Meditation includes a wide range of secular and religious practices. Regardless of faith or lack of, the process follows the same path. It involves narrowing your focus and stilling the body in order to shut out the outside world. Whether you practice secular or religious meditation, the benefits remain the same.
This practice reduces stress hormones and thereby leads to decreased anxiety. Research confirms this because EEG studies show that meditation causes a relaxed state that boosts alpha waves. Additionally, a study conducted by the Emory University School of Medicine indicated that people who practiced meditation habitually for six weeks showed less emotional distress and less strain on their immune systems when put in stressful situation.
People who meditate also have less lactic acid in their blood while people with anxiety have high levels of this compound. Since anxiety sufferers often try to combat the effects of stress with alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, meditation can lead to decreased use of these substances. In turn, this can improve overall health. For these reasons, some health care practitioners might even recommend meditation as part of a treatment plan for substance abuse.
A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin indicates that after eight weeks of meditation the electrical activity in certain areas of the left frontal lobe showed increased activity. Since these regions tend to be more active in positive people, regular meditation can lead to a more optimistic outlook on life.
Meditators benefit from a lowered heart rate and improved blood circulation. A 1998 study shows that these individuals had lower lipid peroxide levels. Since high levels of lipid byproducts can contribute to atherosclerosis and other aging-related diseases, meditation can lead to better heart health. These findings were published in Psychosomatic Medicine. A subsequent study, published in the same magazine, also shows that people who practiced transcendental meditation had lower blood pressure readings immediately after their sessions.
Other chronic illness sufferers can also benefit from this practice. A 1998 study shows that people with fibromyalgia experience less pain and sleeplessness when meditating. The research details were published in Alternative Therapies. Even psoriasis patients can find relief. The medical center at the University of Massachusetts had patients listen to mindfulness meditation audiotapes while undergoing their ultraviolet light therapy. The results showed that they healed faster when compared to patients who only received the light treatment.
Because of all these mental, emotional and physical benefits, meditation has been associated with reduced health care costs, better quality of life, fewer hospitalizations and a longer lifespan.