The Scientific Power Of Meditation

In a talk on his excellent meditation app, Sam Harris points out that he would recommend that people meditate even if there were no scientific evidence that it was good for them. I’ll quote him directly here because that’s the kind of statement that could get a meditation teacher in trouble:

There are studies that suggest that meditation improves immune function, or reduces stress. Or that it’s associated with less age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex.

Well, having a good immune system, and reducing stress, and not suffering neuro-degeneration are good things, in general. But those studies might fail to replicate tomorrow, and should that happen, my recommendations in this course would not change at all. 

There really are deeper reasons to meditate. And to live an examined life in general. 

Sam goes on to make an analogy with reading. Reading certainly can reduce stress, but depending on what you’re reading it can also increase it. But framing the benefits of reading as stress relief is an odd way to talk about it in any case. Reading would be worthwhile even if it was somehow actively bad for you.

Luckily, meditation isn’t bad for you. In fact, the list of scientifically recognised benefits is surprisingly long. In the video above, AsapSCIENCE lays out an extensive breakdown of the benefits of a regular meditation. From the expected changes in brain chemistry, function, and mood, to more unexpected changes such as improved immune and cellular function.

I’m always wary of presenting meditation as a panacea. Meditation won’t fix all of your problems or make you rich or make you more attractive to your gender of choice. But it is a uniquely powerful way of exploring your relationship with the world. And that, in turn, provides the opportunity to make choices which improve that relationship. This is the true value of meditation. All the health stuff is just a cherry on the cake.