue, compete for your attention and reaction.

      Let them wear themselves out, and then turn to some focal point such as your breath or an image in your mind’s eye.

      Once you get to a state of mind that is still, your brain is probably producing alpha or theta brainwaves, a sure sign that you’re in an “altered state”, given that we mostly operate in beta frequencies as we interact with the world.

      So what actually works is very well known.

      To the practitioner, (s)he’s meditating when thoughts have been stilled and the predominant feeling is peacefulness.

      To the scientist, electroencephalography can show which brainwave frequencies are dominant. If alpha or theta, you’re meditating.

      This advice I gave a friend after I introduced him to zazen at a buddhist temple may be useful to you: http://www.garmaonhealth.com/be-here-now/

      • Good suggestions Joe, I usually go into meditation with the intention of focusing on my breath, Chest rising falling etc…and invariably thoughts often come into play. I don’t beat myself up for having a thought, I simply return to my breath. Eventually, the thoughts diminish and I tend to reach a silent state that is not sleeping but very restful and when I am done meditating I generally feel much more rested and refreshed then I would have had I took a short nap.

        • Yes, SC, the key is not to get perturbed by whatever arises… doing so is definitely NOT meditating.

          Just gotta be nonplussed by whatever arises. Look at it and watch it fade.

          Kinda cool, actually.

    • Pick a thing to focus on , notice when you’re not focusing on it , refocus , notice when you’re not focusing, repeat.

  8. Spot on, Chris.

    The research is pretty convincing about how meditation can be directly responsible for improving a wide variety of health outcomes, as you’ve indicated, not to mention just feeling way better about life.

    Nonetheless, people have resistance to meditation. They often think it’s too hard to master, or simply are uncomfortable with their own chattering “monkey minds”.

    So, I suggest that beginners jump on Youtube and search for “binaural” or “isochronic tones”. These are sounds that can make your an accomplished mediator fast!

    There’s a Soundcloud example you can listen to embedded in the article, “Why Holosync Technology Will Quickly Give You These 10 Benefits of Meditation and More” http://bit.ly/1K5sZbw

    And the background info about how these tones entrain brainwave frequencies to bring meditators to monk-like levels can be read here: http://bit.ly/1DOchuU

  9. The true meditation of our lives is in God’s word:

    “…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

    Psalm 1:2

  10. Great stuff, Chris. Thank you for all of your work. I’ve found that using Headspace has been exceptionally helpful to facilitating daily meditation. Great app! I would highly recommend it. If I can spend a few bucks on monthly subscriptions for streaming media, my mind and health is certainly also worth a little time and attention.

  11. I have been using a binaural-beat audio program to meditate to for 10 years and it’s the closest thing to magic you could ever imagine! It’s been the most powerful personal and spiritual growth program I’ve ever come across and it takes ZERO effort. (it even works in your sleep!!!) The benefits included in the blog here barely scratch the surface of what is available.

    Now, some people will probably doubt that listening to audio waves could work as good as meditating on your own, but I would guess that it’s many times faster and more effective, just from comparing the results I’ve gotten with the usual benefits people attribute to meditation.
    These programs cost as little as $30 for a mp3 download; just make sure they use binaural-beat technology. There are other meditation programs out there that don’t work as well.

    • Completely agree, plus Youtube has an amazing variety of such sounds free for the listening.

      You can make sure it works for you before making a purchase.

  12. Great work Chris! As I’m new to meditation, I can definitely relate and appreciate the last reason for meditating. I’m truly interested to see how it helps me moving forward. Deanne, glad you commented and provided those websites. I agree that we can make time for mediation even for as little as two minutes.

  13. Hi Chris,

    Great article. As you said, you’ve got nothing to lose by meditating! No one has ever died from it!

    I do feel, however, that we tend to only talk about meditation these days in terms of how it can reduce our stress and improve our health. Sure, those are great side-effects but its real purpose since ancient times has been that of Union, Yoga, the connecting process of ourselves as an immortal spiritual entity and the perishable personality-self that temporarily exists in this world.
    As spiritual writer, Imre Vallyon says in one of his books, “Within us is another dimension, another vast, bright, Imperishable Reality full of ecstasy, joy, potential and creativity beyond imagination, and we don’t even want to know about it!”

