The benefits of meditation and relaxation
Why you should seriously consider relaxation training
The following is an abbreviated article from Psychology Today and is one of many hundreds of articles written about the research into the positive effects of teaching yourself how to relax through techniques such as meditation.
Silence and Science
Certainly anything that helps us fight stress is a welcome tool. But what else might meditation be doing for us? Since researchers like Herbert Benson, M.D. began amassing data, many studies have shown that indeed meditation has not only a mental but a profound physiological effect on the body.
Studies have shown that, among other benefits, meditation can help reverse heart disease, the number-one killer in the U.S. It can reduce pain and enhance the body's immune system, enabling it to better fight disease.
In a recent study published in the journal "Stroke", 60 African-Americans with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, practiced meditation for six to nine months. (African-Americans are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as are whites.) The meditators showed a marked decrease in the thickness of their artery walls, while the nonmeditators actually showed an increase. The change for the meditation group could potentially bring about an 11 percent decrease in the risk of heart attack and an 8 percent to 15 percent decrease in the risk of stroke.
A second study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, taught a randomized group of 90 cancer patients mindful meditation. After seven weeks, those who had meditated reported that they were significantly less depressed, anxious, angry and confused than the control group, which hadn't practiced meditation. The meditators also had more energy and fewer heart and gastrointestinal problems than did the other group.
Other recent research has looked at precisely what happens during meditation that allows it to cause these positive physical changes. Researchers found that meditation has a pervasive effect on stress.
They looked at a group of people who had meditated for four months and found that they produced less of the stress hormone cortisol. They were therefore better able to adapt to stress in their lives, no matter what their circumstances were.
Diana Adile Kirschner, Ph.D., a Philadelphia-area clinical psychologist, sometimes refers her clients to learn meditation and has seen first hand how helpful it can be. "Not only is meditation an absolutely marvelous destressor, it helps people better relate to one another," she says. "I can tell when clients are following through with meditation. For instance, I had a couple who consistently bickered. After they started meditating, they came in less angry, more self-reflective and more loving."
While western scientists are still exploring exactly how and why meditation works, we already know that it has both physiological and psychological benefits. And many therapists consider it a valid complement to more traditional therapies. So perhaps we should simply take Thomson's advice—and the Tibetans' lead—and do what makes us feel better in the end.
Clues to how meditation works...
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