Benefits Of Meditation – Physical Health
October 21, 2008 by Ray Baskerville
Since the 1970s there has been a steady flow of research data on the effects and benefits of meditation. The results overwhelmingly show there are numerous benefits to meditation. In this article we are going to concentrate on the physiological and health benefits.
Nearly all forms of meditation have one thing in common, that is relaxing the body. When the body relaxes, the mind follows. Directly experiencing the inter-relationship of the body and mind, is then a significant benefit of meditation. This awareness is a doorway to increasing self awareness and self empowerment.
The relationship between body and mind is a parallel direction of scientific and medical study. That they do effect each other in positive and negative ways is now pretty much undisputed, and the complexity of ways and means continues to be revealed. With this understanding has emerged the significant role that stress plays in the development of illness and dis-ease.
Combine then the positive benefits of regular, conscious relaxation and the development of self awareness, including the presence and causes of stress, and you have a winning formulae. It is this later point which indicates that there is a whole dimension of greater benefit from meditation beyond simple relaxation practices.
Let us now look at the relaxation component, in order to understand it’s health benefits. To do this justice we need to understand the autonomic nervous system, or ‘ANS’. The ‘ANS’ governs and regulates involuntary functions of the body, which means all the wonderful things your body does on autopilot. We do not have to tell our bodies to breath, or our heart to beat, or have our food digested, our our immune system to protect our biological environment, or our pupils to adjust as the light source changes. All of these things and more, are handled for our best interest and well being by the ‘ANS’. The purpose of all these functions of the ‘ANS’ is to maintain homeostasis – a stable constant condition.
There are two aspects to the ANS, the Parasympathetic and the Sympathetic systems, which we can view as two different survival functions that have the opposite effect on the ANS. Most people will know the Sympathetic system as ‘fight or flight’ which occurs when there is the perception of immanent danger. When this response is activated, all available energy is readied to fight or flee for survival. In this state the function of the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems decreases or stops. At the same time adrenalin is pumped into the body, heart rate and breathing speedup and blood moves to the exterior of the body to power the muscles. In addition the higher functions of the mind give way to the powerful emotional impulses that drive survival. This is more or less what happens when we are ‘stressed out’.
The Parasympathetic is then the opposite, it is the creation of homeostasis described earlier, in which each bodily system function to it’s best current capacity.
It is easy to see then how the regular and accumulative experience of stress, depletes the bodies ability to maintain healthy function of it’s systems. On the other hand we can also understand how conscious relaxation is a beneficial factor in maintaining health, both physically and mentally. But there is more….
Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.Several studies have demonstrated that subjects who meditated for a short time showed increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, recorded the brain waves of stressed-out employees of a high-tech firm in Madison, Wisconsin. The subjects were split randomly into two groups, 25 people were asked to learn meditation over eight weeks, and the remaining 16 were left alone as a control group. All participants had their brain waves scanned three times during the study: at the beginning of the experiment, when meditation lessons were completed eight weeks later and four months after that. The researchers found that the meditators showed a pronounced shift in activity to the left frontal lobe, the brains happiness and joy center. Meditators then are rewiring their brain and nervous system to be more happy, more of the time.
Here then, as a list are the physiological and health benefits of meditating
* It stabilises the autonomous nervous system.
* It reduces the heart beat.
* It reduces the speed of breathing.
* Blood pressure drops.
* The Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) increases.
* EMG activity increases.
* Cardiovascular effectivity goes up.
* Breathing effectivity increases.
* The skin receives more blood.
* Stomach function and bowel function improve.
* The endocrine function is heightened.
* Muscle flexibility increases.
* The intake of oxygen gets stronger.
* Mobility and flexibility increase.
* The hand-eye co-ordination increases.
* Reaction-speed increases.
* Body posture is improved.
* Strength and resistance increase.
* Stamina increases.
* There is a heightened energy level and vitality.
* People’s weight is stabilised at an ordinary level.
* The ability to sleep increases and the time people need to fall asleep decreases.
* Pain is weakened.
* Stability is improved.
* Depth perception increases.
* There is a heightened degree of relaxation.
* There is a lessened degree of muscle tension.
* The production of serotenine increases.
* Menstruation pains are softened.
* Increases serotonin which influences moods and behaviour. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, headaches and insomnia.
* Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate.
* Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.
* Helps in post-operative healing.
* Enhances the immune system.
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