    Keep up the great work. I’ve learnt a lot from your blogs.

    • I agree, Hamish. There is much more to be had, but it takes many years of daily meditation, training and discipline to access the most profound benefits. Too much effort for many of us, myself included.

      Elsewhere, I have posted about an audio program I use that does all the work for you and requires no learning. I can attest to its effectiveness, after 10 years of daily use.

      • Everyone will experience meditation benefits at a different rate. There is no reason to go into a meditation practice with the mindset that it will take years or arduous practice. I would advise new practitioners to expect benefits after a short period, weeks not years, and that the practice is it’s own reward, so after a period of getting comfortable meditating, one will be drawn to the practice not a practice that one has to force themselves to do.

    • If you are stressed and tired there is little room for a spiritual practice, so meditation paves the way for that to happen. Religion/Spirituality is so subjective that I prefer to just advise people that meditation will enhance any spiritual practice but never interfere in any way.

      • I like that you let people know that meditation enhances people believe system, but am curious if you are aware that religion and spirituality are two different things? Religion may enhance spirituality, but one need not be religious to be spiritual.

        • I fall in the spiritual but not religious camp but not everyone feels that way and often those that feel that their faith is important to them are concerned that meditation would interfere with their particular religious practice/faith, so I reassure then that it would only enhance not interfere.

  14. HI Chris, I wrote a long a thoughtful response to the paragraph “What is Meditation?” especially this part:
    “…but the general idea with both is to quiet the mind and develop greater control of your thoughts…”.

    Unfortunately I lost internet connection and lost it. I was suggesting that as you are a fan of mindfulness meditation (and I’m presuming, you actually practice it) that you seek some support to rewrite that paragraph. Since you are in Berkeley there is a wealth of meditation instructors and resources to access. I would be happy to give you suggestions if you email me Many people begin meditation with misconceptions and unless they have a source of genuine meditation instruction (this doesn’t have to be in person, but it does need to have a genuine lineage) they can struggle for years with these misconceptions or give up altogether. Susan Piver (who offers an online meditation group) describes them here: http://susanpiver.com/2009/01/22/five-common-misconceptions-about-meditation/
    Afterall, meditation is not intended to simply make one healthy, it is intended to make one more healthy (mentally and physically) so that one can be of benefit to others through cultivating wisdom and compassion. Anything else is McMindfulness.

    • IMO, meditation typically fails to produce results when the person does not have an appreciation for the benefits of meditation. Often, someone will believe that how could something so simple be of any real benefit. I do not believe a lineage is required just an earnest attitude and understanding the basic principles. I have meditated for over 20 years as well and have paid big bucks for mantra based instruction (TM and PSM). I have gravitated towards mindfulness meditation over time, as I think the attributes from being mindful can be practiced throughout the day rather than using a thought (mantra) to replace a thought. I’m also a big an of the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle as a primer for understanding mindfullness.

  15. We are all different and therefore our brains are wired or respond better to different types of meditation. It is much easier to enjoy and look forward to the meditation practice which suits our personality. Dancing, chanting, walking, practising qigong or being in Nature are all forms meditation. What they have in common is a specific intention of calming the mind. I share the process called Deep Field Relaxation™ where the mind is led into a quiet space by “Mind Music”. The soothing melody and the unknown language of the prayer lull the brain into Alpha rhythm, where both hemispheres are stimulated and balanced at the same time. Alpha rhythm is one of the most powerful, creative and healing states we can experience. No special technology was involved in the recording, all frequencies have been generated by our voices and supported by our clear strong intentions.
    Since there is a freedom for the consciousness to explore the Space without limitations, each person experiences it in a different way. You can slightly vary the way of working with this CD depending on the purpose you are using it for. One can listen to the “Mind Music” before going to bed – focusing on the breathing and diving into stillness and deep relaxation. It is very beneficial to play the CD during any type of therapy or treatment. And you can simply enjoy it as a soothing background sound all day long around the house – plants, children and pets love it! If you play it regularly, for a period of 2 weeks, then having a break for 10 days and continuing for another 2 weeks, you will see results much faster.

