In this article we are going to explore some of the first medical and scientific research on Meditation: medical and scientific studies that sought to identify the positive results of meditation on the body and its effects.
Meditation has a long history among mankind, but in the Western world it has only recently become known. And, although the act of meditation is mentioned in biblical texts on several occasions, this ancient practice aroused interest mainly as a result of interest in the religious forms of the East, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Since the 1960s, meditation has become increasingly known and practiced by diverse groups in society. The growing interest in Meditation gave reason for it be studied in medical centres and universities, as an efficient resource for balancing health and well-being.
Medical-scientific research on Meditation was driven by the rise in the practice of this technique in the Western world. The reasons that stimulate this great receptivity to meditation among us are directly connected with the psychic and emotional wear and tear of life, with the unrestrained pace of life in the big cities.
However, it should not be surprising that it was thanks to certain changes in attitudes that conventional medicine began to recommend the practice of meditation. Over the past few decades, scientists have changed their perception of sickness and health.
This is the story told by, for example, the American cardiologist Herbert Benson, who is recognized as one of the first doctors to devote himself to the subject, as early as the 1970s. In 2000, his 1975 book, The Relaxation Response, was reissued. At the time, Benson recalled that it was almost a heresy to claim that emotional reactions, such as anxiety or stress, could cause or aggravate organic diseases.
His path in the study of meditation began with a question about the mind-body relationship. He was uncomfortable with the fact that certain physiological examinations, for example, when assessing the heartbeat, could be disturbed simply because his patients were nervous in the medical office.
In her quest to better understand that relationship, he teamed up with Dr. Robert Keith Wallace, a physiologist at the University of California. Wallace already had published material on a meditation technique called “Transcendental Meditation”. Basically, it consists of relaxing the body in a comfortable position and pronouncing a mantram, for about 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day. The mantra would be a phrase with a positive meaning for the practitioner, for example, “I am calm”.
They carried out research together on the physiological effects of different meditation techniques on people who had different levels of experience in the practice of meditation. And they discovered that, in all of them, the daily practice of this exercise led the practitioners to maintain a stable metabolic rate, and also their breathing and heartbeat calm and stable.
In their evaluation, they observed that the different meditation techniques could generate states of balance and tranquility greater than sleep, since the latter can have intervals of discomfort. The results were published in an article: “Physiology of Meditation”, from the Scientific American magazine. “This article opened the doors so that a dozen other studies could be developed in different universities around the world”.
In addition to the above, Dr. Benson founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. For more than 40 years, this doctor has been demonstrating the considerable improvement in the quality of life of people who practice meditation.
Among the findings of these decades of medical research is the fact that the benefits of meditation last for hours. They remain after exercise is over and thus provide an overall improvement in your health. Furthermore, it has been proven that the metabolic alterations that occur during meditation generate hormonal alterations. And also in the electrical brain waves.
Jon Kabat Zinn was another American doctor and researcher who helped break down the barriers that relegated meditation to the field of mysticism, and made it known as a public health resource and instrument. Zinn, who is Jewish, learned to meditate when he was still a student, at a conference given by Buddhist, Philip Kaplan, in 1965. When he became a doctor, he began teaching meditation to his patients, seeking to lessen the physical and emotional pain during treatments. He achieved such positive results that he founded the Stress Mitigation Clinic in 1979. He wanted to introduce meditation without the religious garb of Buddhism. Kabat Zinn coined the term mindfulness. Thanks to this, it has become widespread in the West.
This practice has a typical characteristic of Buddhism: placing the attention in the here and now. To perceive all the manifestations that are processed in the body or in the environment, without being carried away by thoughts related to these. All this, keeping the attention only on the present.
More recently, in 2009, a group of California researchers conducted a series of high-resolution magnetic resonance exams to study the brains of those who practice meditation. They found that certain regions of the brains of people who meditate were much more developed than the corresponding parts of the brains of non-meditators. The results showed that the areas of the hippocampus, the orbital-frontal cortex and the thalamus were considerably larger when it came to meditation practitioners. These areas are related to emotion and attention. This shows that:
Practicing meditation on an ongoing basis enables its practitioners to develop skills to better regulate their emotions, as well as their concentration.
These are just some of the many investigations that were developed with the instruments of Western science, strongly empiricist, which have demonstrated the benefits of meditation for health. This list could be even longer if we consider the discoveries related to the positive effects on the immune system. Also, in the glandular and hormonal secretion by means of simple exercises as those taught by Gnosis. Either through practices with mantrams, vocalizations, or practices to keep the attention focused on a single point, which can be the heart, the breath, a flower, a candle or a piece of classical music. These studies still need to go beyond the health benefits of meditation and to understand to the contribution it makes to be able to know reality.
To learn more about these topics, register for our free online courses.