Effects of Meditation on Physical and Emotional Wellness: case study

Advances in medicine, widespread use of technology and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases have all contributed to an increase in the life expectancy of the world population. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause for death, murders, suicides, car accidents and psychiatric illnesses, which are daily news. Then, if meditation seeks to keep the mind in calm, it is an essence that promotes healthy minds and increases life quality (Kabat Zinn y Davidson, 2013) through physical and emotional wellness.

This article presents a cross-sectional study with pre-test and post-test measures, with the objective of measuring the effects on physical and emotional well-being in the nineteen (19) participants during the five (5) days meditation retreat organized by World Peace Initiative Foundation (WPI). Therefore, this study aims to collect and record information about the effects of the meditation routine performed at a WPI retreat on physical and emotional wellness measured through the following variables: positivism and stress level, feeling of happiness and physical-emotional state.

Benefits of Meditation Proved by Studies

According to the scientific literature, we found an interesting data regarding the benefits of meditation in both physical and emotional well-being. For example, in a study we analysed that individuals with higher degrees of full consciousness (an element important in meditation) would have a greater increase in attention, subjective well-being, empathy and hope, and also showed a greater decrease in perceived stress up to one year after the intervention (Shapiro et al., 2011).

As for psychiatric and physical conditions, the benefits were studied and the results were favourable (Chiesa and Serreti, 2010). Following this line, other studies have shown effectiveness in reducing stress, anxiety and depression (Fjorback et al, 2011), as well as in different anxiety disorders (Vollestad et al, 2011; Arch et al, 2013). Healthy people were able to reduce the degree of general stress (Chiesa and Serreti, 2010, Nyklicek and Kuijpers, 2008; Praissman, 2008).

Thus, according to the review, meditation has shown good results in emotional management both for general population and psychiatric patients. In addition, efficacy has been studied in more specific diseases such as cancer, fibromyalgia, irritable colon (Mason and Hargreaves, 2001); the results have shown to cause objective changes in brain activation, immune system response, and changes in structure and brain function involved in memory, learning and emotional processes (Farb et al., 2007; Holzel et al., 2007).

Physical and Emotional Wellness

Wellness concept refers to attitudes and behaviours that improve the quality of life and helps us achieve optimal health. It is that active process aimed at improving our lifestyle in all its dimensions (Donatell, Snow & Wilcox, 1999). Then we see that the quality of life and well-being are closely related. Quality of life has assimilated subjective well-being, encompassing cognitive judgment and positive mood (Üstun et al, 2003). In turn, this is closely related to the concept of health, as expressed by the World Health Organization (1947), which conceptualizes health as a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and not simply the absence of disease or disability. This concept refers not only to the absence of physical illness, but also expands to the set of conditions that contribute to the level of happiness or satisfaction enjoyed by an individual and to the balance between the body and mind.

Meditation and Theravada methods

Meditation can be explained in different levels but in its simplest form, meditation is the ability of the mind to stay in a single focus without wandering, thus bringing the benefits in life including happiness, not recklessness, mindfulness, equanimity and wisdom. As for the methods, in Buddhism there are three main schools, each with its own meditation methodology: Vajrayana (including Tibetan meditation practices), Mahayana (including Zen meditation) and Theravada meditation, which we used and which includes full attention of the breath. (Dhammakaya Open University, 2011).

Theravada meditation also includes its own techniques:

  1. Mindfulness of breathing [anapanasati]. This technique is very popular among those practicing meditation in Theravada Buddhism. Practitioners repeat the mantra “Bud-dho” in the rhythm of their breathing in and out. This method is combined with walking meditation – walking back and forth along a five to ten meter long track with drooping eyes set about four steps in front of the person. During meditation, the mind concentrates on breathing – as it enters and leaves (DOU, 2011).
  2. The ‘Rising and Falling’ Method. The four foundations of mindfulness, together with the concentration of the mind on the surface of one’s abdomen, as it rises and falls in time with the breath. The procedure of meditation practice includes walking meditation as well as sitting meditation with concentration in the abdominal area while repeating the word “yup-ni pong-nor” while breathing. The main purpose of all these activities is to train the mind to be aware of its mental state in the here and now (DOU, 2011).
  3. Practice of meditation to reach Dhammakaya. This practice method of Buddhism meditation was rediscovered by Luang Phaw Wat Paknam and is designed to allow practitioners to achieve the same experience of enlightenment known to Lord Buddha (DOU, 2011).

