Can Meditation Make You Better? Science Says Yes.

By Jane | December 15, 2015

science of meditation

Let me be perfectly honest at the outset.

I’m not sure if meditation does anything for me.

There, I said it.

Yeah, it feels nice to do nothing for 20 minutes each day, but I don’t notice much of a difference between days I meditate and days I don’t.

I’ve always wondered…

Is meditation a sham? Am I doing it wrong? Maybe I’m not stressed out enough to benefit from meditation? Do I need to be more spiritual or something? Can meditation make you better?

Do you wonder about meditation, too? Give it a try with our 7-Day Meditation Kick Start →

But, every time I decide to give up, I read another one of those articles. You know the ones.

“Meditation improves your sex life!” “Meditation makes you thinner!” “Meditation can make you live longer!” “Meditation makes your heart grow three sizes (The Buddhist Grinch Effect).”

So I decided to do two things:

  1. Reach out to mindful adventurers such as musicians, comedians, entrepreneurs, writers, artists and of course, a few yoga teachers to find out what all the fuss is about meditation.
  2. Research the science to see if there is any PROOF that meditation works.

Here’s what I found out.

What can meditation do for you?

Click the links to jump straight to a section, or scroll to read every precious word.

1. Meditation reduces stress
2. Meditation makes you healthier
3. Meditation makes you happier
4. Meditation increases creativity
5. Meditation helps you focus
6. Meditation makes you smarter
7. Meditation makes you more self-aware
8. Meditation helps you make better decisions

Read our unabridged meditation interviews, full of great advice and tips →

Meditation and mindfulness is downright trendy these days, but is there any truth to it's benefits? Find out in this post.

1. Meditation reduces stress

To anyone who has sat and meditated for a few days in a row, this one comes under the category of “No Duh”.

Many studies back up the obvious claim that sitting quietly in meditation may reduce stress not only during the practice but throughout the day. It can also make you better at handling stressful situations, so that you don’t experience as much stress in the first place.

An adventurous life is a stressful life – meditation can help keep you calm as you pursue your dreams.

meditation quotes scienceBeatriz Caraballo, Creative Entrepreneur

“I started meditating because I was overwhelmed with my life. I was in a very stressful situation and I needed to stop thinking for just one moment so I could recalibrate myself and focus on one thing at a time.”

Beatriz Caraballo is a passionate creative entrepreneur with too many ideas and too little time. Follow her on Instagram.

Need less stress? Join our 7-Day Meditation Kick Start →

2. Meditation makes you healthier

If you’re always getting sick, more sleep, better nutrition, and less partying will definitely help.

But so could meditation.

One study says, “a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways.”

And don’t forget about the health benefits of stress reduction. Since stress is implicated in problems ranging from gum disease to sexual performance to heart disease and cancer, meditation could actually keep you out of the hospital.

When you work for yourself, every sick day means money lost, so a practice that can reduce sick days and hospital visits could make you richer.

musicians who meditateMoby, Restaurateur & Musician

“I prefer to be a relaxed dilettante as regards meditating. I firmly believe the practice should be gentle and should serve the needs of the meditator and not the needs of the teacher or the tradition. Meditation provides perspective, calms me down, strengthens my immune system, makes me happier, and helps me to see the world in a much different light.”

Moby is a musician (who we’ve listened to for years) and he has just opened a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles. We can’t wait to eat there. Follow Moby on Twitter.

3. Meditation makes you happier

According to The Guardian’s interpretation of a University of Wisconsin study, meditation has “the potential capacity to alter the brain, a finding which was interpreted more widely as an ability to train oneself in happiness.” Or, as another study concluded, “Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions.”

That’s the sciencey way of saying: meditation can make you happier.

(Want to be happier right now, with one simple trick? Find out how to flip the happiness switch →)

Now, this is where the science gets really interesting (and almost unintelligible).

Using MRI data, a study found that long-time meditators had “significantly larger gray matter volumes” in areas of the brain that “have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control.” The study concludes that “larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behaviour.”

In plain English? Meditation makes parts of your brain actually grow, giving you better control over your emotions.

people who meditateMiguel Guzmán, Personal Development Engineer

“An agitated mind is like a boiling pot, mindfulness lets me quiet my mind and turn it into a peaceful lake. Also, it helps you to be in the present moment all day long which leads to a sustained warm state of happiness.”

Miguel Guzmán is a Personal Development Engineer, helping people with scientific-backed, field-tested methods for developing skills and improving results. He writes (in Spanish) at Éxito Personal.

4. Meditation increases creativity

One study found that mindfulness training improves our ability to solve insight problems, which require a shift in perception to find the answer. Another study found that meditation “promotes divergent thinking,” a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be created, while a third study concludes that meditation “reduced cognitive rigidity” and “reduced tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience.”

