Benefits of Meditation

A wide range of benefits have been described by experienced meditators. In addition, scientific studies have identified many benefits of meditation which are consistent and reliable.

Buddha imageVipassana is a form of meditation focusing on the observation of bodily sensations. Participants learn not to react to either painful or pleasurable sensations, but just to observe these sensations as they arise and pass away.  This technique encourages mindfulness and awareness and has a growing reputation for helping addicts. Vipassana meditators claim that through practice they can become permanently free of all negative behaviors—addiction included.

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There is a world of interest in meditation research and practice. The Medical News website reported in February that a study by Massachusetts General Hospital on meditation was the ninth most-viewed release on its website in the previous 12 months.

Brain Image‘It showed that regularly practicing meditation not only makes people feel better, but it also physically alters parts brain that control stress, memory, self-awareness, and learning.

‘The article’s first author, Britta H-lzel, Ph.D., said, “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”’

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Mantra based meditation has been found to assist older people with mild memory loss in various ways.  This recent study showed that meditation resulted in increased blood flow to the brain and improved cognitive function. Those participating found that meditation decreased anxiety and fatigue and led to an improvement in mood, eg less depressed, less prone to anger. The research group included individuals with memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

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A recent intensive meditation research project has established a number of important benefits to mental acuity, health and aging. The co-operative project – conducted by Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis in conjunction with the Shambhala Mountain Center, a Buddhist Meditation Retreat located in Northern Colorado – involved a total of 60 experienced meditators, 30 of whom took part in the project while the remaining 30 acted as controls.

shambhala meditators imageThe project was conducted over a period of 3 months. Participants underwent two group training sessions and five or more hours of individual practice every day. The participants ages ranged from 21-70. Behavioral and physiological measurements of both the meditators and the controls were conducted on three occasions: before commencement; halfway through the program; and again at the end.

Results of the research project are still being processed, but emerging analysis suggests that the effects go right down to the chromosomal level, affecting general health and longevity.

The article below by Wray Herbert appeared in the Huffington Post

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New Meditation Research: Putting the ‘Om’ in ‘Chromosome’

The Shambhala Mountain Center sits nestled among the remote lakes and pastures of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where for four decades it has offered instruction and retreat to serious students of meditation and yoga. Starting in February 2007, it became a scientific laboratory as well. The center began hosting the Shamatha Project, one of the most rigorous scientific examinations of meditation’s effects ever undertaken. The Project is now beginning to yield its insights, and from early reports it appears that this ancient practice delivers benefits that go all the way down to the chromosomal level.

Many claims have been made over many years about the effects of meditation on health and well-being, but rarely have these claims been put to the test. Under the direction of Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis, the Shamatha Project enrolled 60 experienced meditators in a three-month study. Half were randomly selected to receive intensive training and practice in meditation over the spring months of 2007, including two group training sessions and five or more hours of individual practice every day. Those who were wait-listed for the actual retreat served as controls — an essential part of the rigorous experimental design that distinguishes the Project from previous meditation studies.

At three points in the three-month study — before, halfway through, and at the end — Saron and his many colleagues took a battery of behavioral and physiological measurements of both the meditators and the controls, who ranged from 21 to 70 years old. They have been crunching the data and analyzing the results, which are now emerging in peer-reviewed journals.

For example: Those who intensely practiced meditation got better at visual perception, and as a result their attention improved. UC Davis psychological scientist Katherine Maclean (now at Johns Hopkins) had all the volunteers perform a difficult visual discrimination task on a computer screen — watching a parade of identical lines go by and spotting the slightly shorter lines that appeared occasionally. This 30-minute task is not only visually demanding; it’s incredibly boring as well. But as reported recently in the journal Psychological Science, the meditators’ increased visual acuity also freed up their limited cognitive firepower for vigilance; and their sharpened attention led to improved performance on the task. This improvement lasted for five months after the retreat was over.

That may not be all that surprising, since focus and attention are what meditation is all about. Less expected is the recent finding that intense meditation may also have anti-aging effects. Tonya Jacobs, a scientist at UC Davis’s Center for Mind and Brain, has just reported (on-line in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology) that meditators show improved psychological well-being, and that these improvements lead to biochemical changes associated with resistance to aging at the cellular level. Specifically, an analysis of meditators’ white blood cells showed a 30 percent increase in an enzyme called telomerase, a chemical essential to the long-term health of the body’s chromosomes and cells.

The scientists emphasize that meditation does not lead directly to cellular health and longevity. Instead, the practice appears to give people an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life, which in turn leads to an increased sense of control over their lives and to less negative emotion. This cascade of emotional and psychological changes is what regulates the levels of telomerase, the anti-aging enzyme.

Positivity appears to be the link between meditative practice and a variety of health benefits. In a study scheduled for publication in the journal Emotion, UC Davis psychological scientist Baljinder Sahdra is reporting that meditation leads to a decrease in impulsive reactions — another health improvement linked to psychological positivity. Impulsivity has been tied to an array of health problems, including addictions and other risky behavior.

It’s well known that stress — and distress — lead to poor health, including a decline of telomerase and its healing properties. What hasn’t been known — and what these studies are beginning to document — is the exact order of psychological and physiological events in this chain and, what’s more, that this chain of events can be reversed.

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A new study by a group of scientists has shown that Mindfulness Meditation can reduce the intensity and unpleasantness of pain.

The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure response to pain in fifteen volunteers. A pain rating scale was used to determine the level of pain reduction.

The volunteers underwent two MRI sessions — one before a four day mindfulness training and another afterwards. Adverse response to pain was significantly reduced while meditating, and this was confirmed by the subjective observations of the participants and also by observed changes in brain activity revealed by the MRI scans.

The pain was induced by applying a heat probe to volunteers legs. While meditating, there was an average 40% reduction in level of pain experienced, plus a 57% reduction in the unpleasantness of applied pain. This was also reflecting in MRI brain activity.

After analysis of test results, the scientists concluded that “meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience”

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