So, if a guru were to tell you that “om” might be the healthiest sound you could utter—would you believe it?? Well, it’s true. Of course, that is what a guru believes, right?? Now what if your doctor told you to sit, focus and be “mindful” every day?
Would you believe that can trump typical western medicine for health and wellness in some circumstances? Well, it can. Participants in an 8 week mindfulness meditation class experienced structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density (aka good brain tissue) in a region of the brain known to be important to learning and memory.
Also mindfulness practices increased activity in structures associated with self awareness, compassion an introspection. This study (January 30 issue Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging) showed a structural change that could underlie health improvements. It meant people were healthier because of meditation and not just the relaxation associated with meditation. Participants had brain MRI’s two weeks prior and 8 weeks (YES—just 8 weeks) after beginning a short two month mindfulness stress reduction program. The meditation course included weekly meetings, guided meditation and audio meditations to do at home daily.
Meditation has been shown to increase brain relaxation waves and reduce the stress hormones such as cortisol. Stress plays an important role in heart disease , diabetes management and hypertension.
Health benefits of meditation:
Heart Disease: Cholesterol and high blood pressure play a major role as risk factors for heart disease. In two studies, meditation has reduced total cholesterol. High blood pressure is also linked to stress. Makes sense reduce stress and you will see your blood pressure come down. A reminder—goal blood pressure is under 130/80 mmHG.
Diabetes: Cortisol is the major stress hormone in your body. Meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol, thus reducing average blood sugar level. A reminder: fasting glucose should be less than 100 mg/dl.
Pain: There is evidence that mindfulness-based stress reduction really helps with chronic pain. It even works more effectively when used in combination with traditional western medicine. Such chronic conditions that can be treated with a combination approach include headaches, backache and migraines.
Anxiety and Depression: for over 50 years now physicians have suspected meditation can improve mental functioning. It is after all—exercising your brain. Meditation has all the opposite effects on vital signs that stress produces. Meditation reduces heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and activates soothing brain waves as opposed to the stress response.
So, what are you waiting for? In as little as a few months, a daily practice can structurally re-wire you to a healthier physical body. Get that “Om” going! Now, I just need to find a guru.
What do you think? How do you de-stress?