Meditation requires a certain degree of faith and trust that it is indeed beneficial to our health and wellbeing. However to placate the sceptics among us, there is now a broad range of scientific backed evidence available to prove its authenticity. In today’s modern medicine, specifically since 1990-1999 'The decade of the brain' (An initiative created by the US Government to raise awareness of mental health from brain research.), opinion has changed dramatically discovering that our brain is far more prolific at healing, creating undeniable physiological changes within our body.
Stress is the main protagonist for the majority of diseases increasing levels of the hormone cortisol consequently causing inflammation (increasing the chemical cytokine) 1. Most human beings reside in the sympathetic nervous system (stress response) as opposed to the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). Other hormones adrenalin / epinephrine are also released in fight or flight response, increasing blood pressure and body metabolism. 2. In an 8 week study 'mindfulness meditation' significantly reduced stress in 1300 individuals by activating a relaxation response (parasympathetic) to take precedence (stimulating the vagus nerve) through meditation triggering a chain reaction to counterbalance fight or flight responses down regulating inflammation related genes. 3. Additionally a larger study of 2466 people showed meditation reducing anxiety levels. 1. Another hormone produced that is decisive in benefitting our health from meditation is oxytocin. A revolutionary study displayed that it protects us against the hardening of our arteries known as Atherosclerosis. 4.
Sound advancements in technology have enabled us to conduct highly accurate research and ground breaking discoveries into the remarkable complex functioning of the human brain. M.R.I. (magnetic resonance imaging) utilises radio waves and magnetic fields to generate meticulous images of the body's organs (including the brain). Classified as neuroimaging data, conclusive evidence from Biomed Research International displays that meditation activates changes in the brain that promote self regulation, focused problem solving and adaptive behaviours. 5. These investigative studies also show actual structural transformations, especially increasing the volume of 'grey matter' (Neuronal cell bodies) of expert meditators. 5. M.R.I. is able to measure cortical thickness mapping to identify these modulations. 5. The phenomenal discovery is more commonly known as Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life 'rewiring'). 6. The operation of M.R.I. also allows Neuroscientists and similar fields to observe and measure C.B.F. (cerebral blood flow) with a pin pointed specific region R.C.B.F. (Regional cerebral blood flow) 6. As aforementioned meditating aids the lowering of blood pressure, this assists medicine in identifying conditions associated with risk, e.g. stroke or brain trauma. E.E.G. (Electroencephalography's) objective is to measure brain wave frequencies. This allows immediate bio feedback from your body to comprehend certain alert / conscious states such as meditation. 7.
The respective data that can be recorded, measured and analysed is defined as brain activity, therefore displaying connective changes through meditation experiments. BETA waves (14-30hz) are the awake state engaged in most activities and conversation 7., hence a faster frequency affected by stress. ALPHA waves (9-13hz) represent a lower frequency of neurones that remain active for a sustained period of time than those involved in thought they are generated in states of 'relaxed wakefulness' and inner directed meditative attention. 8. THETA waves (4-8hz) are lower frequency still, associated with creativity from the subconscious parts of our mind. 8. These neurons provide the ability of forming mental pictures and enhanced imagination linked closely with meditation and deep relaxation. DELTA waves (1-4hz) dreamless sleep, GAMMA waves (40-70hz) very fast waves (proven that Tibetan monks display in meditation) giving a clear picture of understanding / purpose of existence and HYPERGAMMA waves (extremely high frequencies) / EPILSON waves (extremely low frequencies) associated with deep insight and out of body experiences are other remaining wave measurements. 8. One study using EEG showed 'ALPHA waves being more abundant in posterior parts of the brain during meditation rather than simple relaxation'. 'These waves increase when the brain relaxes from goal orientated tasks'. 9. A further EEG study concentrating on the differences between short and long term meditators showed significant increases in THETA and ALPHA waves in the frontal cortex of the long term meditators only. 10. Both experiments agreed that meditation is more effective without expectation.
Astonishing physiological transformations are also included through scientific research proving meditations demonstrable healing qualities. Hormonal harmony is essential to our health and well being especially in governing our emotional and in turn physical state. SEROTONIN is an example of our systems healthy hormones / neurotransmitters that is affiliated with feelings of happiness naturally released with meditation practice. 6. A six week relaxation response meditation programme focusing on IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) generated major improvements on conditions of flatulence, belching, bloating and diarrhoea. 11. Epigenetics (the study of chemical modifications to D.N.A.), a relatively new branch of science is constantly supporting the evidence of beneficial molecular changes inextricably linked to meditation. A study of men with low risk prostate cancer who performed a range of daily meditations, found 'decreased expression in genes associated with cancer itself'. 12.
1. HEALTHLINE.COM - Science based benefits of meditation.
2. Herbert Benson - THE RELAXATION RESPONSE (1975) book.
3. PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM - Mind Body Practise reducing inflammation.
4. David Hamilton - WHY KINDNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU (2010) book.
5. NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV - Biomed Research International.
8. Shanida Nataraja - THE BLISSFUL BRAIN (2008) book.
9. SCIENCEDAILY.COM - NTNU
10. RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF MEDICAL SCIENCE - (The Blissful Brain - Shanida Nataraja 2008).
11. L . Keefer & E.B. Blanchard - Symptoms of I.B.S (irritable bowel syndrome) July 2001.