The Benefits of Meditation to Health & Wellbeing
Today’s world is full of busyness… busy achieving a good education, busy building wealth, busy creating a social media impression! Society has become obsessed with busy, which has been worsened by the evolution of smartphones / devices. Everything is accessible now! Expectation is now! Why didn’t that person answer my email / text message within 5 minutes of me sending it!? We have become angry, anxious, stressed, fearful or depressed; worsened by a societal culture of blame. Everything is everyone else’s fault!
It has been recognised since scientific studies began in the 1970s that the repetition of intentional concentration, such as meditation and mindfulness, can have a profound positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing. John Kabat-Zinn, a leading scientist in the research of meditation and mindfulness, developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that went on to improve a range of conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. In more recent times, Mark Williams an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford University; and John Teasdale a leading researcher at Oxford and then Cambridge Universities; expanded MBSR further for emotional pain. Between them they devised Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT). Several randomised control trials have found that MBCT significantly decreases the recurrence rate in those suffering major depression. With the advancement of technology, recent studies continue to support a scientific basis for the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
A report published in June 2012 by the London School of Economics and Political Science revealed that mental illness was nearly half of all ill health suffered by people under 65; and is more debilitating than most chronic physical diseases. The World Health Organisation forecasts more people will be affected by depression, compared to any other health problem, by 2030. Mental health problems also increase the risk of physical illness.
Through meditation a person can create mental space that enables the awareness of thoughts and how these thoughts manifest emotionally and / or physically. We think all the time and our thoughts are synonymous to the backing track of a movie. However, some thoughts when given ‘attention’ can be relentless, evolving into an increasingly negative scenario with no firm basis of truth. Taking 10 minutes to sit quietly and focus on the breath provides an opportunity to ‘let go’ of these thoughts and regulate the mind. With patience and practice, the mind becomes settled and gentle. Thoughts can even become ‘befriended’.
Research studies have indicated that meditation and mindfulness can control the body’s chemicals by increasing the ones that promote good health and decreasing those that do not. An excess of the body’s chemicals, such as cortisol (stress hormone) or epinephrine (produced in fight or flight response) can eventually inhibit your immune system, which later develops into illness or disease, i.e. heart disease, hardening of arteries, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells and found mostly in the digestive system. It is also a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness, modulates cognition, along with increased memory and learning. During meditation there is an increase in serotonin, which results in energy increases, better sleep and digestion.
In essence, the benefits of being mindful and a consistent routine of repeated meditation have been shown to outweigh any reason not to do them! Finding a meditation practice that suits your needs, lifestyle and motivation is the key to an improved sense of wellbeing and health… along with sticking to it! Just like we brush our teeth to maintain oral health or include exercise in our daily routines for physical health, we need to put in similar effort and discipline for a healthy mind. The more regular a meditation practice is, the more benefits are realised over time.