Materials and Methods

We present a cross-sectional study with pre-test and post-test with qualitative and quantitative data. The pre-test was administered before the first meditation session and the post-test was administered after the last meditation session.

The meditation performed was Theravada Buddhist meditation. The meditation routine was carried out four (4) times a day during the five (5) days of the retreat, with duration of one hour and a half for each session.

Meditation is defined as the state in which the mind is calm and focused. In this case, the centre of the body is taken as a focal point. During meditation, specific techniques were used to find the balance between relaxation and concentration:

Suggested posture: sitting on the floor or in a chair, with the back straight, leaning effortlessly from the base of the spine.

Relaxation: it consisted of paying attention to the parts of the body with the intention of relaxing the muscles and releasing unnecessary tensions.

Centring: it consisted of paying attention to the breath, simply observing it, with no intention of making any changes.

Staying in the centre: to help maintain the focus at the centre, we used mantra and visualization. Mantra and visualization are beneficial to the mind and help avoid distractions.

Ethical Considerations

As for the ethical aspects of the research, each participant received an explanation about the research; they were free to give their consent to participate in the study voluntarily.


The instruments used were the questionnaire created and the symptom checklist 90 – revised, which was applied to participants five (5) days prior to the meditation retreat.

Questionnaire. A 32-item primarily close-ended instrument was used utilizing a Likert scale related to the core areas of the research. The sections of the instrument included demographics (4 items), meditation experience (10 items), feedback on positivism (7 items), stress reduction (6 items) and sense of happiness (5 items) and each item had five possible answers: 5 = Strongly Agree (SA), 4 = Agree (A), 3 = Neutral (N), 2 = Disagree (D) or 1 = Strongly Disagree (SD). A pilot test was done of the draft instrument and modifications made as necessary before it was administered to the research participants.

Symptom checklist – 90 revised. In order to evaluate the emotional and physical state before and after the five (5) days of the retreat, the inventory of symptoms SCL-90-R of L. Derogatis was used, which is widely used in research as well as in the community and clinical environment. The SCL-90-R is a self-report instrument containing 90 items and each item has five following response categories: 0 = not at all, 1= little, 2 = some, 3 = very, 4 = severe. (Derogatis and Cleary, 1977).


Nineteen (19) participants took part in the study:

  • Eighty four (84 %) females and sixteen (16%) males;
  • Participants were between the age ranges twenty to twenty-nine (20-29) to fifty (50) and over;
  • Participants were from eight (8) countries: Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Cuba and Guatemala;
  • Their occupations and job titles included: Therapists, Yoga Teachers, Consultants and Psychologists, Minister of Women Affairs, Self-Esteem Coach, Social Development Specialist, Doctor/Physician, Academic, Student and Solution Identification and Executive Trainer.

Analysis and Results

This section of the report represents the descriptive and quantitative analysis of the information that was collected through the instruments used and a comparison of the results before and after the five (5) days of the meditation retreat. The data were collected through the Inventory of symptoms SCL-90-R of L. Derogatis and another questionnaire was created and analysed descriptively using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software (SPSS) version 20. The post-test results showed positive changes in the studied variables. However, for future studies it is suggested to extend the sample and undertake a long-term study to obtain more scientifically sound data on the effects of meditation.

Basic Demography. Nineteen (19) persons participated in the survey that was conducted at the retreat. The participants’ ages ranged from twenty (20) to over fifty (50) years; two were between twenty (20) and twenty-nine (29) years, nine were between thirty (30) and thirty-nine (39) years, five were between forty (40) and forty nine (49) years and three were fifty (50) years and over. The participants were from eight (8) different countries, with the majority coming from Mexico, Peru and Colombia. Eight (8) of the participants were Therapists, Yoga Teachers, Consultants and Psychologists, while others were the Minister of Women in Peru, Self-Esteem Coach/Owner of a Holistic Centre, Social Development Specialist, Doctor/Physician, Academic, Student and Solution Identification and Executive Trainer. Analysis of the occupations revealed that a large percentage of the participants were either employed in or associated with meditation or a complementary healthy lifestyle practice in their daily activities.

Meditation Experience. Sixteen (84.21%) of the nineteen (19) retreat participants indicated that they practiced meditation; however, the type of meditation differed. Table 1 shows the types of meditation that were practiced by the participants. Seventy-four percent (74%) of the participants have been practicing meditation for more than a year and twenty six percent (26%) for less than a year.

