Latest research indicates that meditation is more than an antidote to the stress of modern living; it’s an important tool for health and longevity.
A few cases in point
In a recent US study at the Cousins Centre for Psychoneuro-immunology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers tracked CD4+T lymphocytes – the immune cells attacked by HIV – in a group of HIV-positive adults during an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation programme.
The patients involved in the programme showed loss of CD4+ T lymphocytes during the study. This suggests that mindfulness training can buffer the decline of theses cells. In contrast, those not practising meditation showed a significant decline in CD4+T lymphocytes over the same eight-week period.
The effects were independent of antiretroviral (AVR) medication to slow progression of HIV. Amazingly, the more meditation classes the participants attended, the more resilient their immune systems were against the progression of HIV.
This latest study adds to the escalating evidence suggesting that meditation has the potential to help prevent and treat a range of medical conditions, such as:
• Chronic lower back pain: Two recent studies form the University of Pittsburgh in the US, found that meditation could assist patients with chronic lower back pain. When analysing diary entries researchers found benefits such as less pain, improved attention, better sleep, enhanced feelings of wellbeing and an improved quality of life.
• Cardiovascular health: 60 Hypertensive African-Americans with artherosclerosis were encouraged to practise Transcendental-Meditation (TM). After nine months, all of those who practised TM showed a marked reduction in the thickness of their artery walls, while non-meditators showed an increase in their artery-wall thickness. This study also indicated a decrease of 11 per cent in the risk of heart attack and 8 – 15 per cent lower risk of stroke. TM has also reduced blood pressure among a study of hypertensive patients.
• Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disability: A pilot UCLA study of 34 adolescents with learning disabilities reported that all participants showed less anxiety, enhanced social skills and improved academic performance after five weeks of MBSR. Researchers at the UCLA concluded: ‘Mindfulness training is a feasible intervention in a subset of ADHD adults and adolescents and may improve behavioural and neuro-cognitive impairments.’
Meditation offers more general health benefits too. An analysis of US hospital records revealed that patient that meditate regularly require half the number of in-and-out patient treatments compared to non-meditators in 17 treatment categories. Particularly those over 40 fared well, with a third of hospital admission rates in comparison with non-meditators.
Meditation may even increase longevity. In a three year study carried out at an elderly care facility it was found that 80-year-olds who learned to meditate were not only happier, but were also much better adjusted and lived longer than non-meditators.
What is meditation?
Meditation is difficult to define because it has so many different forms and it is a very personal process and experience.
Broadly, it can be described as a mental practice in which you focus your attention on one particular subject or object. More specifically (and perhaps academic) the Collins dictionary describes it as, ‘to think about something deeply... to reflect deeply on spiritual matters...’
It has historically been associated with religion, but it can also be secular, and exactly what you focus your attention on is largely a matter of personal choice.
It may be a mantra (repeated word or phrase), breathing patterns, or simply an awareness of being alive. (Phrases like: 'I must do my homework' or 'I need to do my blog' will have a limited effect as a feeling of guilt may come. Why not try better phrases like 'I will get a grade A in January' or 'I love reading Sociology' or even 'I will bring my teacher something from my country as a late Christmas present'. These are all positive thoughts and likely to lead to good karma.)
Some of the more common forms of meditative practices include Buddhist Meditation:
Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, and Zen Meditation.
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The claims made for meditation range from increasing immunity, improving asthma and increasing fertility through to reducing the effects of ageing. There is also evidence in the efficacy of meditation in treating psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, eating disorders and symptoms associated with cancer.
Precisely why meditation is so beneficial for such a wide variety of cases is unclear; it may be related to stress hormones. Just four months of regular meditation reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol significantly.
Although the exact mechanism of meditation is unclear but it’s becoming more obvious that we all can benefit from this practise. Perhaps its time to ponder over the significance of meditation as part of the healing process.
Why not try this before opening your textbooks as you study to give rewards to your parents who are paying for your study?
Being overweight can have many causes: eating unhealthy foods, leading an inactive lifestyle and having a “thrifty” metabolism are three common contributors. But here’s another you may have overlooked: People who tend to eat quickly could be tripling their risk of being overweight. Researchers questioned more than 3,000 men and women about their eating habits; those who ate fast and continued consuming until they felt full had a higher body mass index (BMI), consumed more calories, and were more likely to be overweight than participants who didn’t eat quickly and didn’t eat until they were full.
Curb this problem by eating mindfully: turn off the television, put down the newspaper, and focus on appreciating the tastes and textures of food - you’ll discover that your eating pace slows markedly.