Originally a spiritual practice, meditation is now touted by some as an effective treatment method for physical health problems.
Types of meditation vary almost as much as their practitioners. Some are purely mental in emphasis, such as mindfulness, guided meditation or the chanting of mantras. Others incorporate physical movement, like qigong or tai chi. However, all forms of meditation have the common element of requiring that their practitioners focus on the present moment, without judgment. Research suggests these mental exercises may have a positive impact on physical health. While science has produced some notable evidence of this, research also suggests that meditation is most effective when used in tandem with other, better-studied methods.
Health Benefits of Meditation
Studies propose that meditation provides generally favorable effects, according to the Mayo Clinic. It promotes both short-term and long-term self-awareness. Meditation often provides the meditator with a sense of calm and peace. The practice may increase one’s attention span. Meditation even results in neuroplasticity, enabling the brain to actually change its physical structure in order to obtain these above benefits. But meditation may also improve some physiological health conditions, says the National Center for Comprehensive and Integrated Health (NCCIH).
High Blood Pressure
An NCCIH study on blood pressure suggested that among 298 people, those who were at risk of developing high blood pressure may have lowered their risk of getting the condition when they regularly practiced transcendental meditation. The study also suggested that meditation could potentially help with psychological distress and an individual’s ability to cope with anxiety, depression and anger/hostility. Additional studies from the American Heart Association supported this theory, but could not claim it as conclusive because of the overall lack of studies done.
Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia
The NCCIH also cites a literature review in which researchers found evidence that mindfulness meditation could moderately reduce anxiety and depression. (It did not, however, find that it could reduce types of anxiety and depression brought on by stressors, such as substance abuse or lack of sleep.) Later reviews conducted in 2016 also suggested that meditation promoted symptom relief of anxiety and depression. And in another study done by NCCIH, it seems that meditation both aided with sleep and reduced symptoms of insomnia.
Results regarding the effects of meditation on reducing pain remain mixed. However, some promising evidence does exist. The NCCIH further cites some studies that suggest meditation activates particular areas of the brain in response to pain, implying that meditation and these specific neural centers may share a connection. Other studies have found that mindfulness does assist in pain reduction, notably foregoing the activation of naturally occurring opiates found in the body. Finally, an NCCIH study on chronic lower back pain observed that meditation did, indeed, provide improvement in patient function.
Other Health Issues
Other studies cited by the NCCIH suggest that meditation may assist with:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Smoking cessation
- Immune system inflammation
Although results of these studies are not conclusive, scientists continue to discover meditation’s positive impact on those who practice it regularly.
The Benefits of Meditation and Integrated Health
Clearly, evidence indicates that mental health can help improve the health of the body. Understanding the comprehensive health benefits of meditation are key to providing better services to those looking to improve quality of life. Touro University Worldwide’s online psychology and health and human services programs teach students the skills necessary to assist their clients effectively, ultimately resulting in improved outcomes.