Meditation is a great way of dealing with the stresses of everyday life. After a long, hard day at the office or spending time with your unruly kids, taking a deep breath and letting all your worries slip away is just wonderful. Your muscles relax, and everything seems to gain that simple, basic clarity that helps you to put everything in perspective.
However, did you know that the health benefits of meditation go far beyond simply giving us some peace of mind? Many scientific studies have shown that meditation has very specific effects on your body that can make you healthier and help you to live longer. And, these benefits may be associated with many different types of meditation, including Zen, yoga, transcendental meditation and One Taste.
One of the biggest benefits is the effect that meditation has on your immune system. If you want to fight off that bug that everyone else is coming down with, or even reduce your chances of getting cancer, then meditation gives you a real head start. In fact, a 2011 report by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Justus Liebig University found that mindful meditation had a strong positive influence on immune function, and another study at Ohio State University reported that when elderly patients performed regular relaxation exercises, they were less likely to contract viruses or develop malignancies.
There is also strong evidence that relaxation techniques such as meditation can have a positive influence on our hearts. One of the reasons for this may be that when we are chronically stressed, it causes us to develop internal inflammations. These inflammations can cause a lot of different diseases, such as asthma and arthritis – but they are also strongly linked to heart disease. In fact, a study at McGill University in Montréal, Canada showed that meditation reduces the symptoms of psoriasis – another disease that is linked to inflammation.
Meditation may also help our hearts in other ways. When we are stressed, we produce stress hormones such as cortisol, which have a powerful effect on our bodies. While these stress hormones are absolutely essential when we are in a dangerous situation – they gear us up to defend ourselves or escape – they are harmful when stress levels stay high for a long period of time. In fact, stress hormones can significantly increase blood pressure – which isn’t a surprise for most of us. However, what is interesting is that research has shown that meditation reduces the effect that stress hormones have on blood pressure – making us better able to deal with the physical effects of stress. Since high blood pressure can cause damage to arteries – and ultimately lead to heart attacks and stroke – meditation is a good way of combating both of these deadly conditions.
Finally, meditation has some surprising positive mental effects as well. Not only does it help us to be calmer and keep things in proportion, it seems that it also helps us to concentrate and remember better as well. A study carried out in California found that when university students meditated for as little as six minutes before they took a test, they generally scored higher than those who didn’t.