Here’s a great blog from our friends at Mindful Life Academy, a holistic wellness center in Bonita Springs focused on fitness, meditation and whole-life wellness coaching. We asked one of their owners, Cara Corr, to give us some insight on the major health benefits in meditation.
According to the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, the definition of meditation is composed of two complementary elements: the placement of one’s attention on the immediate experience, and adopting an open, curious, and accepting attitude toward that experience.
Can such a simple concept really be the solution to so many chronic health problems?
What Buddhist monks have known for thousands of years is finally being substantiated by scientific evidence.
For over 20 years, study after study has proven that excess stress has a detrimental effect on the body’s ability to fight disease. When we stop to examine the typical American lifestyle, it’s easy to understand why 60 to 80 percent of all physician visits are for stress-related complaints. An average American wakes up to an alarm clock, jumps out of bed to shout at his kids to hurry up, rushes to work, hurries home, runs to the grocery store and pops a frozen pizza in the oven, then collapses in exhaustion to waste a night in front of a digital screen, just so he can do it all again the next day.
What meditation studies have found in recent years is that when we take as little as 10 minutes out of our day to incorporate meditation into our daily lives, we are likely to reap the rewards in the form of reduced blood pressure, improved immune function, pain reduction, improved ability to focus and our general sense of well-being.
The proof is in the practice!
In July of 2003, a study spearheaded by Richard Davidson, PhD, Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin appeared in the medical journal, Psychosomatic Medicine. Dr. Davidson and his group of research scientists set out to understand how meditation affects us biologically by offering free meditation classes to employees of a biotech company. Researchers found that in as little as eight weeks, participants reported reduced anxiety levels and improved mood. One of the most interesting results of the study however was completely unexpected. At the end of the eight week period, both the group of meditating participants and the control group were immunized for influenza. Researchers drew blood to measure the level of antibodies present in both the meditators and non-meditators prior to receiving the vaccination and then again four and eight weeks after vaccination. Remarkably, the meditating group had significantly increased antibody production after four weeks compared to the control group and their antibody count was even higher at the eight week blood draw!
The group that participated in the meditation classes not only reported improved mood and reduced anxiety, they quite literally became healthier and better able to fight off infection.
Why It Works
Now that you understand how meditation is helpful in boosting health and immunity, allow me to explain why it does this. Learning how to clear your mind and focus on the breath shuts out all the nagging thoughts in your mind. In meditation we learn to keep our focus on only what is happening in this moment, simply breathing and being. This practice creates instant stress reduction and since being overly stressed and busy is at the root of all chronic disease, it only makes sense that our overall health would improve. When experiencing a stressful situation, our fight or flight response is triggered sending a cascade of hormones into action. These hormones are useful if you’re say…being chased by a leopard but, if you’re just stuck in traffic, not so much! These stress hormones are responsible for increasing blood pressure, increasing heart rate and preparing you for an urgent situation. Often we get stuck in this mode which eventually leads to chronic disease.
It doesn’t have to be this way…
Through a regular practice of meditation, just 10 minutes a day, we can turn it all around. We can calm the sympathetic nervous system and induce the healing process from within. The first step is consciousness. When we become aware and conscious of our patterns of behavior and begin practicing mindfulness in our everyday lives, we begin to make those changes, one breath at a time.