For those of us trying to live an adventurous life, a steady stream of creativity is vital. It can help us take advantage of opportunities in new ways and help us solve the unique problems of living an unconventional life.

musicians who meditateJames Valentine, Musician

“When I’m on tour I especially like to sit in the afternoon as part of my preshow routine. By returning to my breath, it’s like I’m doing reps for my brain. Working on this muscle helps me stay calm and connected instead of constantly being carried away by my thoughts. This helps me focus, a tremendous help when creating or performing music.”

James Valentine is an accomplished musician, best known for as lead guitarist for Maroon 5.

Join our 7-Day Meditation Kick Start to begin 2016 with a bang →

5. Meditation helps you focus

There’s an apocryphal story (which may actually be true) about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates being asked by Gates’ father to name the most important key to their success.

“Focus,” they both answered, without a second thought.

Guess what helps with focus?

A University of Washington study gave both meditators and non-meditators a stressful multitasking project to complete on a computer. Not only did the meditators report “lower levels of stress and better memory for the tasks” but “they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer.” Boom.

If you’re a desperately scattered person, you’re in luck, because another study says that “attention is a trainable skill that can be enhanced through the mental practice of Focussed Attention meditation.” Double boom.

If you tend to bounce from task to task during the day, only to find that nothing is finished by day’s end, meditation can help you focus and get shit done.

meditation quotes scienceCaz Makepeace, Co-Founder of YTravel

“Each morning I meditate immediately upon rising. Meditation helps to ground and centre me. It gives me focus and clarity. It gives me a way to cope with the chaos of my lifestyle so that I can remain calm in the middle of it. I believe that I would not be living this life I love, nor have had the success I have had without it. When people ask me for advice on how to improve their life, I always tell them to start with meditation.”

Caz Makepeace is a full-time traveller who teaches people how to live their travel dreams. Read more about her meditation practice on YTravel and follow her on Instagram.

6. Meditation makes you smarter

OK, I’ll admit, scientists don’t exactly say “meditation makes you smarter.” But they have found that meditation can improve your memory and reading comprehension scores. And that “cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences.”

I don’t know about you but – especially as I get older and more forgetful – a practice that promises to make my brain work better is worth every minute.

(If you want to make the right decision every time, here’s how to do it →)

how to start meditatingMurielle Marie, Mentor, Coach, Writer

“I’m more calm because of my practice, more spiritual. It helps me to make better decisions and it makes me more creative. Meditation helps my mind expand and widen to places I never thought possible. It makes me question everything, but also gives me a simple answer to the most difficult questions: simply being.”

Murielle Marie helps multi-passionate and high-achieving women overcome the mental blocks that stop them from getting into action, going after their dreams and loving themselves. Connect with her on Facebook.

7. Meditation makes you more self-aware

Guided meditations often tell us to “turn inside” and “become attuned with the breath” which sounds a bit woo-woo, right? But, it turns out that focusing inside has a physical impact on our brain.

External awareness – noticing what we see, hear, and experience around us – happens mostly in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. When we start paying attention to what’s going on inside our bodies, a different part of the brain (called the anterior insula) fires up, a study at the University of Toronto concluded.

Intentionally focussing on our inward state can make us more aware of not only how our physical bodies feel, but of our emotional state as well.

This gets to the heart of the idea that Adventure Begins at OM. Knowing yourself is the first step to unraveling the far greater mystery of what you want your life, your adventure, to be.

meditation teachersNoah Mazé, Yoga Teacher & Teacher Trainer

“I sit for meditation every day in the morning. I sit for two main reasons; to find myself and to lose myself. Meditation is a practice of finding myself… it is essential time to inquire and investigate more deeply my thoughts and feelings and experiences. Meditation is [also] a practice of losing myself. As Gandalf said, “Not all who wander are lost.” It is a wandering exploration into the subconscious and unconscious realms of myself.

These practices help me to be more integrated, more self-aware, and better able to address the needs of the outer world.”

Noah Mazé has been teacher and mentor to Stephen and Jane for years. He is an inspiring teacher and an all-round nice guy. Practice with him if you can.

8. Meditation Helps You Make Better Decisions

People are bad at logic. We think we make smart decisions, but studies have shown that’s not entirely true. Most of us succumb to a weird glitch called sunk-cost bias, which influences us to continue on a losing path once we’ve already invested time and money into it.

It’s what your grandma means when she says “You’re throwing good money after bad.”

Some examples. You let junk you never use pile up at home because you spent money buying that junk. Or, you keep watching a TV show season after season, even though you don’t like it anymore because you invested so much time getting to know the characters.

