The use of meditation to calm the mind and focus or control thoughts is well known. But the benefits of meditation extend far beyond the mind. Several studies designed specifically to understand the effects of meditation on the body have shown that meditation helps to reverse heart disease, reduce pain, lessen chronological ageing, reduce blood pressure, fight inflammation, decrease anxiety, and control asthma.
Researchers at the Harvard Medical School found that deep, relaxing meditation seems to switch off 'disease causing' genes, while switching on genes that actively protect us from a variety of conditions such as high blood pressure, pain infertility, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
But there’s more good news. In people who don’t meditate, the researchers found that the process of turning off the bad genes and switching on the good ones, happened in as little as two months.
It sounds pretty amazing and begs the question: how can one technique be so effective against such a wide range of diseases?
It appears that a lot of the positive physical changes associated with meditation have their roots in stress management. In numerous studies, meditation has been shown to increase alpha waves (relaxed brain waves) and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Stress affects our heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption, immunity and brain activity. While short-term stress seems to boost immunity, prolonged increases in levels of cortisol can suppress your immune system and decrease the number of brain cells, impairing your memory. Stress can also increase your susceptibility to cardiac disease and stroke.
Meditation and Overall Health
Over the years, research suggests that several conditions may benefit from meditation, including:
- Anxiety and depression - Meditation decreases oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and increases the intensity of alpha, theta, and delta brain waves--the opposite of the physiological changes that occur during the stress response. One study showed that cancer patients who practiced meditation for as little as 7 weeks were significantly less depressed and anxious than their counterparts who did not meditate.
- Pain – In one study, patients suffering from backache, chronic migraine and tension headaches were able to lessen or even stop their pain medication.
- Inflammation - Meditation slows the heart rate by sending signals through the vagus nerve. Researchers believe these signals may also reduce the immune response and the resulting inflammation associated with diseases like arthritis, asthma and eczema.
- Diabetes - Researchers have shown that following meditation, the reduced stress levels correlate with a decrease in blood glucose levels.
- Hypertension – Meditation also reduces blood pressure and contributes to the overall reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers studying the effect of meditation on atherosclerosis reported that those who had practiced meditation for 6-9 months showed an 11% decrease in the risk of heart attacks and up to a 15% decrease in the risk of stroke.
- Infertility – A group of Italian researchers found that meditation, by stimulating the pituitary gland that is responsible for regulating female reproductive hormones, was able to help with infertility issues.
Family Health Guide