TEN GREAT BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
Photo: Dawn in Uluru- Utterly blissful!
I have been meaning to write on this topic, but a recent Meditation day has finally got me to put pen to paper!
The Meditation day was delivered by Dr Ian Gawler, an amazingly inspirational human being, totally encompassing the mind body medicine concept. He is a long term cancer survivor who – apart from conventional treatments- has used an integration of a great diet, meditation, natural therapies, a positive attitude & personal development. He is the author of many books including “You can conquer cancer”. Further links are provided below for further reading.
So, onto the subject of meditation. It’s become a buzz word. People talk about it, know they should do it, but what EXACTLY does it do and WHY should you do it?
Well, we can safely conclude that there is no reason why anyone should not do it. There is certainly no shortage of sufficient scientific evidence for its positive results- literally thousands of papers. It is thought that meditation existed as far back as 5000BC and is documented around 1500BC in Vedic scriptures in India. I like this particular definition of Meditation – simple and to the point: “Meditation is the progressive quietening of the mind until it reaches its source in pure silence” – as described in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali (the oldest text of Yoga)
The benefits of meditation are huge for such a small price in terms of time – a great “ROI- return on investment”. Once again, it’s about making time (just 5-10m to start off with – e.g. silence, mantra, guided, progressive muscle relaxation). The experience will be different for each individual. Indeed, the Buddha stated that there are 80,000 different ways to meditate! So if one method doesn’t work, well – you’ve got plenty more to try! (A great line in consultations- NO excuses sunshine!)
Well, briefly, here are 10 good reasons to meditate:
1. CHRONIC DISEASE
A significant study conducted at Harvard Medical School, led by Dr Herbert Benson (Associate Professor of Medicine) a few years ago found that those who meditated regularly had a higher number of “disease-fighting genes”- compared to those who did none. This was especially so in the case of high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility and pain.
”We found a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group,” said Dr Benson.
Changes were evident after a couple of months of regular practice- meditation, yoga, deep breathing, mantras. So, it is NEVER EVER too late to start.
Another interesting US trial (published in Stroke) of patients with high blood pressure showed that over a 6-9 month period, the group who did transcendental meditation showed a significant reduction in carotid atheroscelorosis compared with the other group that didn’t.
2. STRESS RELIEF
One particular part of the nervous system, the parasympathetic system is activated when we are deeply relaxed through meditation – hence enhancing muscle relaxation and also aiding digestion. This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system- the “fight or flight” response which is activated during times of any sort of stress in our lives. This is a survival mechanism ensuring blood flows to the critical organs like the heart and brain and less to the gut (hence indigestion link with stress).
Meditation also helps to release the feel good neurotransmitters- dopamine, serotonin and our natural endorphins.
3. IMMUNE SYSTEM
Meditation increases the production of Natural Killer cells (NK cells). A study done in Ohio University, showed an increase in NK cells after a month – hence giving the subjects more immunity against viral infection as well as tumours.
Regular practice also “balances” out the immune system- if it is over active e.g autoimmune disease, it balances this out. And likewise it activates a depressed immune system.
4. ANTI- AGING
Meditation is known to be a highly regenerative process. It reduces physiological age. Again, many mechanisms are involved in this.
A significant aspect is to do with telomeres and telomerase. Telomeres are basically bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes, which get shorter every time a cell divides. Eventually, they get to a critical length and can no longer divide and so the cell dies. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres. In a significant study done at the University of California, San Francisco, they showed that the group of participants who were involved in the meditation retreat showed increased activity of telomerase in their white blood cells compared with the group that didn’t. Further studies are still going on in this fascinating area,
Growth hormone is also known to be produced by the pituitary gland when meditating- and this is an anti aging hormone.
5. INTELLIGENCE & CREATIVITY
Meditation tends to awaken the dormant potential within us.
Studies have shown that children who meditated had better performance in schools, more creativity and productivity.
Also a study done by the Kyoto Convention Bureau found that people who meditated prior to business meetings were more focused, listened better and retained more information than those who didn’t. Even a few minutes before important meetings would have a beneficial effect.
Various symptoms can be reduced with meditation- depression, anxiety, anger & fear. As mentioned above, this is partly to do with feel-good hormones being released – dopamine, serotonin. Sleep has also been shown to improve.
Various studies including one done in Western Australia have shown that women were more likely to conceive when they were relaxed than stressed. Again, this is an interplay of various factors including hormones like cortisol.
8. IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
Many studies have shown that IBS symptoms (esp – bloating, cramps) are improved through regular meditation. The subjects in one particular study were followed up after 3 and 12 months and found that the symptom relief was ongoing even after a year. Hence, meditation can help for both short term and long term symptom control.
The value of mediation and related techniques has been widely studied and proven in reducing pain, sleep problems, tiredness, anxiety and depression – in cancer patients.
A study published in PsychoOncology showed that the quality of life was improved in patients with breast and prostate cancer.
Another study done there found that Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) done daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Meditation allows one to live more in the “now” and “let go of the past”. It allows one to question their existence, purpose and to be able to look at things more objectively, with more clarity and with a cool, calm approach- the “silent observer” if you will. Happiness is about being in the “now”, not in the past or the future. That is where it resides. And that is where the treasures can be found.
“I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.” Gandhi