As a meditation teacher, one of the most common questions I hear is “Why is meditation good for you?”.
It might seem strange that the simple practice of sitting still with your eyes closed, focus on your breath, could have so many health benefits. After all, it’s not like you’re doing any physical exercise, so why is meditation good for your health?
Recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology sought to answer that very question.
The research has pinpointed several reasons why mindfulness and meditation are good for mental health. Ultimately, the research team states, meditation helps because it improves self compassion, increases our sense of purpose, and decreases experiential avoidance.
The author of the study, José Ramón Yela [professor of psychology, Pontifical University of Salamanca] states that he has been fascinated since 2010 about the effect that mind-wandering has on us. Almost half our time is spent mind-wandering, thinking about the past or the future, and this can have a serious impact on mental health.
Yela wanted to understand “how mind-wandering is related to emotional distress and suffering. [This] led me to establish a relationship with mindfulness programs. I had the opportunity to participate in a TED talk, and since then I got more interested in mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program (MBCT).”
Yela later worked as a teacher for the Mindfulness Self-Compassion program.
It has long been known that there are serious benefits of self compassion. And one of the primary goals of meditation, for millennia, has been to cultivate compassion both for ourselves and for others. The most famous meditation technique for developing compassion is the Buddhist Metta technique.
Yela sought to explain this and other benefits of meditation.
“The desire to clarify the psychological variables responsible for the beneficial effects on health and psychological well-being produced by these programs and my interest in evidence-based psychological interventions currently guide my lines of research.”
In the study, 414 meditators and 414 non-meditators from Latin America and Spain completed an assessment to evaluate their self compassion, sense of meaning, level of experiential avoidance, anxiety and depression. The results showed that people who practice meditation have improved mental health than non-meditators. However, those people who meditated infrequently had only marginally better mental health than non-meditators. Those who meditate frequently, on the other hand, had significantly better mental health. Those who meditate regularly have lower experiential avoidance, higher sense of purpose, and greater self compassion.
Yela states that to get the real benefits of mindfulness it is “necessary to practice regularly. If you practice only when things are going bad, you may not benefit from it.”
This is why it is so essential to make meditation a habit.
Yela states that practicing mindfulness meditation [READ: Getting into Mindfulness] helps us to cultivate self compassion, which gives us a greater appreciation for our life purpose, and encourages us to accepting reality as it is, which, of course, is one of the fundamental philosophies taught in Buddhism.
Yela states that it is essential to be self compassionate during challenging times in life.
Yela provides some tips on how to be self compassionate. He says, “self compassion requires:
- a) taking a benevolent attitude to ourselves
- b) realising that suffering is part of life (which is one of the fundamental lessons that Buddha taught)
- c) cultivating mindfulness of emotions, sensations and thought, especially unpleasant ones.