Meditation Balances the Body’s Systems
Written by Dr. Dorette Lewis-Senior, ND
The mind, heart, and body can improve with regular meditation
“Any condition that is caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through meditation”, says cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, well known for research into the health effects of meditation. He is the founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The relaxation response from meditation helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brainwaves,” saysDr. Benson. Tension and tightness slowly leaves muscles as the body receives a quiet message to relax.
There is clear scientific evidence showing how meditation works. It has been shown that people who are meditating, theirbrain scans called MRI have shown an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate. Other studies on Buddhist monks have shown that meditation produces long-lasting changes in the brain activity in areas involved in attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception.
Meditation influences the body in unexpected ways. Experienced meditators, for instance, can speed or slow their metabolism by more than 60% and raise their body temperature by as much as 8°C.
Over the years of being a holistic medical practitioner, I have seen experienced meditators, for instance, who can speed or slow their metabolism just by engaging meditation alone.
Even a little training in meditation can make people calmer, less stressed and more relaxed. Studies have indicated that as little as 20 minutes a day leads to physical changes, such as reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, deeper and calmer breathing. Improvements in blood pressure as a result of meditation have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attack.
Meditation is also beginning to prove effective as a treatment for chronic and acute pain. One experiment showed that four days of mindfulness meditation substantially reduced the participant’s experience of unpleasantness and the intensity of their pain.
Mind, brain and beyond phenomena
Meditation increases left-sided, frontal brain activity, an area of the brain associated with positive mood. Interestingly, this increase in left-brain activity is also linked with improvements in immune system activity. And the more you practice meditation, the greater your immune function is likely to be.
Studies have shown that long-term meditators have increased volumes of grey matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex and hippocampus regions of their brain which are responsible for regulating emotion. Similar changes have also been found in non-meditators who completed an eight-week course in mindfulness training.
So, even a limited bit of meditation has the potential to change the structure of the brain.Meditating may increase longevity by protecting the brain and heart from the damaging effects of stress
There’s no doubt from the standpoint of research and my own clinical experience that meditation can reduce both the experience of pain and help people manage stress resulting from having pain. Meditation is a therapy offered in all comprehensive pain centers where you will find holistic physicians, natural medicine practitioners, herbal doctors or any center where herbal medicine is offered.
The question you may be asking is, “How do you know if meditation is “working” – if your body is actually getting that relaxation response, especially without scientific measurements at the time?
My answer is this, if you get feelings of warmth, heaviness, and calm when you meditate, it means that you’ve gone deep enough. If you just can’t reach that level, I suggest that you enroll in a class. Especially at the beginning, sometimes it helps to have someone guide you, to help you know when you’re making progress.
If meditation just doesn’t seem to work, I suggest that you move on to another relaxation method.Any practice that can evoke the relaxation response is of benefit, be it meditation, yoga, breathing, or repetitive prayer. There is no reason to believe that one is better than the other. The key is repetition, but the repetition can be a word, sound, mantra, prayer, breathing, or movement.”