    • I concur that audio technology is the way to meditate, and I think it’s idiot-proof. Purists may scoff and consider it a gimmick, but just give it a fair trial. I think you’ll never go back.

  16. Chris, I found your work because I needed help for reflux, and with your excellent work you have helped me so much, thank you! BUT…meditation is a very different area to biology and imho you have overextended yourself a smidge 🙂

    One of the greatest spiritualists (a term he would abhor) of the last or any century was Jiddu Krishnamurti. I am sure you and others have at least heard of him. He was at pains to point out to people that technique of any kind is a pattern, and patterns are of thought. Goals are likewise in the realm of thought, and there has to be a distintion between the mind and thought. Thought is our conditioning, the screen through which we subjectively view the world. Thought, funtioning from our conditioning, from memory, is not the same as observation. Observation is seeing without the past, without the screen that is thought. For Krishnamurti, real meditation was observing the world and oneself without thought rushing in to analyse, to compare etc. A most difficult thing to do. To meditate sitting in postures, breating etc, he held to be completely in the field of thought, of memory, of will. To focus or control is an act of will, and will is of the past and of thought. Will is our conditioning, our belief attempting to shape present reality as it does every second for most of us into how our life “should” be. Medititation may, instead, be something else entirely. The obervation of that entire process we all share, a process that determines the world for each of us may be true meditation. There is no goal whatsover in observation, since there is no past-created centre or screen to observe from.


    For anyone interested here is one simple paragraph from Krishnamurti himself: http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-daily-quote/20130827.php?t=Meditation

    Beyond that, there are excellent YouTube videos of talks he gave discussing the subject. For sure it is a nuanced approach that takes listening, attention, but for some it will be a breakthrough in their understanding. Im sure many must feel intuitively that there must be more to it than just postures and breathing. Investigate, find out for yourself!

    Chris, keep up the incredible work you are doing, and thank you again for having helped me.

    • Brian, you have nailed it for me – observation without effort, concentration or analysis – preferably outdoors, somewhere uncluttered by man made structures, has been my go-to for many years. I get panicky if a day goes by when I can’t just float away like this. Perhaps the experts don’t call it meditation, but it works for me. Thanks for giving it a little validation – surely what works is going to be different for each and every one of us; even if it doesn’t have an official label, doesn’t mean it is any less valid.

    • I would have to disagree, I have great respect for JK and if someone gravitates to his teachings/talks than that is great. It has been proven again and again that just taking a few minutes to be mindful can provide physical and mental benefits.

      Also, Chris certainly did not overextend himself in anyway. He simply introduced the concept of meditation and the health benefits. Thanks Chris!

  17. Hi Chris,

    I took the 8 week MBSR course, loved it. It’s been unbelievably helpful in my life. My instructor recommend the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. A must read! Dan recommends the insight timer app at the end of the book. It’s been a great tool to help keep up my practice.

    Thanks for getting the meditation word out!

  18. Chopra.com has free meditations. Udemy.com has both paid and free meditation courses. Meetup.com is a great place to find meditation groups in your area.
    Too many people say they haven’t got time yet some of the busiest and most successful people on the planet meditate (Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey come to mind.) For those who are ultra-busy, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests it’s OK to start with as little as two minutes per day to establish a meditation habit. No one is so busy they can’t find time to do that!

    • I think guided meditations have their place but ultimately I think it is best if a person develops a a practice that does not require any outside tools or gizmos other than a timer/alarm to end the meditation and get onto other responsibilities.

      • SC, I am agreeing with all of your comments. I think some folks on here are trying to complicate the beauty and SIMPLICITY of meditation. I’m reading unjustified criticisms “you’re not writing this paragraph correctly” and “you need this …you need that….” and therefore some are potentially going to turn folks off meditation for the benefits of health of mind, body and soul.

        • Hi Ellen, I agree no reason to make it complicated or so esoteric. I think people are excited about what works for them and want to share, kind of like a born again Christian. ..but imo it is important not to be pushy about your particular practice as being the best or only true form of meditation.