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Mon, 26 Aug 2019

Northeast Today

What Does Science Say About the Effects of Meditation?

What Does Science Say About the Effects of Meditation?
April 04
11:18 2019

NET Bureau

Meditation keeps our minds and hearts calm, peaceful, and loving, i.e., in the right place.Indeed, most people who become interested in meditation are drawn to it thanks to the widespread notion that it will help them feel calmer, more balanced, and less exposed to the effects of daily stress.

Meditation is by no means a new practice. In fact, it has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and a part of diverse cultures. Originally, meditation had strong ties with religion — not just Buddhism, with which people usually associate it — but also with Christian practices.

Indeed, many people today with different religious beliefs like to incorporate meditation as a spiritual practice.

One person even told us that, for her, meditation amounts to a “combination of focused thought and conversation with God,” while also providing a set “[t]ime to listen for the ‘still, small voice’ of calm.”

Mostly, however, and especially in Western countries, meditation has moved away from its spiritual and devotional roots, becoming more of a straightforward practice for mental health and general well-being.

There are many types, including loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and transcendental meditation.

Mindfulness has also branched out as a series of practices involving focusing on small details in the present moment. The aim is to help a person stay rooted in the here and now and de-escalate unwelcome feelings or moods, such as episodes of anxiety.

People who engage with mindfulness techniques and meditation often allege that these practices allow them to boost or maintain various aspects of their well-being. But what has research found about the effects of meditation on the mind and the body, and are there any potential harms involved? In this Spotlight feature, we investigate.

1. Resilience to stress

One of the top reasons that people cite when claiming that meditation is beneficial is that it allows them to get rid of the stress that accumulates on a daily basis due to job or family pressures.

Meditation can make you more resilient in the face of daily stress.

A study that researchers associated with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education in San Francisco, CA, conducted last year confirms that people who practice transcendental meditation reported feeling less stressed at work than peers who did not meditate.

During transcendental meditation, typically, a person focuses on and repeats a mantra — a special word, sound, or phrase — which is meant to help the mind settle down. But why would meditation have a positive effect on our minds’ and bodies’ reactions to stress?

A previous study, published in 2017, reveals that meditation — alongside other mind-body interventions — is associated with lower levels of the molecule “nuclear factor kappa B,” which influences the regulation of gene expression.

The team who conducted that research explains that our bodies typically produce that molecule in response to stress and that it, in turn, activates a series of molecules called “cytokines,” some of which are pro- and some of which are anti-inflammatory.

High cytokine activity contributes to many physical and mental health problems, including abnormal inflammation, cancer, and depression.

“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” says the study’s lead researcher, Ivana Buric, from Coventry University in the United Kingdom.

Mindfulness ‘shows promise in reducing pain and distress’

Other evidence, also uncovered in 2017, indicates that meditation, alongside yoga, promotes stress resilience by increasing levels of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that protects nerve cell health and helps regulate metabolic processes.

Similarly, recent research — published in Evidence-Based Mental Health, a BMJ journal — shows that mindfulness is about as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in relieving the symptoms of chronic pain associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

2. Improved self-control

Meditation and mindfulness seem to improve, not just a person’s resilience to stress factors, but also their overall mental health.

Mindful eating can be a useful weight management strategy.

For instance, one study looked at the effects of mindfulness on women who experienced depression, anxiety, and mood swings following menopause.

The authors found that this practice helped the participants minimize the effects of these emotional and psychological symptoms.

“The goal during mindful moments is not to empty the mind but to become an observer of the mind’s activity while being kind to oneself,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Richa Sood.

“The second step,” she goes on, “is to create a pause. Take a deep breath and observe one’s own space, thoughts, and emotions nonjudgmentally. The resulting calm helps lower stress.”

Robert Wright, an author and former visiting lecturer at the University of Princeton in New Jersey, argues that there is a clear reason why mindfulness and meditation practices allow a person to fight anxiety and other mood disorders.

In his most recent book, Why Buddhism Is True, Wright writes that human beings have evolved “to do certain things that helped our ancestors get their genes into the next generation — things like eating, having sex, earning the esteem of other people, and outdoing rivals.”

For this, our brains have developed a reward system, which makes us want to seek experiences that we find pleasurable — eating, drinking, and having sex.

Source: Medical News Today

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