woman meditating on the beach

Meditation is a practice with a long and rich history. While its roots are in religious traditions, it has evolved to become a mainstream practice for anyone looking to reduce stress, improve their job or athletic performance, or simply improve their overall health and well-being. Many companies, including Apple, Google and Nike, have offered meditation in the workplace.

Cory Muscara of the Long Island Center for Mindfulness and one of the leading experts in mindfulness meditation notes that “Viktor Frankl said ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Mindfulness meditation teaches us to see that space then learn how to inhabit it, as it is only within that space that we can live our lives with intentionality and purpose.”

Meditation’s reputation for improving people’s health has attracted the attention of the scientific community. Research on the benefits of meditation is relatively new, but shows some promising results.

A powerful stress reducer

Meditation is known primarily as a form of stress reduction. The simple act of lowering stress can help ease the symptoms of all kinds of conditions and diseases, including high blood pressure, chronic pain, cancer, heart disease and depression. Lowered stress also helps the mind. One study showed that people who lead stressful lives are 2-1/2 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition which is often a precursor to dementia.

Meditation and brain health

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, conducted two studies to discover what, if any, effect meditation had on the brain. What she discovered is that meditation created physical changes in the brain; specifically, the hippocampus – responsible for learning and memory – grew larger. She discusses her findings in detail in this TED talk.

Meditation and Alzheimer’s

A study at UCLA discovered that a three-month course of yoga and meditation helped minimize the cognitive issues that often precede Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – in fact, it was more effective than memory enhancement exercises in improving visual-spatial memory skills and decreasing depression and anxiety. Another study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed that a group of people aged 55-90 who meditated and practiced yoga showed less brain shrinkage, particularly in the hippocampus, than the control group. According to Alzheimers.net, meditation can also:

  • Increase protective tissues in the brain
  • Decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Reduce stress, including lowering the body’s level of the hormone cortisol, which has been shown to increase the risk of developing dementia


One form of meditation that is gaining more attention is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful practice of bringing one’s nonjudgmental attention to experiences, thoughts and feelings that are occurring in the present moment. A study done at Carnegie Mellon University show that practicing mindfulness for just 25 minutes for three consecutive days was enough to alleviate stress and make one more resilient in stressful situations. Mindfulness can also help caregivers. In one study, both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers who attended an eight-week mindfulness training program showed improvement in depression scores and sleep quality, as well as overall quality of life.

Learning to become still

So how does one meditate and how can we incorporate meditation into our busy, hectic lives? The first act of meditation is simply to become still. This can be challenging, as we are taught to multitask and get things done. Slowing down may seem to go against everything we’ve been taught about how to get ahead in the world. One of the easiest ways to become still is to practice mindful breathing, one of the main components of mindful meditation. Become conscious of each inhale and exhale. Start to breathe in more deeply. Expand your belly on each inhale. Get to the point where the length of the inhale and exhale are approximately the same. As your breathing becomes balanced, your mind becomes balanced. By focusing on your breath, you’ll discover the mind shuts off, giving it – and your entire body – a chance to rejuvenate.