The Health Benefits of Meditation
The health applications and clinical studies of meditation are products of the field of interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation.
Meditation concepts have been applied to clinical settings in order to measure effects on somatic motor function as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function. Also the hermeneutic and phenomenological aspects of meditation are areas of growing interest. Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. For example, in an early study in 1972, Meditation was shown to affect the human metabolism by lowering the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lactate, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and inducing favorable brain waves. In 1976, the Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares reported the regression of cancer following intensive meditation (published in the Medical Journal of Australia). Meares would go on to write a number of books, including his best-seller Relief Without Drugs.
As a method of stress reduction, meditation has been used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress that include depressed immune systems. There is growing agreement in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund research in this area. Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that meditation in Zen rewires the circuitry of the brain in his book Zen and the Brain (Austin, 1999). This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging, a brain scanning technique that measures blood flow in the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains.
Other studies within this field include the research of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts who have studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress.
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