Is Meditation Worth It?

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: March 7, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

“Is meditation worth it?”

If you’re considering starting a meditation practice, you might be asking yourself this question. Or, you might be hitting a wall in your existing meditation practice and wondering if it’s worth continuing.

I get it.

I frequently have to encourage myself to keep my meditation practice going.

With anything that requires a significant investment of time, it’s natural to frequently ask yourself whether it’s worth it.

Let me walk you through my own thought process, along with the benefits of meditation, and a few other points that may help you consider this question on your own.

Is meditation really worth it?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: If you believe exercise is worth it, then meditation is worth it, too.

I find the exercise comparison to be an interesting angle.

Most people (including me) have no trouble believing that exercise is good for them, even if they don’t make time for it. Meditation, on the other hand, generally gets more scrutiny.

But meditation is a way to keep your mind healthy, just as exercise is a way to keep your body healthy.

Exercise = physical fitness.

Meditation = mental fitness.

Let’s start with some science backed benefits of meditation, to remind you of why you’re considering the path of meditation in the first place.

The benefits of meditation

I come back to this list of benefits frequently myself.

Why am I doing meditation in the first place?

It’s because when I don’t, there’s a delayed reaction but eventually, I see a negative impact on my levels of stress, ability to cope with overwhelming situations, and general positivity and mood (among other reasons).

The research on the benefits of meditation is conclusive.

Here are just a few of them:

  1. Meditation improves your focus and helps you shut out distractions
  2. Meditation changes your brain, literally making your brain bigger. Some studies have shown meditation may increase your IQ.
  3. Meditation can make you happier. Participants in meditation programs report feeling greater wellbeing, less stressed, and less anxious.
  4. Meditation strengthens your immune system. A 2022 study found positive changes in 220 immune-related genes after an 8 day silent meditation retreat.
  5. Meditation measurably lowers stress and cortisol levels. A 2021 study showed six months of meditation training led to less stress and 25% lower cortisol levels among participants.
  6. Meditation can reduce anxiety and depression, according to a 2014 Johns Hopkins study.

When I’m not sure whether it makes sense to continue to dedicate time to meditation, looking up the benefits helps tremendously.

Instead of wondering “am I really getting anything out of this?”, I ask instead, “do I want less stress, less anxiety, less depression, a stronger immune system, improved cognitive health, and greater focus?”

Do I want to do everything in my power to be happier?

When meditation “doesn’t work” for you

Is Meditation Worth It

Maybe you’ve had an underwhelming personal experience with meditation.

When that happens, all the research in the world is tough to overcome.

There are a few approaches you can take.

Try different meditation techniques

When you’re hitting a wall with your practice, trying new meditation techniques is a good way to mix things up. If you’ve been doing insight meditation, consider trying mantra meditation. If you’ve been doing mantra meditation, consider vipassana meditation.

Meditate for longer periods of time

Meditation studies generally focus on intervals of 10-20 minutes of meditation. And indeed, these do show impressive benefits over time.

But if you feel like meditation isn’t working for you because you don’t feel good right after you meditate, you probably need to meditate for longer.

That’s because longer meditation sessions allow your thoughts to settle, like sediment falling to the bottom of a glass of water.

Longer meditation sessions get you into a different state of being than short sessions. There’s a relaxation component that’s not as present in a 15-minute session.

Carve out 45 minutes or an hour one day, if you’re curious enough to experiment, and notice how a longer session compares to a shorter session.

Do an official 8 week MBSR program

Many of the studies done on meditation use the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for their participants. This program covers not only meditation, but also yoga, everyday mindfulness training, and techniques like the Raisin Exercise.

If you’d like to give yourself the best chance of replicating study results in your own life, you may consider doing an 8-week meditation “boot camp.” Then, assess how that affects your progress, and how it affects how you feel about meditation.

You can participate in a free, self-guided 8-week MBSR program here.

Reset your expectations

Often, we come into meditation with the expectation that from the first session, we’ll be feeling better: clearer, calmer, less stressed, less anxious.

The first session can help, but in reality, many of the benefits of meditation take months or even years to materialize.

Just as you know exercise won’t transform your body overnight, remember that meditation won’t transform your mind overnight.

Keep meditating

If meditation hasn’t worked for you, and you’ve experimented with different techniques and even gone through a meditation program, the process may still need more time.

It’s different for everyone.

Keep experimenting to find what works for you. One day, you’ll look back and realize your levels of awareness are greater than they used to be, and that the benefits of meditation are starting to find their way to you.

My experience with 5 years of (on-and-off) meditation

I’m coming to this conversation with five years of meditation experience.

To be honest, though, the timeline of my experience has looked a lot like Swiss cheese. There are holes everywhere. Chunks of time during which I stopped meditating. Months during which I entirely forgot that this practice used to be a part of my life.

But I always come back.

What triggers me to meditate again is what triggered me to try meditation in the first place:

I want to be happier. And I’m convinced greater awareness of my own emotions will help.

In moments of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm, I remember that meditation has helped me in the past.

Just like within meditation itself, I believe “failing” as an integral part of succeeding. It’s often only after repeated attempts and false starts that we can build a sustainable practice. The process of failing and trying again strengthens our conviction over time.

So with this background in place, I’ll share my perspective:

Meditation is worth it. Not because I feel great after every meditation session, but because the effects over years have helped me to be happier:

  • I have greater awareness over my emotions than I did five years ago.
  • I can usually name what’s making me feel bad, rather than experiencing a general cloud of discontent.
  • I do better at containing my moods rather than projecting them onto those around me.
  • I can notice tension in my body and release it, rather than carrying it with me all day.

Meditation helps me feel like life isn’t just happening “to me.” I feel more in sync, and more in flow.

Meditation is worth it.

Start with a small win to motivate yourself

If you’re struggling to decide whether meditation is worth it for you, start with a small win.

Meditate for five minutes.

Or, experiment with longer meditations. Mediate for an hour and notice if you feel greater short-term benefits.

There’s also the option to accept that you don’t feel called to meditate right now, and trust that you’ll come back to it when you’re ready.

That’s an option too.

But if you go that route, make a note in your calendar to remind yourself in a month or two to explore meditation again.

Remember that to know for yourself if meditation is worth it, you have to keep trying.

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