In recent years, researchers have been looking very closely at what meditation does for health. If you traveled back in time 2500 years, met the Buddha and asked him “What does meditation do for you?” it’s unlikely that health benefits would have been on top of his list. Back in the day, meditation was used for other purposes—getting to know the mind and working towards enlightenment, for example—but one major goal of meditation, one of the things that meditation has been used for no matter what the ultimate goal might be, has always been to reduce suffering.
If science is so interested in meditation and its practical benefits nowadays, it’s because meditation has been shown to relieve suffering in very concrete ways. Those who learn how to meditate for health, and, more particularly, who learn how to meditate to reduce stress, have a good shot at managing any health conditions more effectively—and they don’t have to read the label. With meditation, generally speaking, the most common “side effects” are improved sleep, better management of chronic conditions, and lower stress levels.