Spiritual benefits of meditation
For millennia, meditation has been an exclusively spiritual practice for serious seekers. By quieting the mind and deeply relaxing the body, the meditator experiences deep states of inner peace, and ultimately, higher states of awareness. There are many subtle benefits of practicing meditation—greater intuition, compassion, awareness, focus, among others—but they are ancillary. Ultimately, meditation is the practice of mystics seeking union with God.
Physical and health benefits of meditation
As meditation has become more well-known in the West, scientists have begun to quantify its physical benefits in hundreds of studies.
Significant benefits have been found for many health conditions, including heart disease, cholesterol, high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic pain, cancer, and immunity. Because meditation is a low-cost intervention with no side-effects, it shows promise for relief of a wide range of societal and health problems.
• In a study of health insurance statistics, meditators had 87% fewer hospitalizations for heart disease, 55% fewer for benign and malignant tumors, and 30% fewer for infectious diseases. The meditators had more than 50% fewer doctor visits than did non-meditators.(1)
• Meditation lowers blood pressure to levels comparable to prescription drugs for those who are normal to moderately hypertensive.(2)
• Meditation increases circulation in beginning meditators by 30%, and in experienced meditators by as much as 65%.(3)
• Meditation has endorsed by the NIH as effective for the relief of chronic pain. Chronic pain sufferers experience a reduction in symptoms of 50% or more.(4)
• 75% of long-term insomniacs who have been trained in relaxation, meditation, and simple lifestyle changes can fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed.(5)
• Meditation reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics.(6)
• A group of inner-city residents suffering from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, diabetes and hypertension were trained in meditation. They experienced a 50% reduction in overall psychiatric symptoms, a 70% decrease in anxiety, and a 44% reduction in medical symptoms.(7)
Mental and productivity benefits of meditation
Research on meditation has shown significant improvements in mental health, memory, concentration, and productivity.
• Brain scans show that meditation shifts activity in the prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead) from the right hemisphere to the left. People who have a negative disposition tend to be right-prefrontal oriented; left-prefrontals have more enthusiasms, more interests, relax more, and tend to be happier.(8)
• Researchers tested novice meditators on a button-pressing task requiring speed and concentration. Performance was greater at 40 minutes of meditation than after a 40-minute nap.(9)
• Meditation helps chronically depressed patients, reducing their relapse rate by half.(10)
• Meditators notice more, but react more calmly than non-meditators to emotionally arousing stimuli.(11)
• Those with smoking, alcohol, and eating addictions who have been trained in meditation break their addictions with significantly lower relapse rates than those receiving standard therapies.(12)
• Middle school children who practice meditation show improved work habits, attendance, and GPA.(13)
• Brain scans of meditators show increased thickness in regions of the cortex associated with higher functions like memory and decision making.(14)
• Meditation appears to slow aging. Those meditating five years or more were 12 years younger than their chronological age.(15)
1 D. Orme-Johnson, Pschosomatic Medicine 49 (1987): 493-507.
2 Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1997).
4 J. Kabat-Zinn, L. Lipworth, R. Burney, and W. Sellers, “Four year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain,” Clinical Journal of Pain 2(1986): 159-173.
5 Gregg Jacobs, Harvard Medical School, Say Goodnight To Insomnia, (Owl Books, 1999).
6 H. Cerpa, “The effects of clinically standardised meditation on type 2 diabetics,” Dissertation Abstracts International 499 (1989): 3432.
7 B. Roth, T. Creaser, “Meditation-based stress reduction: experience with a bilingual inner-city program,” Nurse Practitioner 22(3) (1997): 150-2, 154, 157.
8 R. Davidson, J. Kabat-Zinn, et al, “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation,” Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003): 564-570.
9 Reported in The Boston Globe, November 23, 2005
10 J.D. Teasdale, Z.V. Segal, J.M.G. Williams , V. Ridgeway, M. Lau, & J. Soulsby, “Reducing risk of recurrence of major depression using mindfulness-based cognitive therapy,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68 (2000): 615-23.
11 Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1997).
12 C.N. Alexander, P. Robinson, M. Rainforth, “Treatment and prevention of drug addiction,” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 11 (1994): 11-84.
12 J. Kristeller and B. Hallett, “An exploratory study of a meditation-based intervention for binge eating disorder,” Journal of Health Psychology Vol 4, (1999): 357-363.
12 P.A. Royer-Bounouar,“A new direction for smoking cessation programs,” Dissertation Abstracts International 50, 8-B (1989): 3428.
12 M. Shafii, R. Lavely, and R. Jaffe,“Meditation and marijuana,” American Journal of Psychiatry 131 (1974): 60-63.
13 H. Benson, M. Wilcher, et al, (2000). “Academic performance among middle school students after exposure to a relaxation response curriculum,” Journal of Research and Development in Education 33 (3) (2000): 156-165.
14 Massachusetts General Hospital, reported by Carey Goldberg, The Boston Globe (November 23, 2005)
15 R.K. Wallace, M.C. Dillbeck, E. Jacobe, B. Harrington, International Journal of Neuroscience 16 (1982): 53-58.
Excerpted from Freedom from Stress, David and Karen Gamow, Glenbridge Publishing (2006).