Friday, 21 August 2015
The hits just keep on coming when it comes to the health benefits of meditation. Research is now emerging that would justify implementing this practice within hospitals and schools (some already do) as well as including it in treatment recommendations for various diseases.
Not long ago, an eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brains grey matter in just eight weeks. It was the very first study to document that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s grey matter. Now, they’ve released another study showing that meditation can have a significant impact on clinical symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study showed that elicitation of the relaxation response (a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress) is a very big help.
The study comes out of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). This is the very first study where the use of the “relaxation response” was examined in these disorders, and the first to investigate the genomic effects of the relaxation response in individuals with any disorder. The report was published in the journal PLOS-ONE. (source)
Given the two studies cited above, and all of the other documented health benefits of meditation, this should open the door for more studies to examine the benefits of meditation for a wide range of diseases.
“Our results suggest exciting possibilities for further developing and implementing this treatment in a wider group of patients with gastrointestinal illness. Several studies have found that stress management techniques and other psychological interventions can help patients with IBS, at least in the short term; and while the evidence for IBD is less apparent, some studies have suggested potential benefits. What is novel about our study is demonstration of the impact of a mind/body intervention on the genes controlling inflammatory factors that are known to play a major role in IBD and possibly in IBS.” – Brandon Kuo of the gastrointestinal unit in the MGH Department of Medicine, co-lead author of the report. (source)
For those of you who are unaware, IBS and IBD are chronic conditions that produce similar symptoms which include; abdominal pain, and changes in bowel function, like diarrhea. IBD also includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which leads one to suffer from severe inflammation in all or part of the gastrointestinal tract. Science has shown us that stress intensifies these symptoms, which is why this study regarding meditation and these diseases holds a great deal of importance.
The relaxation response has been subject to several studies that clearly show that its regular practice (induced by meditation) directly affects physiologic factors such as oxygen consumption, heart rate, blood pressure and again, stress and anxiety. It was first described over 40 years ago by Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and co-author of the paper presented in this article.
The study had 48 adult participants, with 19 of them being diagnosed with IBS and 29 with IBD. There was weekly relaxation response training, as well as in their home for 15 t0 20 mintues each day.
The study enrolled 48 adult participants — 19 of whom had been diagnosed with IBS and 29 with IBD — who participated in a nine-week group program focused on stress reduction, cognitive skills, and health-enhancing behaviors. Each of the weekly sessions included relaxation response training, and participants were asked to practice relaxation response elicitation at home for 15 to 20 minutes each day. Along with aspects featured in other group programs offered at the Benson-Henry Institute, this program included a session specifically focused on gastrointestinal health.
“Both in patients with IBS and those with IBD, participation in the mind/body program appeared to have significantly improved disease-related symptoms, anxiety, and overall quality of life, not only at the end of the study period but also three weeks later. While there were no significant changes in inflammatory markers for either group of participants, changes in expression were observed in almost 200 genes among participants with IBS and more than 1,000 genes in those with IBD. Many of the genes with altered expression are known to contribute to pathways involved with stress response and inflammation.” (source)
Meditation And How To Do It
A common misconception about meditation is that you have to sit a certain way or do something in particular to achieve the various benefits that it can provide. All you have to do is place yourself in a position that is most comfortable to you. It could be sitting crosslegged, lying down in a bed, sitting on a couch etc, it’s your choice. That being said, I do not doubt that sitting in a certain position allows energy to flow more freely through you body, but above all (in my opinion) comfort is of utmost importance.
It’s not about trying to empty your mind, and as the first study cited in this article states, it’s about the “non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.” Let the thoughts, feelings and emotions that pop up present themselves, don’t judge them, and let them pass. Make peace with whatever you are experiencing.
I also believe that meditation is a state of being/mind. One can be engaged in meditation while they are on a walk, for example, or the time they have right before they sleep. Throughout the day, one can resist judging their thoughts, letting them flow until they are no more, or just be in a constant state of peace and self awareness. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one way to meditate.
For more articles from Collective Evolution on meditation you can click HERE.
All sources are highlighted throughout the article.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar's amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.
85% of all mammalian species sleep more than once a day, and scientists are not completely clear if humans are naturally monophasic as opposed to polyphasic. Has modern society conditioned us to be so, just as it has influenced so many other aspects of our health?
If we examine the topic from a historical perspective, the work of historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech is a good start. In 2001 he published a paper that included over 15 years of research. It cited an overwhelming amount of historical evidence which reveals that humans used to in fact sleep in two separate blocks of time. You can read more about that (and access the paper) here.
Regardless of our historical sleep habits, however, it’s quite clear that many human beings suffer from a lack of sleep for various reasons, one of which very well may be that we don’t take time out during the day to have a nap.
Various studies have clearly outlined the many health benefits associated with napping. For example, a 2008 study showed that naps are better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning.
A NASA study from 1995 looked at the beneficial effects of napping on 747 pilots. Each participant was allowed to nap for 40 minutes during the day, sleeping on average for 25.8 minutes (which is just about right). Nappers “demonstrated vigilance performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses compared to the No-Rest Group.”
In a study carried out in Greece, researchers found that adult males who took an afternoon nap at least three times per week were 37% less likely to die from a heart related disease compared to men who never take a short afternoon nap.
The health benefits of napping are clear and substantial
Below is a great TEDx talk by Dr. Sara Mednick, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Her work on sleep research continues to shape the way we understand the importance of healthy sleep hygiene. In her talk, she argues for everyone to take a break.