The benefits of meditation

01 July 2012 at 16:42

The benefits of Meditation to health and wellbeing

I’ve been looking in detail at meditation, in part for a course I’ve been doing and in part out of a deep seated interest in meditation. Meditation is something that I’ve practiced for some time and always felt that there was a benefit but much of the evidence base for the benefits seemed to be esoteric or spiritual (now there is nothing wrong with that but I’ve always been more interested in the science, the ‘hard’ facts or empirical data that explains our behaviour or actions. So I was quite please to have the opportunity to explore what the benefits of meditation are. What was the evidence base like? What I found is the mere tip of the ice berg in high quality writing and research around mediation. Please read and enjoy and you may even be inspired to give it a go.

Salzberg (2011) highlights that mediation helps us develop and maintain three key skills; concentration; mindfulness and compassion.  By improving these three key or core skills measurable benefits can be gained.  In a world with constant demands on our attention and overstimulation from substances and electronic devices our minds can be forced to flit from one thing to the next sapping our energies and reducing our capacity to function physically, socially and psychologically. By improving our core skills this allows us to be more focused, let go of the distractions that impact on or attention and focus and be in the now; to be present in the moment. Through being present in the moment we are then allowed to bring our attention more closely on what is happening to us in that moment; to become mindful of our internal (and external) experiences. It allows us to observe our thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds and smells without placing specific meaning on those thing but allowing the acknowledgement of those things before responding. It allows for a space to be created that can prevent strong negative emotions becoming destructive and reduce reactionary responses that may further inhibit or even destroy relationships and/or continue to promote a negative sense of self worth.

A path to mindful living is through meditation (the terms mindfulness and the various disciplines of meditation appear to be used interchangeably in many texts, the route travelled and the vehicle travelled in may be different but the destination is the same). Mindfulness derives from the English translation of the Pali word ‘sati’. Sati has been described as the constant presence of mind (Davids, 1881; cited in Choi et al 2011) and by having this constant presence of mind we are better able to relate to the experiences of fear, anxiety or panic that is impacting on our lives rather than from those experience (Brantley, 2007). As Sazberg (2011) states “mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what is happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what is happening”.  

The third key or core skill meditation helps us improve is our compassionate awareness or lovingkindness. It can transform our relationship not only with our friends, family, work colleagues (including all those we don’t particularly get along with) and ourselves (even if we might not get along with ourselves at times!) As a starting point the ability to appreciate our own strengths, areas for development and foibles can be the key to loving others. Developing these key skills, I believe is part of the ‘connect’ element within the New Economics Foundation (2008) report ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing”.

A common theme when reading about the effects of meditation is its impact on the psychological wellbeing of the individual. Harrison (2003) in convincing us to try meditation highlights it ability to calm the mind rapidly.  Pressing the pause button or as Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994) puts it ‘stopping’ can help psychologically in a multitude of ways. It can make thinking clearer, allow us to become more in touch with our emotions and improve our ‘emotional intelligence’. It can improve creativity and increase our levels of perceived happiness. There is also an increasing body of scientific research indicating the positive impact that (mindfulness) meditation can have on stress, anxiety and depression, Yunesian et al (2008) found evidence that Transcendental Meditation can improve the mental health of young adults especially in the areas of improving sleep and reducing anxiety levels. Grossman et al. (2003) carried out a meta-analysis of the research studies based around the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programmes concluding that MBSR can help a broad range of individuals cope with their clinical and non clinical problems. Indeed Choi et al (2011) point to a number of studies that demonstrate the improvement and apparent happiness levels of those who mediate regularly. Mediation makes you happier!

It is not only in the cognitive or emotional domains that mediation can be seen to give measurable benefits, Grossman et al (2004) highlights that a number of studies have suggested that meditation can help individuals cope with the distress of chronic long term medical and physical problems including cancer (Lengacher et al., 2009; Nidich et al., 2009; Foley et al., 2010) and HIV (Damida et al., 2009; Bormann and Carrico, 2001).  A number of studies have highlighted physical effects on individuals both during and after mediation. There is evidence to indicate that meditation can reduce blood pressure in individual’s that are hypertensive (high blood pressure). Meditation can also reduce the heart rate these combined factors (and I would argue the general mental health benefits of meditation) has been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke (Schneider et al, 2009 cited in Horowitz, 2010).