Table 1. Types of Meditation Practiced by the Participants

Ayurvedic 1
Dhammakaya 6
Savasana 1
Zen 2
None in Particular 1
Yoga meditation 1
Mindfulness 1
Vipassana/Transcendental 1
Ishayas Ascension 1
Focus Breathing 1

Regarding the frequency of meditative practice, sixty-eight percent (68%) of the people attending the retreat indicated that they practiced meditation less than 5 times each week. Only five percent (5%) practiced ten or more times each week and none of the participants practiced more than ten hours a week.

It should be noted that sixty-three percent (63%) of the participants did their meditation in the morning, only thirty-two percent (32%) stated that they had a routine for meditating. Twenty-six percent (26%) mainly practiced meditation late at night and eleven percent (11%) practiced in the afternoon and evening.

Feedback on Positivism, Stress Reduction and Sense of Happiness. Comparisons – Pre and Post-Test Results

This section of the report is intended to give a comparison between the overall pre-test and post-test results, outlining and analysing both sets of information. The summaries below provide a synopsis.

Positivism – comparison

After posing the same statements to the participants in the pre-test and post-test, the analysis of the information revealed that sixty-eight (68%) percent disagreed that they found fault and criticized others rather than praised them in the pre-test compared to eighty-four percent (84%) in the post-test. It should also be noted that sixteen percent (16%) agreed that they criticized others more than praised them in the pre-test when compared to the post-test. This amounts to a sixteen percent (16%) difference and could represent a shift from the sixteen (16) who were neutral in the pre-test on this matter or a change in opinions. The responses remained the same in both instances when they were asked about their response to changes around them; ninety five percent (95%) all agreed that they responded positively to changes. Seventeen (17) of the nineteen (19) felt at pre-test that they were generally positive persons, with one (1) person disagreeing and one (1) being neutral, however eighteen (18) persons agreed at post-test and one (1) disagreed to being generally positive persons.

Eighty-nine percent (89%) revealed in both tests that they normally felt better during meditation; it can also be noted that one (1) participant who disagreed in the pre-test changed his/her opinion in the post-test. All of the participants indicated in the post-test that they felt better after meditation when compared to the pre-test where eighteen (18) of the nineteen (19) stated that they felt better after meditation. All nineteen (19) participants also revealed in the post-test that they were better able to control negative feelings since they started practicing meditation, which is an eleven percent (11%) increase when compared to the pre-test. Similarly, all of the participants strongly agreed and agreed in the post-test that since participating in meditation they have a more positive outlook on life, which represents a five percent (5%) increase when compared to the pre-test.

Stress reduction – comparison[1]

In the pre-test assessment sixty-eight percent (68%) of the participants indicated that they dedicated some time each day for themselves, sixteen percent (16%) revealed that they did not and the remaining sixteen percent (16%) were neutral in their response. However, in the post-test seventy-four percent (74%) said they made time for themselves each day and twenty-six percent (26%) could not decide and hence gave a neutral response. Sixty-three percent (63%) and fifty-nine percent (59%) disagreed that they were generally stressed in the pre-test and post-test respectively. One (1) person less agreed in the post-test when compared to the pre-test that they were generally stressed; it should also be pointed out that the amount of neutral persons increased by one (1) in the post-test, as opposed to the pre-test.

Ten (10) of the nineteen (19) persons initially disagreed in the pre-test to denying and ignoring their problems in the hope that they would go away, however, this increased to eleven (11) persons in the post-test. In both tests, five (5) persons were neutral while four (4) and three (3) persons agreed in the pre-test and post-test, respectively, that they in fact denied or ignored problems in the hope that they would go away. Twelve (12) persons disagreed in the pre-test that they felt irritated and angry easily compared to ten (10) persons in the post-test. The number of persons who agreed that they felt irritated and angry easily decreased from twenty-six percent (26%) in the pre-test to twenty-one percent (21%) in the post-test. However, the persons who remained neutral in their responses increased from two (2) persons to five (5) overall. Eighty-nine percent (89%) indicated they were now better able to handle stress in the post-test, which is more than the seventy-four percent (74%) in the pre-test. One person disagreed in both tests that they were now better able to handle stress, while there was a decrease from four (4) persons in the pre-test to one (1) in the post-test that remained neutral. All of the participants agreed in the post-test that their stress levels had reduced since they started practicing meditation. Four (4) persons gave a neutral response in the pre-test to this statement.

