[Image source: Meditation Australia]
In our modern world, we are more mentally stimulated than ever before in the history of human-kind. With the power of the smartphone to connect us, keep us updated and entertain us, it’s no wonder meditation is so hard. But if you can, it can have powerful benefits for your body.
We’ve become so conditioned to be mentally active and mentally stimulated that doing nothing is actually difficult. It’s easy to do nothing physically. But to do nothing mentally… that’s tough.
I get it. Meditation is hard. It sounds silly to say, but it is. I’ve tried countless times to meditate and it is difficult. Why is that so? As most commonly known, meditation is literally just sitting or lying down and physically doing nothing.
We’ve become so conditioned to be mentally active and mentally stimulated that doing nothing is actually difficult. It’s easy to do nothing physically. But to do nothing mentally… that’s tough. And I’m not writing this as the hero. I struggle too. I know what it’s like. But if you can get yourself into a position to meditate, there are countless physical benefits. Here’s some of the biggest and most impressive.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
- Lower levels of lipid peroxide
Lipid peroxide results in cell damage. It is the process whereby free radicals (an uncharged molecule) “steals” electrons (negatively charged particle of an atom) from the lipids in cell membranes. Lipid peroxide can contribute to a hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis. A 1998 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) had fifteen percent lower serum lipid peroxide levels compared to a control group who did not practice TM or any other form of stress management technique.
- Decreased thickness of artery walls
Atherosclerosis can cause an increase in the thickness of artery walls. It affects medium and large arteries, as opposed to arteriosclerosis which affects smaller arteries. Atherosclerosis is the formation of plaques within the artery wall. Castillo-Richmond, Schneider, Alexander, Cook, Myers, Nidich, Haney, Rainforth and Salerno published an article in the journal, Stroke, in the year 2000, showing that TM significantly decreased the thickness of artery walls in participants compared to participants in the control group whose artery walls actually increased in thickness.
- Lower blood pressure
A 2011 study by Goldstein, Josephson, Xie and Hughes published in the International Journal of Hypertension found that TM and mindfulness-based stress reduction can reduce blood pressure. They do declare that more randomised clinical trials are necessary before we start recommending meditation as a treatment for high blood pressure (nutrition should be one important aspect to consider) but their review on landmark studies and recent literature is promising.
- Eased effects of premenstrual syndrome
Most commonly known as PMS, affects women physically, emotionally and psychologically. Symptoms can include bloating, cramping, headaches, emotional sensitivity, mood swings, irritability, anxiety and even depressive episodes. Meditation can actually assist in dealing with pain and discomfort. A 2012 study published in Neuroscience Letters found that experienced meditators reported less pain than non-meditators. MRI scans have shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce pain by intensity by 40 per cent.
- Improved conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
An intestinal disorder causing pain in the stomach, wind, diarrhea and constipation, it can be improved through meditation. Susan Gaylord, PhD, compared two groups of women suffering from IBS. One group practiced mindfulness meditation and the other participated in support group therapy. After the 8-week period, the meditation group reduced their IBS severity by 26.4 per cent vs 6.2 per cent for the support group. After a 3-month follow up, 38.2 per cent of those in the mindfulness meditation group reported a reduction in IBS severity versus 11.8 per cent in the support group.
- Increased production of antibodies in response to the flu
Maybe one of the most impressive physical benefits of meditation. Richard Davidson, PhD, led a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain and immune system. They randomly assigned participants into either the experimental group who received 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation training or a control group who received no training until after the study. In addition, both groups received a flu vaccine at the end of the 8-week meditation training. At four and eight weeks after all participants were administered with the vaccine, both groups had a blood test to measure the level of antibodies produced in response to the flu vaccine. Both groups developed increased levels of antibodies but the meditation group had significantly higher at both four and eight weeks post vaccine.
- Increased activity in parts of the brain associated with positive emotion
In that same Wisconsin-Madison study, researchers measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain to determine whether there was an increase of activation from meditation. Their hypothesis was confirmed. The meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left-side part of the frontal region. This region is specialised for emotion and becomes more active when people who are generally positive and optimistic experience positive emotions. Activity in this part of the brain is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to start meditating (if you don’t already) to improve your health and enhance your body. If you’re not ready to start meditating just yet, hopefully this article has given you some more insight into just how powerful meditation is for your physical body.
What benefits have you experienced from meditation?
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