Mind over matter? Healing meditation is now used to treat a range of conditions.
In the last few decades, medical researchers made vast progress in understanding how complex the human body is. For years, the focus for healthcare was on the intervention of a silver bullet. Most commonly it was seen as a drug or surgery as the best way of healing disease.
These are effective approaches for acute diseases like infection or injury. However, medicine is less effective when improving the health of those with chronic illness.
Today, new research and a multi-disciplinary approach to healing the body and mind are showing great results. It appreciates the complex nature of our body with the gut-brain connection, the human microbiome, and epigenetics.
Healing meditation, and the field of mindfulness now has an exciting application for many conditions.
It is part of a new generation of lifestyle medicine, that appreciates the process of allowing the body to heal.
The term mindfulness is the application of a technique used for thousands of years. Also known as transcendental meditation, it originated in the Vedic tradition of India. It’s strongly linked with the Yoga system and has roots with Ayurvedic medicine. Meditation has principles in Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation response, and breath regulation.
In philosophy, transcendence relates to the primary meaning of ‘climbing or going beyond.’ Its interpretation has seen it applied in many ways. Recently, meditation climbed to popularity through The Maharishi Yogi in the 50s and 60s. He taught thousands of people during a series of world tours, expressing his teachings in spiritual and religious terms.
For a long time, mediation was confused with solving all of life’s problems. In Ashtanga Yoga, it’s described as the ability to experience a settled mind or ‘Samadhi.’ This is a small aspect of meditation practice, and many don’t achieve this with simple daily practice. The misconception left meditation on the fringes for a long time.
Recently meditation has been rebirthed with quick and straightforward practice shown to have profound health benefits.
Mindfulness practice can be simply described as noticing what happens moment to moment in life. From the easy and the difficult to the painful and the joyful. It’s like building a muscle to be present and awake in your life.
The mechanism of healing meditation has been debated and studied by scientists. It’s not exactly understood how meditation produces health benefits in the body.
We know the power of shifting a mindset has profound benefits. For example, the placebo effect has produced healing capabilities without the delivery of a drug or medicine. It merely delivered the belief that there was an intervention.
A study into the placebo effect used a test group to receive a pill with an active ingredient. The control group received a sugar pill. Both the control and test groups don’t know which pill they have. The placebo has been found to have a measured benefit to people who believe they have been treated in their mind. Yet they only received a sugar pill.
It’s a phenomenon that has long baffled researchers.
The brain is a remarkably complex organ, and meditation seems to have benefits in its healing capability.
Neuroscience has begun to measure the benefits of meditation on the human brain. It’s the effect most frequently sought by people who undertake meditation practice. One study looked at brain activity with magnetic resonance (MR) taken before and after a meditation program.
Within an eight-week mindfulness program at the University of Massachusettsdemonstrated this.
Studies have also looked at the long-term effect of healing meditation on the brain.
In 2012, a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) looked at the longer-term effects of people who meditate over two months. An fMRI not only takes pictures of the brain but also records brain activity occurring during the scan.
The researchers studied changes when meditating as well as performing everyday tasks.
What did they find?
They concluded that meditation may induce learning that is not task-specific, but process-specific in the brain. This may result in enduring changes in mental function.
The strongest evidence for healing meditation is to heal anxiety and depression.
Multiple studies show that it could be an effective therapy and even cure depression or anxiety.
How does it work?
Long-term meditation could have long-term benefits on the performance and ability of the human brain.
In a study with Tibetan Buddhist monks, it was found that novice meditators showed a slight increase in gamma activity in the brain.
What did they find?
Other research has found long-term meditation and attention like training to increase in thickness and blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. An area associated with complex behavior, decision making, and shaping personality. A critical functional area of the brain in high performing individuals.
The benefits of healing meditation extend beyond the structure and function of the human brain.
It works like this:
Intestinal permeability is linked to auto-immune, inflammatory digestive conditions, type II diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
When you reduce stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine through rest and relaxation, eating mindfully, and meditation, these tight junctions can heal.
The gut microbiome releases the majority of the body’s neurotransmitters. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.
The gut-brain axis is a critical factor in healing chronic digestive disorder. Healing meditation for gut or digestive diseases is now supported by research.
