January 20, 2014
For centuries, meditation has been associated with a calm mind and zen existence but, in recent years, scientific studies have shown that specific types of meditation can actually improve your health in many ways. From preschoolers to the elderly, the benefits of this ancient practice are endless.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Meditation typically involves sitting quietly while focusing on your own natural breathing. You do not have to empty your mind but, instead, allow thoughts to come and go without judgment. You will notice different sensations in your body, you will hear sounds surrounding you and you will feel emotions. With mindfulness meditation, you will learn to be aware of these experiences without allowing them to be disruptive. During your meditation, you may think of people you care about, people you barely know and people you truly dislike while learning to express empathy. Whether it’s the person who helps you load your groceries into your car or the one who cuts you off on the freeway, you will learn to wish them well and go on with your day.
There have been many, many studies supporting the connection between meditation and reduced stress. In fact, mindfulness meditation has been shown to alter affective and cognitive processes in the brain which encourages a positive outlook while reducing anxiety and negative effects. Additionally, people who meditate daily have been shown to have greater control over their emotions and how they process the related stress.
Another added benefit of mindfulness meditation is improved memory. In a 2010 study, Jha et al. looked at the memory capacity among non-meditating civilians, a non-meditating military group and a military group that underwent 8 weeks of mindfulness training. Since this was prior to deployment, all members of the military were under considerable stress. The study showed that the non-meditating military group showed decreased memory capacity over time while their meditating counterparts actually showed improvements in those areas.
Improved Immune Function
Numerous studies have shown that meditating daily can dramatically improve immune function which is especially handy during cold and flu season! People who meditate get sick less often and, when they do, they experience a 40 to 50 percent decrease in symptoms.
It doesn’t just stop with common illnesses either. A 2008 study examined the blood samples of HIV positive patients after they engaged in an 8-week meditation course. Incredibly, those who meditated showed no decline in white blood cells whereas the non-meditating patients showed significant reduction in these all-important components of our immune systems. As if that wasn’t enough, the study also showed that the white blood cell count actually increased with every meditation session.
Decreased Blood Pressure
Meditation is quickly being recognized as a way of controlling blood pressure. The American Heart Association officially recognizes Transcendental Meditation as part of a treatment plan for hypertension. Other forms of meditation can also be beneficial. A 2008 study at the Massachusetts General Hospital showed significant improvements in blood pressure levels among 40 of 60 patients after three months of a participating in a meditation-based relaxation program. These patients were even able to reduce some of their medication.
Over the years, there have been many articles and studies touting the ability to reduce pain through meditation. One recent study from the Wake Forest Baptist University showed that meditation actually worked better than morphine for participants. Meditation reduced pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent while morphine only reduced pain reduction by 25 percent.
If you are considering meditation, you do not have to commit to doing 30 minutes or an hour a day. Start with five minutes before bed and then add five minutes whenever you feel ready. In no time, you will probably find yourself looking forward to those few moments of stillness at the end of the day!