Should You Meditate Your Way to Better Health?
by Dr. K.J. McLaughlin
Many people suggest that meditation helps them decrease the symptoms of chronic stress and improves their level of relaxation. Meditation has been used for centuries to improve mental focus and concentration in people who are suffering from emotional trauma. Meditation has a calming influence upon people who regularly practice it and has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate in research studies.
New research has also indicated that meditation may also be helpful for people who are suffering from anxiety, depression, and pain. The new research involved a systematic review of previous published work and a meta-analysis of the combined findings.
“I think people should be aware that the average person going through a mindfulness-based meditation program can expect small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress, as well as of chronic pain,” said one of the study’s authors.
The researchers reviewed 47 randomized studies involving 3,515 participants and found that meditation significantly reduced stress, anxiety, depression and pain after being performed for eight weeks and after three to six months.
However, the researchers were unable to establish a strong or substantial relationship between meditation and emotional distress, improvements in quality of life, mood, attention, or substance abuse and sleep quality. The effects of meditation were also compared with other methods of stress management like exercise, cognitive therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation. There were no real differences that could be demonstrated between meditation and these other activities.
This study found that there was no difference between the effects of meditation versus drugs or active treatment in the management of mental health issues.
The study author commented, “It could be that mindfulness programs teach individuals to reduce the way they react to negative emotions or symptoms, and this may lessen the effect that those negative emotions or symptoms have on them.”
Mindfulness meditation is a process whereby the person develops a much greater connection with themselves by focusing on breathing, sounds, sensations, or mental images. The form of meditation mostly considered in this study was mindfulness-based stress reduction which can be taught in an eight-week course. There are other forms of meditation which were not even considered in this research. In addition, the trials considered in this analysis were extremely short and the results from these must be cautiously interpreted.
Experienced meditators show consistent changes in their physiology including lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, improved stress scores, and enhanced feelings of well-being and quality of life. Their brain wave activity is also somewhat different and can be attributed to the effects of long term meditation practice.
Those who are interested in mindfulness meditation should take a course from a recognized, experienced teacher certified in the practice of meditation.
In my opinion, it is a very valuable practice which can help improve mental clarity and decrease the stress response.
- Lowry, F.,“Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Depression, Anxiety, Pain,”Medscape website; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/818931, last accessed Jan. 21, 2014.
- Goyal, M., etal., “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,”JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 6, 2014.
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Dr. K.J.McLaughlin is a chiropractor with 27 years of clinical experience. In addition, he has degrees in physical education, nutrition and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with an interest in anti-aging medicine. He has also spent time studying health promotion and the effect that health education has upon health outcomes. Dr. McLaughlin has a diverse professional background which has involved clinical management, teaching, health promotion and health coaching and brings a unique passion to his work.