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Meditation – Its Physical and Neurological Effects

22 Feb 2017Psychology Essays

Introduction

Meditation has been a popular holistic approach in the Eastern part of the world. It has been gaining popularity in the Western hemisphere not only because it is considered a good alleviator of stress but also because of its alleged healing effects on different illnesses.The east and western cultures differ in their beliefs on healing. Proponents of western medicine regard the body as a mechanical machine. When one is sick, a Western doctor shall try to analyze which part of the human body is not functioning properly and from there start to find what needs to be repaired.

Oriental medicine, to which meditation belongs to, assumes that a sickness is a symptom of an imbalance within the individual. It takes into account the psychological and emotional to understand the physiological problem. It assumes a preventive approach instead of the western’s more aggressive views.

More and more westerners are apt to believe their oriental counterparts through the countless cases proving the benefits of meditation. However, it is assumed that science can pave the way to prove that meditation really does have positive effects on the neurological and physiological aspects of man. Therefore, it is the aim of this paper to gather enough evidence to affirm the benefits of meditation.

Definition of Meditation

Meditation is a technique that frees the mind from distractions and allows for communication with the Master Within, and this can lead to numerous physical, mental and spiritual benefits. (Young, 2005, p. 89). It is a certain level of consciousness that according to some studies, can affect the physiological and neurological functions of the brain.

Effects of Meditation

According to a study of Robert Keith Wallace (1970), oxygen consumption, heart rate, skin resistance, and electroenceph-alograph measurements were recorded before, during, and after subjects practiced a technique called transcendental meditation. The results showed that while being in the state of meditation, the subjects had higher oxygen consumption and skin resistance. It also proved that meditation can reduce heart rate and there were specific changes in certain frequencies.

Oxygen consumption is important because it is what regulates our energy or endurance. Skin resistance pertains to the activity of the sweat glands. This proves that even if one is meditating, the body is still very active. This study has led to many other scholarly investigations on what meditation can actually do to the body.

In 2002, another study on the alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation was done using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It entails the participants to focus on their breathing, their feelings, thoughts and the things that they feel using meditation approaches like yoga, sitting, walking and eating, speaking and listening. (Center for Mindfulness, 2007)
The researchers found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group; the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine. (Davidson, et.al. 2002)

Antibody titers usually refer to the amount of medicine or antibodies found in a patient's blood. (Greco 2005) Therefore, the study shows that during meditation, the body is able to increase its defense against an illness such as influenza.

Back in the year 2000, scientists ran a study on the effect of meditation on cancerous patients. They defined the eligibility of who can participate and randomly grouped these into immediate treatment condition or a wait-list control condition. The first group was asked to do weekly meditations for about 90 minutes for seven weeks. They were also asked to do it at home.

Patients in the treatment group had significantly lower scores on Total Mood Disturbance and subscales of Depression, Anxiety, Anger, and Confusion and more Vigor than control subjects. (Speca, 2000) The treatment group also revealed less indications of stress, lower instances of Cardiopulmonary and Gastrointestinal symptoms; decrease in emotional irritability, depression, and cognitive disorganization; and lower happenings of Habitual

Patterns of stress.

This simply shows that meditation can be very helpful to people with clinical depression and other psychological imbalances. With the help of meditation, the body is able to relax and think coherently. This then, alleviates stress and lessens the chance for patients to become irritable and depressed.

Another similar study was done by some of the scientists of this previous research by 2003 which investigated the effect of meditation on breast and prostate cancer afflicted individuals. The researched concluded that MBSR participation or meditation was associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms in breast and prostate cancer patients. (Carlson, et.al. 2003)

This is the first investigation that revealed how MBSR can actually affect a very dreaded disease such as cancer. It shows that meditation can change cytokine production associated with program participation. Cytokines are small protein released by cells that has a specific effect on the interactions between cells, on communications between cells or on the behavior of cells. (Definition of Cytokine, 2007) The cytokines can start inflammation and respond to infections. These are considered natural-killer cells which are known to attack bacteria and cancer cells.

This study also showed that MBSR can improve the length of sleep which is a primary problem with cancer patients. The researchers were informed that 40% of patients complained about insomnia before the study was conducted. MBSR was able to add at least a half hour of additional sleep by the end of the program. Aside from the studies on how meditation can affect the body’s problems with influenza, stress and breast or prostate cancer, a trial study has also been conducted on its effect on insulin which is the primary cause of diabetes.

The Archives of Internal Medicine released a report back in June 12, 2006 that implied that transcendental meditation can improve blood pressure and insulin resistance which are beneficial to those with coronary heart disease (CHD). Although the researchers feel that the findings are still premature because of the sample size they used, it is already a step towards another positive effect of meditation that could help mankind be alleviated of common sicknesses.

The participants who had Coronary Heart Disease were made to do transcendental meditation for 16 weeks. The researchers found these participants to have improved their blood pressure and insulin resistance. The results also suggest that meditation may modulate the physiological response to stress and improve CHD risk factors, which may be a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of CHD. (Barclay and Lie, 2006) According to the article, other national institutions who have been studying the effects of meditation on human physiology also supported this study. These are the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, National Institutes of

Health; and a General Clinical Research Centers grant from the National Center for Research Resources.

Studies have also shown that transcendental meditation can help smokers and alcoholics. A statistical meta-analysis of 198 independent treatment outcomes found that the Transcendental Meditation program produced a significantly larger reduction in tobacco, alcohol, and non-prescribed drug use than standard substance abuse treatments and standard prevention programs. (Maharishi University of Management, 1994)

It was also found that transcendental meditation helped patients increase their strength against their addictions when used for twenty-two months. This is much higher than the effect of conventional programs that have its effects for an approximate three month period.

Conclusion
Meditation is effective in relieving the body of stress and has its positive effects on man’s physiological and neurological system. It not only boosts our immune system but it can also help people with depression, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and even cancer.

Meditation is a very safe way to help the human body overcome stress and other diseases that have claimed the lives of many. It is one of the best ways to have better health and achieve a longer life.

References

  • Barclay, L. & Lie, D. (2006). Transcendental Meditation May Improve Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance. Medscape Medical News. 
  • Carlson, L.E., Speca, M.., Patel, K.D., Goodey, E. (2003). Mindfulness-Based Stress
  • Reduction in Relation to Quality of Life, Mood, Symptoms of Stress, and Immune
  • Parameters in Breast and Prostate Cancer Outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine 65:571–581.
  • Center for Mindfulness. (2007). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: An Integrated 8-Week Program for Cultivating the Inner Resources of Compassion and Disciplined Presence. 
  • Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., et.al. (2002). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function 
     

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