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21 July 2009 2 Comments

In various articles, books and websites you will find lists of benefits from Meditation for pretty much every system of the body and facet of your life. Some use it as a way to relax from their busy lives or reduce stress, others to increase energy, mental strength, or to gain insight or enlightenment. Studies have proven many positive effects.

People who meditate regularly show increased blood flow to the left brain, which houses the parts of the brain responsible for feelings of joy, happiness and enthusiasm (and therefore away from right brain, the area responsible for anxiety, fear, sadness and depression).

Apart from mental health, the parts of the brain aided by meditation are intimately related to other health factors, like blood pressure, hormone levels, and the immune system.

A pilot study found after 8 weeks of meditation training and practice, a group of 25 biotech staff aged 23-56 demonstrated more left brain activity, and reported feeling happier, with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for their life and work. These changes were still evident some time after the study concluded. It’s no surprise that the people in this study also had “a more robust immune system” with higher levels of infection-fighting proteins and antibodies in their blood.

Other tests, on people who suffered recurring bouts of major depression showed that meditation ‘substantially reduced the risk of relapse from 66% to 37%”.

Other listed benefits include a reduction of cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol, (the TM website says that meditators over 40 years old have approximately 70% fewer medical problems than others in their age group!?), improved memory, great results in treating drug and alcohol abuse, and significant improvements in school children’s basic skills in mathematics, reading, language and study skills, as well as increased IQ scores for high school students, college students and adults.

The researchers hope that just as exercise strengthens muscles, people will start seeing meditation as a way to strengthen parts of the brain that calm anger and fear and elicit happiness. That is, with regular practice you become better at meditation.

For more information I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entries on Meditation. There’s lots of useful facts and great links.

(I have taken excerpts from “Keep taking the meditation”, an article from Good Weekend Magazine, www.wikipedia.org, and the Transcendental Meditation (TM) website as references.)

A Quick “How To”

Scientists summarised the common ingredients of a vast array of techniques, from prayer, to meditation, yoga, tai chi etc:

They found you should repeat a word, phrase, prayer, sound or even a movement (ie a mantra) and then disregard any thoughts that arise, in order to return focus to the word or activity. Commonly, Buddhist meditation involves focusing on the in and out breath.

It is suggested practicing the technique 15-20 minutes once or twice a day “can help patients reduce stress and high blood pressure”, and will be useful in a galaxy of disorders ranging from heart disease and impotence, PMT, ADHD, to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, even skin conditions.

This simple technique will enable you to clear your mind, stop the million thoughts that are running through your head, and relax your nervous system.

One theory for how this technique works is by stimulating the release of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, thus restoring blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Nitric oxide is also linked to endorphin production, as well as other chemicals that “counter pain and produce feelings of well being”.