Physiological responses to meditation have been shown in a number of studies with meditation having been used to help reduce chronic pain in sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis (Gettings, 2010) and linked to other approaches such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and an Ayurvedic diet, meditation was found beneficial to patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (Rasmussen et al., 2009). Innes et al. (2010) suggest that meditation may also reduce, or at least help individuals cope with, the symptoms of the menopause. Further evidence suggests that meditation can improve cerebral blood flow and may help the cognitive and memory functioning in older age groups (Newberg et al. 2010)

Meditation as Horowtiz (2010) suggests is now a widely accepted ‘mind-body’ technique that is used to maintain, support and improve the holistic health and wellbeing.  Whilst on-going and rigorous research is still required the evidence is certainly convincing that meditation is widely beneficial and being used in increasing more diverse areas.  Within the field of Substance Use treatment services and within hospital and outpatient services training people to practice meditation (in whatever meditative discipline) would seem to improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of those people. Excitingly the improvements in both physical and mental wellbeing have been shown to be affective across age groups. Zelazo and Lynos (2012) indicate that meditation/mindfulness based approaches within early years/schools can help to support self regulation and reflection which in turn can reduce the negative influences such as anxiety and stress and therefore promote better problem solving skills.

Meditative practice then becomes a health promotion and preventative tool rather than a reactionary one.  I was drawn to mediation as a result of poor physical and mental health perhaps, if I had been taught to and encouraged to practice mediation from an early age many if not all of my health problems could have been prevented, but that and the research in this report is only a suggestion and further investigation is needed.

References:

Bormann J.E., Carrico, A.W. (2009) “Increases in positive reappraisal coping during group based mainstream interventions mediate sustained reductions in anger in HIV-positive persons” International Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 16:74-80

Brantley, J. (2007) “calming your anxious mind: how mindfulness and compassion can free you from anxiety, fear and panic” New Harbinger Publications Inc.

Choi, Y., Karremans, J.C. and Barendregt (2011) “The happy face of mindfulness: Mindfulness meditation is associated with perceptions of happiness as rated by outside observers” Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol. 7 No.1 pages 30-35

Damida, S.G., Holstaff, M.M. Diiorio, C., Laderman, G. “Spiritual well-being, depressive symptoms, and immune symptoms and immune status among women living with HIV/AIDS” Women Health 49:119-143

Foley, E., Baillie, A., Huxter, M. (2010) “Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for individuals whose lives have been affected by cancer” Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 78:72-79

Gettings, L. (2010) “Psychological well-being in rheumatoid arthritis: A review of the literature” Musculoskeletal Care, 8:99-106

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S. and Walach, H. (2003) “Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, pages 35-43

Harrison, E. (2003) “The 5-minute meditator” Piatus, London

Horowitz, S. (2010) “Health Benefits of Meditation” Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Vol 16: No 4 223-228

Kabat-Zinn (1994) “Mindfulness Meditation for everyday life” Hyperion, New York

Lengacher, C.A., Johnson-Mallard V., Post-White, J. (2009) “Randomised controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for survivors of breast cancer” Psycho-oncology 18:1261-1272

New Economics Foundation (2008) “Five ways to wellbeing: New applications, new ways of thinking” http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/five-ways-to-wellbeing

Newberg, A.B., Wintering, N., Khalso, D.S. (2010) “Meditation effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in subjects with memory loss: A preliminary study” Journal of Alzheimers Disease, 20:517-526

Niditch S.I, Fields, J.Z., Rainforth, M.V. (2009) “A randomised control trial of the effects of Transcendental Meditation on quality of life in older breast cancer patients” Integrated Cancer Therapy 8:228-234

Sazberg, S. (2011) “Real Happiness: The power of meditation” Workman Publishing, New York

Schneider, R., Nidich, S., Kotchen, J.M (2009) “Effects of stress reduction on clinical events in African Americans with coronary heart disease: A randomised control study” Circulation, 120 (18suppl); presented at American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2009, Orlando, cited in Horowitz, S. (2010) “Health Benefits of Meditation” Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Vol 16: No 4 223-228

Yunesian, M., Aslini, A., Vash, J.H and Yazdi, A.B. (2008) “Effects of Transcendental Meitation on mental health: a before and after study” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 4:25 http://www.cpementalhealth.com/content/4/1/25

Zelazo, P.D. and Lyons, K. E. (2012) “The Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Early Childhood: A Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective” Child Development Perspectives, Vol. 6: No 2 pages 154 -160

Author: Simon and Sandra on 01 July 2012 at 16:42 Comments (0)  

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