Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation and Health

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Meditation and health

Meditation:

  • Increases happiness. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin reported that people newly trained in meditation have shown an increase in electrical activity in the left frontal part of the brain, an area associated with positive emotion and happiness.
  • Boosts the immune system. In the same study, meditators also showed a significant increase in immunity to the flu.
  • Enhances memory and attention. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex were thicker in people who had practiced meditation daily for just 40 minutes for several years. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that deals with attention and processing sensory input and tends to thin with age.
  • Reduces the physical pain, anxiety, and stress of fibromyalgia. A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics showed sustained benefits over a three year period in a group of women who had taken an eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
  • Lowers blood pressure. A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed meditation can lower blood pressure and mortality rates in older people with hypertension.
  • Helps alleviate mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Researchers at the University of Louisville found that mindfulness meditation alleviates depression in women with fibromyalgia.
  • Increases alertness. University of Kentucky researchers found that sleepy people who meditated for 40 minutes did better on a test of mental quickness than people who had taken a 40-minute nap.
  • Helps control binge eating. A study at Indiana State University found that obese women who practiced mindfulness meditation had an average of four fewer binge-eating episodes a week than before they took up the practice. Mindfulness can help bingers recognize when they want to overeat and lower the odds that they will.
  • Helps lower blood sugar: Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles showed that patients were able to lower their blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin by practicing transcendental meditation.

Comments

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Comment from Jim
Time: July 26, 2007, 5:16 pm

I often wonder when reading about these studies: does 40-minutes (“people who meditated for 40 minutes did better. . .”) mean they meditated for 40 minutes all at once or does it mean they meditated for two 20-minutes sessions (perhaps 20 minutes in the morning and then 20 minutes in the evening) for a total of 40 minutes?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 26, 2007, 7:47 pm

Good point. If I had the time right now I’d track down reports of those studies on the web and add ore details to this page. If you have time to do that yourself why not drop me a line using the contact form and we can update the page and add links?

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Comment from Jason
Time: October 26, 2007, 10:54 pm

I found clinical sources dealing with memory recall, though I couldn’t find any that point to meditation as a general memory enhancer. Most of the studies that I saw were centered on guided meditation with a trained clinician. I do not doubt meditation’s overall benefits and I also hope that others will help to find the objective proof that some individuals so desire.

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Comment from sue
Time: November 15, 2007, 11:02 am

I have just started a meditation course and am finding it helpful. I also have epilepsy and wonder if there is any information on meditation and seizures. I had an absence type seizure during my last session but I do have them at other times as well.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 15, 2007, 11:22 am

Hi Sue,

The relationship between epilepsy and meditation doesn’t seem to have been well explored. Some studies have reportedly shown a reduction in seizures in those who suffer from epilepsy while there’s some anecdotal evidence that some individuals may have an increased risk. I did in fact know one man many years ago who didn’t meditate because it would precipitate seizures. So I think you’d just have to watch what happens and to keep records of your seizure patterns and how they relate to the meditation you do, and see if any correlation appears. It’s also possible that different meditation practices have different effects on seizures, so if you do keep a diary you’d probably be best to make a note of what kind of meditation you’re doing (assuming you’re doing more than one kind).

Here’s an article from epilesy.com.

The author is one of those who found an individual in whom meditation seemed to make things worse, but she thinks more research has to be done before any definite conclusions can be reached.

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Comment from Zintra
Time: June 21, 2008, 6:07 am

I’m just wonder is there any specify duration for meditation.
People always say to start with minimal time and gradually increase as you go.
May i know what is the optimal periods and how often we should meditate?
Thank you.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 22, 2008, 10:33 am

Hi Zintra,

I’ve known people who have meditated only 10 minutes a day and seen distinct improvements to their lives, but it shouldn’t be hard to manage 20 minutes of meditation a day, and if you do I think you’d notice the effect. Twenty minutes is also about how long most relative beginners seem to be able to sit without getting very restless. So I’d suggest starting there and building up to 30 minutes and then 40 minutes.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Rosana
Time: December 22, 2008, 1:59 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa
I´d like to know if there are specific meditation techniques to improve health in ourselves and others. I would also like to know your opinion about effects of negative emotions in your body, I´ve heard, for example, that deep and constant anguish may cause cancer to develop, I wonder if there are specific studies which relate determined negative emotions to specific health problems.

