Is meditation a piece of the puzzle for a long and healthy life?
For thousands of years, meditation has been regularly practiced by monks and nuns, the pious and dedicated seekers of enlightenment. In more modern times, this form of inner silence has become less about the purely spiritual with an expanded health view evidenced by research trials and scholarly investigation.
Let’s take a look at the intersection between transcendental contemplation and where the science hits the road to see what regular meditation can offer you.
Physical Benefits Of Meditation
The evidence is mounting about the body benefits of meditation, and I want to share two pieces of game changing research.
The switch to healthy genes
Our genes provide the blueprint for our biological processes; the functions that keep us alive. When we need a gene to produce a protein (the messengers and builders of the body), it can be switched on; when we don’t, it can be switched off. This gives us a brilliant ability to adapt and persevere. Sometimes though, our lifestyles can result in confused switches, leading to ill health whether underlying or obvious.
David Black and his research team looked at whether meditation can flick the genetic switches into a more healthful position. Their results are insightful. Healthy people who care for loved ones with dementia — and so experience substantial stress — were given a brief daily yogic meditation. On implementation, there was a reversal of increased pro-inflammatory cytokines. This result indicates meditation may reduction inflammation, which is a contributor to serious health challenges, like heart disease and Diabetes.
In fact, the researchers found altered expression in 68 genes (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) simply through meditating!
Chronic pain relief
As a chronic pain sufferer and someone who’s supported those with continual pain clinically for over a decade, meditations’ potential to quell discomfort is of keen interest. With an estimated one-third of Americans experiencing pain lasting longer than six-months, mindfulness meditation might form an important therapeutic intervention.
With significant reductions in “present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, symptoms, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology, including anxiety and depression,” plus a reduction in pain medication use and an increase in involvement in activity, this approach should be considered more readily.
Mental Benefits Of Meditation
In those who don’t suffer, good mental health is often taken for granted. Yet challenges in this area can be devastating. Thus the nuns and enlightenment seekers of the past offer hope here as well.
The estimated prevalence of anxiety sits around 15%. That is, over the course of a lifetime, 15 out of every 100 people will experience an anxiety-related illness. That’s huge, and its effects profound.
A study published in General Hospital Psychiatry investigated mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction. They found an eight-week program could provide long-term positive outcomes for those with anxiety. And three-years on, participants were still practicing; an indicator of its ease of implementation. See, we humans are funny creatures, and even when health practices are in our best interests, we often quit. Chalk up another win to meditation!
Mind over matter… and age!
As we age, our gray matter (usually) ages with us. This brings a brain volume decrease and a corresponding reduction in our ability to pay attention. Performance diminishes. However, in regular meditators this age-related diminution did not occur. The Buddhists may have been ahead of their time, with MRI’s now revealing the distinct possibility of both meditation’s neuroprotective effects and its ability to keep us young.
Spiritual Benefits Of Meditation
The traditional aim of meditation is spiritual, and its regular practice forms part of the journey to understanding the true nature of the mind and all that is. While seeking enlightenment is a whole other article (well, volumes of books really!), many who meditate regularly discover an inner calm, a peace that transcends the physical form.
Whether you are considering meditation as a therapeutic aid to heal a health challenge, or as best practice for a healthier, happier, longer life, there is good — and growing — evidence to support your decision.