Buddhists, yogis and ayurvedic doctors have said for centuries that meditation improves health and well-being. Now scientists are trying to prove it.
Several clinical studies have documented specific ways that meditating may help people stay healthier, sharpen mental focus and gain more power over their emotions. Some studies even show that the brain of someone who meditates may be physically different from the next guy’s.
Scientists say it’s a very new field of study. But their findings to date offer compelling confirmation to the more than 20 million Americans who meditate — and tell skeptics that those who are getting on the cushion every day might be onto something.
Can meditation make you happier?
When emotions wreak havoc, it helps to “get it out” — ranting to a therapist, friend or spouse, or writing about your feelings in a journal. Sitting down on a cushion to meditate is seemingly the polar opposite of this catharsis. But could it be that the two approaches are helpful for similar reasons?
Talking or writing about your feelings forces you to call them something. And one technique taught in mindfulness meditation is naming your emotions. It’s part of noticing and detaching from those emotions vs. letting them hijack your bliss. Meditation instructor Dianna Dunbar calls it “the mindfulness wedge.” It’s about “helping people develop that pause button,” she says, so they can observe emotions from the outside.
Can meditation make you healthier?
Thirty-seven-year-old mom Nikki Ragonese has meditated for six years as one way to cope with painful degenerative osteoarthritis. Meditation, she says, makes it easier to accept her pain and the difficult emotions it fuels.
“Often when you feel something, you don’t acknowledge it,” Ragonese says. “And by avoiding that feeling, you perpetuate greater pain. Meditation helps me realize that I create my own feelings. If I’m in a state of frustration and I stop and observe it, I realize there’s another way to deal with the pain.”
Ragonese’s mindfulness meditation instructor in Boulder, Colo., therapist Dianna Dunbar, agrees. “I’ve seen patients who gain a greater sense of awareness of their pain become nonjudgmental observers of their pain,” she says. “They are less irritable, and more able to calm down and relax.”
Science is starting to churn out more evidence echoing Ragonese and Dunbar’s experience, showing signs that mindfulness meditation can help ease symptoms of conditions including psoriasis and hypertension as well as chronic pain.
Meditating also slows breathing rate, blood pressure and heart rate, and there’s some evidence that meditation may aid treatment of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and a range of other ailments.
This blog post was taken from blog.gaiam.com. It's entitled Why Meditate? Science Finds Clues by Rachel Brand.