I wish you well.

Rosana

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 23, 2008, 10:08 am

Hi Rosana,

There are many, many studies showing the benefits of meditation to health and also the deleterious effects of anxiety and other unhelpful mental states on the body. With the latter it’s not generally a one-to-one correspondence where a particular mental state like worry is connected with a particular physical effect like cancer, but it seems that positive states of mind boost the immune system generally and negative mental states generally promote ill-health. I’d suggest digging around in these search results from our site. They should connect you with news reports and articles that can give you more specific information.

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Comment from Rosana
Time: December 23, 2008, 11:18 am

Thanks, Bodhipaksa. Though my health is okay, I got interested in the subject as a few close people (who don´t like meditation at all) have developed health problems like hypertension and diabetes, and I wondered if their ‘tendency’ to pessimism might have contributed. I think good health and lots of other benefits are usually a natural consequence when you meditate. I had a couple of years of a modest but very positive experience of meditation about 20 years ago, and I could feel good results for years even after I had stopped practicing it. I am now trying to get back to it but with a new approach, it hasn´t been easy at all. I´ve only found out this site recently, it´s been inspiring, but I know it´s a long way until I can make meditation part of my life again. By the way, something you wrote in an another article gave me a good idea for next year´s Christmas (I wish I had read it in time for this year), going to a retreat. I think you said it was one of the best Christmas you had. I think it´s what Christmas should be really about – lots of reflexion. Thanks again for your articles and for your reply.

All the best

Rosana

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 23, 2008, 2:40 pm

Hi Rosana,

It’s interesting that you mention hypertension. A few years ago I was teaching a stress reduction course and a woman who suffered from hypertension came along. She monitored her blood pressure daily and almost immediately after starting a regular practice found her blood pressure coming down to normal levels. In fact they went down below normal levels because of her medication, and she had to go talk to her doctor. I think the relationship between hypertension and meditation can in many (but not necessarily in all) cases be quite straightforward.

I should add though that there are long-term meditators who get sick. Meditation isn’t magic and the human body is still frail. Even the Buddha got sick and died. It comes to us all, although meditation I’m sure has beneficial effects and can help us live longer and more healthily.

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Comment from Marilyn
Time: January 2, 2011, 12:00 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa:
I agree that a positive connection exists between meditation and boosting the immune system. My thoughts are for my daughter, who has health concerns due to autoimmune disease. The Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis all seem to result from too much “boosting” of the immune system. Do you know of meditation benefitting those whose immune systems appear to be attacking the body?

Thanks, Marilyn

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 4, 2011, 3:55 pm

Hi, Marilyn.

I doubt very much if the immune benefits that meditation brings would cause a worsening of autoimmune conditions. I’d expect that the reduction in stress levels would actually calm down the self-destructive immune reactions that are going on. But this is just a guess. One study did show that patients with MS (another autoimmune condition) improved with meditation. Another study showed that patients with rheumatoid arthritis showed improved mental health, but no improvement with the RA symptoms.

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Comment from Robert
Time: January 16, 2011, 5:04 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa-

I’ve been doing a daily body scan, breath, and development of compassion meditation for the last three weeks. After doing the bodyscan + breadth meditations (from your “Still the Mind” CD) it takes me about 20 minutes to reconnect to the outside world.

Lately I’ve been experiencing a large amount of physical fatigue owing to these meditations, so much so that I’ve had to rest for a few days. I should mention that I am taking an anti-depressant that is working pretty well.

Is this “burnout” a result of the depression, or doing too much meditation at once, or the need for a large amount of energy to remove hindrances (which have surfaced), or..? Thoughts and/or suggestions welcome!

