Science Proves Meditation is Good for Us
Did you know that scientists at MIT and Harvard have shown that meditation helps us tune out distractions and relieve pain1? In the studies, those who practiced meditation 45 minutes a day for eight weeks were able to cultivate an awareness of the internal sensations of the body compared to those who did not meditate. The study determined that the benefit is the possibility that pain sufferers who meditate may be able to turn down the volume on pain signals. The subjects trained in meditation also reported that they felt less stress than those who did not meditate. It was not so much that the conditions around the person may have changed as much as the person was more able to handle the stress associated with the situation. The researchers are now planning follow-up studies in patients who suffer from chronic pain as well as cancer patients, who have also been shown to benefit from meditation2.
Meditation can do even more than that, though, such as improve focus, connect with our inner selves, keep us balanced and improve our health. Yogis have known this for thousands of years. Finally, science is catching up with what yogis have known all along. The researchers at Harvard Medical School found that those who were long-term practitioners of relaxation techniques, such as yoga, had far more “disease-fighting” genes activated than those who did not practice relaxation. 3 Additionally, those who practiced relaxation regularly had the added benefits of switched on genes that protect us from high blood pressure, infertility, pain and even rheumatoid arthritis. If that isn’t enough, meditation even helps us gain much needed clarity in our lives.
Get Clear About Life
We live in a 24/7 world where life barely shuts down. We are constantly being fed a barrage of advertising, news, drama and food. We are exposed at an early age to over-stimulation and a busy life. This busy life is run by a busy mind and that mind often feeds thoughts of insecurity, feelings of being unworthy or incapable. In response, we spend an inordinate amount of time finding ways to escape a general outlook based on fear and lack. When you couple all of that with the stress of over-reacting to everyday life, it all becomes a sea of confusion and chaos.
This kind of life makes it hard to focus on anything for very long. Try this: listen in the room you are sitting in right now for just one sound and then focus only on that sound. See how long it takes before other thoughts come into your mind fighting for your attention. Many people don’t last a minute and then their heads are filled with songs, scenes from earlier in the day or dreams of being somewhere else on the planet. Imagine how difficult it is for us to find clarity with all of that noise.
Why do we need to gain clarity? Clarity provides solutions. Meditation creates a space for focus and open-mindedness so that solutions to our personal and professional issues can be found. Solving problems rather than creating them gives us more control in our lives, less stress and more peace.
An Inexpensive Way to Improve Health
Science has shown us time and time again that stress is the top contributor to an entire host of illnesses.
Stress plays havoc with the body’s well-balanced system, or homeostasis.
It pulls on our resources depleting our bodies of vital nutrients. If you add that to our already generally nutrient-deficient food that most of us eat, we quickly set our bodies up for illness. But, stress takes its toll on us in other ways.
When we are in stress mode our bodies automatically react as if we are in real danger.
A system in the body known as the “fight or flight mode”, which is connected to the sympathetic nervous system, is set up to assist us in the event of a threat. So, for example, if we are being physically threatened, our bodies automatically provide us the resources to save ourselves by running or having the strength to defend our life. Unfortunately, this system is overused based on the constant thinking we do and the worst-case scenarios rolling around in our heads a majority of the day. And the body doesn’t know that the threat of danger isn’t real, that it’s not happening in the present moment and that the threats are just a bunch of fearful thoughts being made up and exaggerated in our heads. If the “WARNING” signals are being sent, the body will do its job as if the danger is truly exists. But, with overuse, this system strains our body’s natural defenses and the result is preventable illness.
The way it works is that stress is linked to the release of the stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol. When we are stressed out our heart rate and blood pressure both rise. Stress also weakens our immunity and lowers fertility. In the meantime, when we are in fight or flight mode, the intelligence of the body saves energy on things like digestion and immunity in favor of saving our lives. All of these work against us if we are continuously stressed without a true threat.
By contrast, meditation creates a state of relaxation. This is our healing energy.
The state of relaxation is linked to the release of serotonin, one of our natural feel-good chemicals, and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. Relaxation is also linked to our parasympathetic system, which is our “rest and digest” portion of the autonomic nervous system. The chart below shows the effects that the sympathetic nervous system has on the body compared to the parasympathetic nervous system.
Autonomic Nervous System4
Iris (eye muscle)
Saliva production reduced
Saliva production increased
Mucus production reduced
Mucus production increased
Heart rate and force increased
Heart rate and force decreased
Bronchial muscle relaxed
Bronchial muscle contracted
Gastric juice secreted; motility increased
Secretions and motility increased
Increased conversion of
Decreased urine secretion
Increased urine secretion
Many studies have shown that relaxation has the opposite effect of stress .¨ curing rather than destroying – enabling the body to thrive, which is our natural state.
Take a look at more of the health benefits of relaxation through meditation:
Lower heart rate
Lower blood pressure
Improved immune function
Reduction of chronic pain
Reduced incidence of arthritis
Healthier hormone levels
It is obvious that the benefits of meditation are numerous, diverse and meaningful to us as we look for ways to get healthier, reduce our stress and find some peace. All of this is great news for those who meditate and for those who are contemplating the practice of meditation.
So Many Ways to Find Peace
You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or a flower child to get the hang of meditation and to reap its many benefits. There are many great ways to meditate. And it doesn’t matter what meditation technique you use since all provide similar biological effects. The key to meditation is letting go. The goal isn’t to gather thoughts, review problems or to stew about things someone said that you took personally. The goal of meditation is to let go of all of that. In doing this we are able to rid ourselves of that which burdens us and the unhealthy stress that goes with it. We can finally get some relief and relief means healing.
When I started meditating years ago, I thought I had to have a completely clear mind, like a blank piece of paper, in order to be successful. I started right out of the gate with a thirty minute session. If a thought came into my mind I would wrap it in a little bubble and send it away to the outer reaches of the universe. My mind was so busy wrapping thoughts in bubbles that there wasn’t much relief. Then a good friend said, “Keep meditation simple with no expectations. Breathe in and think the words .≤LOVE IN’. Breathe out and think the words .≤LOVE OUT’. That’s it.” I took my friend’s advice and have been happily meditating ever since. For me, focusing on something simple allowed me to tone down more than 90% of my usually pointless chatter.
To find a technique that works for you, you may search the internet or your local bookstore for a variety of articles and books that can provide assistance. There are many techniques that have specific instructions to follow and these may work for you. Or you may find that something simple like focusing on a small angel statue or candle light helps to calm and clear your mind. There is no right or wrong way.
In the end, the best meditation technique for you is the one that works. And you don’t have to meditate for hours on end. You can start with five minutes a day and increase your time to fifteen minutes twice a day, whatever works for you. If you set up in your mind that you have to take a huge chunk of time out of your day to meditate, you probably won’t be inclined to do it. There is no benefit in that!
Now, go in peace and in good health. Meditate today, take a load off your mind and relax! You deserve it. Namaste.