What’s the Bottom Line?
How much do we know about meditation?
Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. A number of studies also have helped researchers learn how meditation might work and how it affects the brain.
What do we know about the effectiveness of meditation?
Research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, insomnia, and the incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory illnesses (such as influenza). Evidence about its effectiveness for pain and as a smoking-cessation treatment is uncertain.
What do we know about the safety of meditation?
Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. However, people with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior.
There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).
What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Meditation
Many studies have investigated meditation for different conditions, and there’s evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may help people with insomnia. Meditation also may lower the incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory illnesses (such as influenza).
Read more about meditation for these conditions:
For High Blood Pressure
For Irritable Bowel Syndrome
For Ulcerative Colitis
For Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia
For Smoking Cessation
Meditation and the Brain
Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.
Read more about meditation and the brain:
What the Science Says About Safety and Side Effects of Meditation
- Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people.
- People with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement. People with physical health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.
- There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric problems like anxiety and depression. People with existing mental health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.
NCCAM-supported studies are investigating meditation for:
- Relieving psychological distress and improving physical health in people with type 2 diabetes
- Regulating emotions
- Relieving stress and enhancing weight management
- Reducing stress and improving sleep and psychological well-being to reduce the risk of heart disease.
More to Consider
- Don’t use meditation to replace conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
- Ask about the training and experience of the meditation instructor you are considering.
- Help your health care providers give you better coordinated and safe care by telling them about all the health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. For tips about talking with your health care providers about complementary health approaches, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.
NCCAM thanks the following individuals for their technical expertise and review of this publication: Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., Vilas Professor, Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jeffrey M. Greeson, Ph.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center; Helané Wahbe, N.D., Assistant Professor, Neurology, Oregon Health & Science University; and John Glowa, Ph.D., and John (Jack) Killen, Jr., M.D., NCCAM.
This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.