Sense of happiness – comparison

An analysis of the data collected revealed that in the pre-test five (5) of the participants agreed that most days they woke up feeling unhappy, thirteen (13) disagreed they did and one could not decide. However, in the post-test the number of persons who agreed to waking up feeling unhappy decreased by sixty percent (60%) to three (3) persons. Thirteen (13) of the nineteen (19) in both tests disagreed that most days they woke up feeling unhappy. In the post-test all of the participants agreed to being generally happy persons, however, only seventeen (17) agreed in the pre-test. A small percentage could not decide, hence remaining neutral.

Sixteen (16) of the nineteen (19) or eighty-four percent (84%) of the participants agreed in the pre-test that life was very rewarding. There was a slight increase in the post-test where seventeen (17) or eighty-nine percent (89%) indicated that they felt life was very rewarding. Three (3) and two (2) persons remained neutral in the pre-test and post-test, respectively. One (1) participant disagreed in the pre-test that they were satisfied with everything in life, however, fourteen (14) agreed that they were. In response to the same question in the post-test, seventeen (17) persons stated that they were satisfied about everything in their life and two were neutral. In comparing the pre to the post test, it is noted that there was a change in the opinion and feeling of the participants. Although being in most instances satisfied about everything in life, only sixteen (16) persons in each test agreed that they were particularly optimistic about the future. It should also be noted that in each test overall three (3) persons could not decide if they were optimistic about the future or not.

Emotional and physical state

Following, we present the results obtained in the measurement of the emotional and physical state obtained through the inventory of the SCL-90-R symptoms of L. Derogatis.

In order to calculate the grade of significance between the pre-test and post-test, the T-Student test was used and the findings showed (table 2) a statistically significant difference in the improvement of the participants’ emotional and physical state after the meditation process (p=.000).

Table 2. T–Student. SCL-90-R


  Paired samples difference T gl Sig. (bilateral)
Mean Typ. Deviation Type error of the mean 95% Confidence Interval to the difference
Lower Upper
Par 1 Post-test – Pre-test -33,42105 34,15051 7,83466 -49,88107 -16,96103 -4,266 18 ,000

Conclusion and Discussion

The results obtained show a favourable result in the studied variables. As for the physical-emotional state, the results indicated a statistically significant difference after the five (5) days of practice. These results are encouraging as they point to the importance of daily practice of meditation which leads to a voluntary self-control of one’s physical and psychological state.

As for the level of positivism, ninety-five percent (95%) stated that they responded positively to the changes around them as all participants felt better afterwards. This is relevant since it could be related to the benefit regarding adaptability to new situations.

As for the level of stress, one hundred percent (100%) of the participants revealed that their stress levels were reduced since they began to practice meditation.

According to the results on the sense of happiness, in the post-test all nineteen participants agreed that they were generally happy. All participants indicated that they were generally happy people and sixteen expressed optimism about the future. This agrees with the study by Shapiro et al (2011), where participants after meditation training had higher levels of subjective well-being, empathy and hope, as well as more perceived decrease in stress.

Although the review of the scientific literature found several studies that supported the benefits of meditation in psychiatric and physical conditions (Fjorback et al., 2011; Vollestad et al., 2011 and Arch et al), this has been useful to us as information of the multiple applications of meditation. As the present study was subject to the study of healthy subjects, it is very important to compare the results with some research with a sample of healthy subjects and those of Chiesa and Serreti, (2010), Nyklicek & Kuijpers (2008) and Praissman, (2008), which found similarities in decreasing of stress and an increase of welfare.

Although the results were obtained through self-reports and observations, important measures of effectiveness are considered and these instruments provide information on the studied variables, however for future studies it is recommended to complement such study with physiological and neurological measures such as neuroimaging to obtain specific data of the dynamic relation between the mind and body, such as the neurophysiological correlate of the changes produced after meditative practice.

Improvement has been found in the variables studied after a five-day retreat, but a long-term research could give us information about maintaining those improvements. Thus, we also suggest a larger sample size to favour the robustness and generalization of the results.

In the sample we studied, most had experience in meditation (84.21%) for more than one year (74%) and in the Theravada type, therefore, favourable results could be related to this aspect; in future studies the inclusion of a control group could help control these variables.

However, we consider that the obtained results are a contribution on the effects of systematized meditation on physical and emotional self-control, which are fundamental for the achievement of wellness.


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[1] In this section 2 participants did not provide a response to question 13, therefore percentages will differ when compared to pre-test.

Study was carried out by E. Laconich, B. Barrett, J. Liao. Association of Neurosciences of Paraguay. RADAR.

Photo by TONG KBP on Unsplash

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