Meditation

Meditation is an increasingly popular mental health tool, and if you’ve heard about any of the recent research suggesting several health benefits to meditation, you might have been tempted to try meditating yourself. Maybe you’ve even wanted to go all-out and sign up for a meditation retreat.

If a little meditation here and there is good for mental health, it stands to reason that an intensive retreat could be even better, right? No need to speculate, though – several researchers have run studies collecting concrete data on how attending meditation retreats affects people’s mental health.

Most recently, an international team of psychologists and neuroscientists conducted a meta-analysis of 21 such studies, looking to see whether the studies taken together pointed to meditation retreats having significant mental health benefits.

It turned out that the results from the 21 studies were quite heterogeneous, with some studies suggesting large benefits and others suggesting no benefits at all. Overall, though, the results indicated that meditation retreats do seem to have a positive influence on mental health.

The largest effect across the studies was that people who attended meditation retreats tended to experience reduced anxiety, stress and depression. They also had an improved ability to regulate their emotions and higher quality of life on average. Moreover, these changes tended to last after the retreat was over.

The research also pointed to some possible reasons for these mental health improvements. Participants tended to experience higher mindfulness, compassion and acceptance after retreats, with mindfulness being especially closely linked to mental health.

So what’s the bottom line of all this? Well, the authors of the study put it pretty succinctly: “Meditation retreats are moderately to largely effective in reducing depression, anxiety, stress and in ameliorating the quality of life of participants.”

That doesn’t mean meditation retreats are a silver bullet for mental health, but it does mean that if you’re thinking of doing a meditation retreat, it probably can’t hurt!

Image: Flickr/Sebastien Wiertz under CC BY 2.0