May is Meditation Month! Emerging scientific meditation research shows that there are many health benefits of meditation (also known as relaxation response). In fact, it has proven benefits in a variety of diseases. What are you waiting for? After reading this list, start meditating with Dr. Hall at The Meditation Room.
The term meditation is also referred to as the “relaxation response.” This term was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard in his seminal studies on stress in 1967. Dr. Benson measured the heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, and rectal temperature of 36 meditators. He discovered they used 17 percent less oxygen, lowered their heart rates by three beats a minute and increased their theta brain waves, the relaxing ones that appear right before sleep.
One of the benefits of meditation is reduced hypertension. Stuart Lesserman, M.D., of Harvard, studied patients with hypertension for at least 10 years as they went through 10 weeks of the relaxation response. Diastolic and systolic blood pressure decreased and patients maintained their lower blood pressure throughout later follow-ups.
Dr. Jacobs of Harvard had 100 patients with insomnia practice the relaxation response for 10 weeks. One hundred percent of patients reported some type of improvement in sleep. Hence, 91 percent stopped or decreased their sleep medication use.
Dr. Alice Domar of Harvard worked with women with infertility for over three and one-half years who were severely depressed. The participants practiced 10 weeks of the relaxation response which resulted in significant decrease in depression and anxiety. One-third of women, who averaged three and one-half years of infertility, became pregnant.
Margaret Caudill, M.D., of Harvard, studied 109 patients with chronic pain for 6.5 years and had them practice the relaxation response for 10 weeks. It resulted in improved symptoms and 36 percent reduction in HMO visits in a one year follow-up, which increased to a 50 percent reduction by the second year.
Robert H. Schneider, M.D., of Maharishi University Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention. Research showed two studies of meditation groups, who had normal to high blood pressure, were 23 percent less likely to die than people who did not. The meditation groups studied had a 30 percent decrease in the rate of deaths due to heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, the study showed a 50 percent reduced rate of cancer deaths.
Meditation, or the relaxation response, has demonstrated effects on the immune function and the brain. There are biological consequences of this mind-body intervention. Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin and his colleagues discovered individuals who underwent eight weeks of meditation training produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine and showed signs of increased electrical activity in areas of the brain related to positive emotions than the individuals who did not meditate. Employees at a biotechnology company participated in this study with half receiving weekly meditation training and the other half not receiving training.
The Journal of Memory and Cognition reported college students meditating displayed significant improvements in memory performance over a two-week period on a perceptual and short-term memory reduction of blood pressure, and better near point vision and auditory discrimination. Short-term meditators were physiologically five years younger than their chronological age. The study also controlled for the effect of diet and exercise.
Lower cholesterol is another one of the benefits of meditation. The Journal of Social Behavior and Personality published a longitudinal study showing that cholesterol levels significantly decreased through meditation. This was true in patients with elevated cholesterol (compared to the match controls).
Addiction takes a great toll in our lives in terms of the costs of family suffering, our prison system, our health care system, and lost potential. The Journal of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly and the International Journal of the Addictions report that meditation can even decrease cigarette, alcohol, and drug abuse. An analysis of 198 independent treatment outcomes found that meditation produced a significantly larger reduction in addiction. This was specifically for tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use. Meditation produced better results than standard substance abuse treatments or prevention. This includes counseling, pharmacological treatments, relaxation training and Twelve Step programs.