One study found that “increased mindfulness reduces the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior costs to influence current decisions.” Because mindfulness helps you focus on the present, the study says, you are less likely to make decisions based on irrelevant past efforts.

In other words, meditation can help you make better decisions and good decisions are a key component of succeeding in your unconventional life.

(Learn the secret to making the right decision every time →)

science of meditationBrenda Godinez, Nutrition Writer

“I meditate at least 4 times a week in the morning, after having green tea and before working out. I meditate to deal with worry and to control my feelings better. I know if I can be more aware of how certain situations make me feel, I can choose the best reaction to it. So far I have become more aware of my negative feelings and it has been easier to let things go.”

Brenda Godinez uncomplicates nutrition on her healthy eating blog Crave the Benefits. Connect with her on Facebook.

There are lots of other documented benefits of meditation, like improving relationships, making you less lonely, making you live longer, making you more productive, and making you wiser.

As for me? Well, I still don’t know for sure that meditation is the answer to all our problems. But, the process of researching and writing this post has convinced me that meditation is worth exploring and practicing.

We’d love you to join us in that practice.

During the first seven days of 2016, Stephen will lead a 7-Day Meditation Kick Start. It’s perfect if you’re a meditation novice or you just want to add some vitality back into your practice.

Want 2016 to be your best year yet? Join our 7-Day Meditation Kick Start →

If you’re still not sure, part two of this post will help you get over your bad self, wipe away your excuses and get you start meditating. Watch for it next week.  

Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

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10 comments

  1. Pingback: How to Get Over Your Hangups and Start Meditating | My Five Acres

  2. Comment by Rica@YogaMatMonkey

    Rica@YogaMatMonkey Reply December 18, 2015 at 6:13 am

    Meditation has definitely helped me tame my toddler-like tendencies. I used to have such difficulty working from home because I lacked focused and the ability to stay on task. My creative mind wanted to wander into a million directions, and start and stop a ton of projects. That sucked because I felt as though I was constantly at war with myself to avoid missing deadlines. Now, it’s much easier for me to plow through the work and adhere to a routine without getting sidetracked. Thanks for sharing these stories. Great post!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

      For anyone who wants to work independently, or complete any creative project, focus is huge. It’s one of the reasons I keep meditating even though I’m sometimes in doubt. I have so much to get done each week that every little extra bit of focus I can grab from the universe is a bonus!

      J

  3. Pingback: How to Meditate: 17 Mindful Adventurers Share Their Tips | My Five Acres

  4. Comment by Peter

    Peter Reply December 17, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Such a well written and informative article. Thank you!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 17, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Thanks so much Peter. So glad you enjoyed it. I had a great time researching it – so much information out there!

      J

  5. Comment by Sue

    Sue Reply December 17, 2015 at 3:19 am

    I have found it hard to meditate but since I started yoga I’m learning how to clear my mind. So much good information in this post thank you

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 17, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Thanks, Sue. If you want a little help meditating, we’d love you to join our 7-Day Meditation Kick-Start. Stephen is leading it – he is an experienced meditator and yoga teacher (ERYT-500) – and will definitely be able to help with the mind clearing!

      J

  6. Comment by Beatriz

    Beatriz Reply December 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I absolutely loved this post!

    I’m really glad to hear you are thinking about exploring meditation again, because I don’t think meditation should feel like a chore or like you’re wasting your time. And it seems like you’ve felt that way since you said that “it feels nice to do nothing for 20 minutes each day”. Maybe that’s why you haven’t found meditation useful, or why you feel there’s no difference in the days you practice it and the days you don’t.

    If you want the advice of an amateur and considering I don’t know how you were doing it, I’d say you should make some modifications if you’re trying it out again: 1) don’t go for 20 minutes, make it 10 or even just 5, and tell yourself that it’s ok to have those few minutes to think about nothing, because in the end they will actually help you think better throughout the day; 2) choose to do it in the morning, even if this means waking up 5 or 10 minutes earlier, to fully enjoy the energy you’ll get after doing it; and 3) I would highly recommend to do it after a yoga sequence, even if it’s just a few sun salutations, since you’ll already be in control of your breathing and you’ll be able to get into full concentration quicker.

    Thank you so much for sharing Jane, I really enjoyed reading other people’s thoughts on meditation and I can’t wait for part 2!

    Best,
    B.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks so much Beatriz. These tips are all helpful, since I am in full-on experimental phase of my practice, trying on what works and what doesn’t. I especially like the idea of doing a short practice first, since it does take me some time to settle down my mind.

      I loved reading other people’s experiences too. It made me really feel like there is no right or wrong and it’s more about finding what works for you!

      J

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