Humans and Health

The Surprising Health Benefits of Meditation 

For centuries, meditation has served as a common way for people to clear away their stress and anxieties. Getting into a comfortable position, controlling our breathingand allowing the rhythm of stillness to wash over us like an ocean wave are all steps we’ve taken, as a species, in our pursuit of peace. 

Interestingly, though, no one really knows where the practice of meditation originates from – or even when it came about. The earliest records of meditation come from India in 1500 BCE, though the practice itself stands the chance of being older. The Zhuangzi (an ancient Chinese text) dates back to the Warring States period between 476-221 BC and includes information on meditative activities. These two pieces of information dovetailed suggest meditation has firm roots in Asia. 

These roots have certainly branched out over the years, however, and inspired millions of us across the globe to take meditation seriously – and really, we should. There are many well-known health benefits to this ancient practice, such as the profound reduction in depression and the lowering of blood pressure. Howeverthere are also some health benefits to the ancient practice many of us aren’t aware of  – and in order to truly understand the salience of meditating, we need to be made aware of these benefits. 

So, here are some surprising effects meditation can have on our minds and bodies. 

Bad news for the sheep but good news for those who are sick of always having to rely on counting them 

The erosion of insomnia 

We all know life can be overwhelming sometimes. Deadlines can pile up, bereavements can worsen, financial uncertainty can rise like marigolds in spring. These misfortunes and the ones alike can have a dire effect on our sleeping habits, keeping us awake well into the senility of night.  

Incredibly, regular meditation has been found to alleviate this subsequent insomnia. The practice helps us to control intrusive, stubborn thoughts because, if we do it enough, it trains our brains to push them away with minimal effort. Being able to control your thoughts is the hallmark of psychological autonomy – and psychological autonomy can mean less distraction when you’re trying to get some shuteye.  

Moreover, there’s a peaceable aftertaste that comes with meditation. Some people choose to meditate right before bed, which helps place them in a firm state of zen; a state of zen that endures even after the meditation has ended and weakens the harsh grip of insomnia. This means the sheep they’ve got stored under their pillows may be out a job. Bad news for the sheep but good news for those who are sick of always having to rely on counting them. 

The dilution of HIV 

Many people are still living with HIV. Granted, we’ve come a long way in medicating those diagnosed with such a bellicose disease. But in 2016 alone, over 15,000 Americans are believed to have died from complications due to HIV/AIDS. Regardless of what societal discourse (or lack thereof) indicates, the ailment is still a huge deal – especially for the LGBTQ community.  

Considering this, then, it may sound like nonsense pedalled by pseudo-scientific rhetoric, but meditation can help wane the hostility of the disease.  

HIV attacks the body’s CD4+T cells and consequentially corrodes the immune system, meaning people living with it can be more susceptible to death by more conventionally controllable diseases. A UCLA study discovered that incessant meditation actually helped slow the progression of HIV in 48 people, due to the way it enhanced the resilience of the CD4+T cells. Even the bodies of the adults who were not taking antiretroviral medication encountered a similar strengthening of these cells. 

So, whilst meditation should not be viewed as a substitute for more official forms of treatment, it can certainly be used as an aid in the rebellion against HIV’s tenacity. 

The strengthening of the immune system  

It’s not just the CD4+T cells in our bodies that meditation can help bolster. It’s the immune system as a whole, too! 

Politics buffs may have seen former Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson in her recent YouTube video trying to enact a “coronavirus meditation”. She alludes to the idea that by visualising an angel visiting us in a meditative state, we can strengthen our immune system and fight off earth’s most talked-about virus of the 2020s thus far. 

Whilst this does seem far-fetched, Williamson has at least recognised something powerful about the art of meditation. The practice can actually fortify our bodies’ defence mechanisms. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered that meditation activates an immune system-connected region of the brain. Like plugged-in smartphones, antibodies can be charged with enormous power as a result, meaning pesky infections better be entering our bodies with a lot of armour if they want to be successful in their attack. 

Of course, we shouldn’t use meditation in lieu of hand sanitisation to fight off coronavirus (or other virulent diseases for that matter) but you never knowas an aidthe extent to which it will turn our bodies into successful moats. 

Sadly, we may read this article and admit these benefits are spectacular but then insist we just don’t have the time to incorporate this practice into our routines. But, really, we don’t have the time to not incorporate this practice into our routines 

Now, what do we take away from all of this? 

The aforementioned evidence shows there are more health benefits to meditation than we might think. Sadly, we may read this article and admit these benefits are spectacular but then insist we just don’t have the time to incorporate this practice into our routines. But, really, we don’t have the time to not incorporate this practice into our routines! 

Health is pivotal to a good quality of life. If we are physically and psychologically unhealthy, we can’t experience life at its optimum capacity. So, whilst regular meditation may seem as intangible as Saturn and its many moons, it’s a readily available, important instrument that can be used to help cultivate a purer way of life. 

So, what are you waiting for? There’s nothing to itAll you have to do is regularly take some time for yourself and allow the stillness to flow through you like a river. 

Ryan Keane 


Featured image courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr. Image license found here.

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