If you’ve read my columns here over the last few seasons, you may have noticed that I often mention the important role that stress management plays in overcoming almost any condition.
Activities that reduce stress in our lives represent an integral part of a balanced lifestyle. Physical exercise, walking, dancing, yoga, and Qi Gong can all help us achieve amazing levels of stress reduction, but for today, I’d like to explore why meditation is a form of stress management worth practicing.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of both leading and participating in various mediation groups. Fellow meditators reported many benefits, including fewer migraines, better sleep, more energy, a greater sense of well-being, and more satisfying interpersonal relationships.
While my personal observations would be considered anecdotal evidence at best, science has, over the past 30 years, taken an interest in measuring the effects of meditation. An abundance of reliable research now exists to offer more reasons than ever to begin (or to continue) the practice of meditation for your health.
As recently as last August, UCLA researchers showed that meditation helped reduce feelings of loneliness in people aged 55 to 85. Loneliness is actually a form of stress that is linked to higher risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and premature death. Blood tests performed on these people as compared with a similar group who were not meditating showed that the meditation program also boosted their immune system.
This group was practicing Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which trains the mind to pay attention to what is happening in the moment. Adapted from the Buddhist style “mindfulness meditation”, it was secularized and made popular by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBSR in particular has been shown to have positive effects in the area of pain, anxiety, depression, and general well-being. If these benefits weren’t enough to convince you to meditate, consider the ramifications of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s statement that meditation can “change the brain and how it works”.
Meditation, your brain, and anti-aging
The new buzzword among the aging baby-boomer generation is “neuroplasticity” and meditation is now gaining popularity among those seeking to slow the aging process by improving brain function. Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s ability to change its structure and activity in response to experience and, in the case of meditation, we are talking about re-training and re-wiring the brain. In a 2005 study, the brains of regular meditators were shown to have thicker cortical walls than non meditators of the same age. Thicker cortical walls means increased gray matter, which is associated with better attention, memory, and decision making, Since gray matter gets thinner with age, these meditators were actually slowing the aging process.
If the idea of meditation for better health interests you, I would recommend reading Jon Kabbat Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living — using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. This book describes the MBSR program and offers evidence to support the existence of the mind-body connection.
There are also audio versions of the MBSR program available for download. If you have itunes, you can do a search for Mindfullness Meditations by UCLA and enjoy more than a dozen free, guided meditations.
Rosemary McDonough is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Mt. Tremblant. Your comments and questions are welcome (819) 681-8228 rose@acupuncturemonttremblant.