Several studies have found that stress management techniques and other psychological interventions can help patients with irritable bowel syndrome. The results are confirmed at least in the short term. Evidence for inflammatory bowel disease is less apparent. Some studies have, however, suggested potential benefits and none have shown negatives.
Research has found that many chronic diseases are due to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes a set of genes to be activated in the body.
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is linked to many digestive, auto-immune, and metabolic disorders are all associated with the presence of inflammation.
A group of researchers has shown that mindfulness can produce the opposite gene activation as inflammation.
A 2006 study of the use of imagery by injured athletes in the injury recovery period.
They concluded that “the implementation of imagery alongside physical rehabilitation should enhance the rehabilitation experience and, therefore, facilitate the recovery rates of injured athletes.”
The perception of pain is connected to the state of mind. In stressful situations, pain can be elevated. Studies show that meditation may help reduce the perception of pain.
One study that compared the fMRI of people with four days of mindfulness meditation training and others had not.
Meditating patients reported less sensitivity to pain. fMRI revealed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain.
A study of 3,500 regular meditators in 3,500 people found decreased complaints of chronic pain.
In patients with terminal diseases, researchers found meditation may reduce chronic pain at the end of life.
Nearly half the population do, or will struggle with insomnia or sleep disorders.
Meditation may help relax the body to prepare for sleep and reduce ‘runaway’ thoughts that may lead to insomnia.
Anxiety appears to be an impediment in people trying to lose weight.
Researchers found that meditation was effective in reducing anxiety at the phase of weight loss maintenance.
High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack and strokes.
Meditation may help reverse high control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that can produce tension in blood vessels.
A study of 996 volunteers found that when they meditated by concentrating on a “silent mantra” lowered blood pressure.
Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help prevent age-related memory loss.
In a study with 50 adult ADHD patients with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Research has shown that meditation may help people learn to increase willpower and control emotions when healing addictive disorders.
One study looked at 19 recovering alcoholics. Those taught meditate found that participants who received the training got better at controlling their cravings and craving-related stress.
Meditation may also help you control food cravings. A review of 14 studies found mindfulness meditation helped reduce emotional and binge eating.
For eating disorders, meditation has shown early promise in small studies in beating thought patterns.
Evidence supports the use of mindfulness in treating depression associated with PTSD. Mindfulness was compared to treatment as usual or psychoeducation and was shown to have a benefit in healing PTSD.
People practice many different forms of meditation, most of which don’t require specialized equipment or space. You can practice with just a few minutes daily.
Firstly, try choosing a form of meditation based on what you want to get out of it.
There are two main types of meditation:
You can meditate for 5 minutes or 50 minutes. No set time will see certain benefits. You’ll need to find out what works for you.
As a guide, aim for 20 minutes.
While more research is required to understand the clinical effectiveness fully, many studies now support it as a tool to help the healing process in the body.
This likely includes anxiety, inflammation and chronic stressors on the body that act as barriers to healing.
Mindfulness practice has been associated with very few negative effects.
“With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.”
Herbert Benson, M.D. Harvard Medical School
Remember it’s personal. 20 minutes is a good aim, however, if you can practice for 5 minutes and feel better, then continue with that.
Try first thing in the morning or the last thing before bed time.
No, it may be the best time when the body is preparing for sleep.
Yes, it may help integrate benefits of exercises.
Find a comfortable position, either at the edge of the bed with feet flat on the floor. Sitting cross-legged, or lying flat. Whichever works for you. Start your meditation process.
It’s a kind of exercise, for the mind.
Find a comfortable spot where you’re not distracted by being uncomfortable. Try to repeat this position as it may help form a muscle memory for meditation.
You can. It might be harder for beginners with distractions.
Yes, find a frequency that relaxes and gets you in a good mood. 852Hz is a good example.
It can be, practices like Tai Chi or Yoga incorporate mindfulness with movement.
Yes. Some people may find that they fall asleep, see what works for you.
Focus on your mantra, breath or a scenario in your mind.
Now it’s up to you.
How has your healing meditation practice changed your life? Any questions for more experienced meditators?
Leave your comments below.