Thanks, Robert

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 25, 2011, 9:20 pm

Hi, Robert.

I’m not entirely sure why you’d experience fatigue after meditating. It’s certainly not a common experience, although it may possibly be related to something that often happens on a meditation retreat, which is that people may for the first few days feel unaccountably tired. I usually put that down to people “catching up with themselves.” They may have been tired before they arrived on retreat, but the busyness of their lives has prevented them from experiencing their tiredness. Whether or not that’s related, I just can’t say.

But it does also sound like you’re putting a lot of effort into your meditation (you talk about using “a large amount of energy” to deal with your hindrances) so perhaps it’s related to that. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was. Not being gifted with psychic abilities, of course, I can’t peer inside your experience and say whether you’re working too hard (i.e. making unnecessary effort). You could play around with your level of effort, though, and see if it makes a difference. You might want, for example, to make a gentler, kinder effort and simply accept a bit more distraction, and see if you feel less tired afterwards.

Maybe you could tell me what kinds of hindrances you’re experiencing and what kinds of things you’re doing to remove them? That might give me more to work on so that I can suggest alternative approaches.

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Comment from Art Sands MD
Time: January 2, 2012, 12:10 am

There is a well researched breathing device called Respirate which was originally approved by the FDA for stress reduction – along with stress reduction it was noted to lower blood pressure if used at least 45 minutes a week. In a sense it is a guided breathing exercise – when your breathing rate drops below 4-6/ minute, it turns off the sympathetic (flight or fright) nervous system and increases parasympathetic activity.

Web site http://www.resperate.com/us/welcome/index.aspx

(I have no financial ties with the company)

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Pingback from Breathing is, like, um, really healthy! | HappyGumbo
Time: May 31, 2012, 11:25 am

[…] This author lists nine specific benefits of meditation taken from eight studies on the matter. Included are: reducing blood sugar, boosting the immune system, and enhancing memory. Nine More Benefits of Meditating […]

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Comment from Mark
Time: July 16, 2012, 3:53 am

Hello Bodhipaksa,
I’m interested in your view/experience regarding suggestions for effective practices for physical fitness which harmonise most effectively with the mental practices & benefits that long term meditation can offer? Or is a life with full mediation a better life than a mix of the 2? I guess it’s about balance, yet in a way, I wonder if mental practice is slightly more important than physical, given that the former nurtures awareness (amongst many other benefits), which nurtures self-control, and with that, the benefits of eating healthily…

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 16, 2012, 9:21 pm

Hi, Mark.

What exercise works best with meditation seems to vary a lot from person to person. The two most common are hatha yoga and tai chi, but I know many people who meditate and also run. Many forms of exercise can be performed mindfully…

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Comment from Paulette
Time: August 21, 2012, 10:20 am

Hi Bodhipaksa,

I would like to know.. if doing daily meditation can improve ovaries and uterus system.. I do have cysts in my ovaries and 2 small miomas in my uterus…. that cause some pain during my period days… also i do have Hypotyroidsm…for that im taking special medicino.. levotiroxine…….. im getting back to my meditation since sunday… I used to meditate before…. but left it..because lack of discipline……..

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Comment from Cyrus
Time: March 4, 2013, 6:35 pm

Dear Bodhipaksa
Please sir I will like u to teache me how to meditate.and how to go about it Becos I will like meditate to be part of me,I once start it and on the way I stop but I need some one to help me to learn how to do it and to it well Becos I like meditation I went it to be part of me I know u can help me to do it I know so please I need ur guide to make it. Please help me Becos I need help

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 4, 2013, 7:47 pm

Hi, Cyrus.

Welcome! I’m afraid I can’t personally instruct you through the medium of these comments, but we have a large amount of meditation guidance on the pages of this site. If you look at the Meditation Guides link above you’ll find links to guides on a variety of meditation practices.

I wish you all the best with learning meditation!
Bodhipaksa

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