Meditation for Health Improvement
It is estimated that between 10 and 15 million Americans participate in some form of regular mindfulness or contemplative practices; secular-based meditation and yoga may be the most common of these practices. Many others practice tai chi, qi gong, forest-based contemplation, Taoism, etc. The US National Institute of Health has been a regular generous funder of many mindfulness research projects. Most mindfully-informed people have heard of or practice Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction; many informed therapists have heard of or practice Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Much of this supporting research comes from controlled studies with random assignment, and some of the research is based on randomized controlled clinical trials. Various well-designed meta-analyses (2014, 2015) have found that there are moderately strong and positive effects from the practice of regular meditation and/or yoga. Despite the popular press claims that meditation and yoga cure just about everything, these careful studies have noted that there are beneficial meditation effects for depression, anxiety, stress reactivity, chronic pain and substance misuse; in the last area, improvements are due mainly to improved awareness of bodily sensations leading to emotions (interoception), better emotion regulation, executive strengthening, and limbic quieting. Below I will list various research-supported positive effects from regular meditation practices.
Improvements documented in research (with many controlled randomized clinical trials)include:
- Better attentional capacities (sustained, reoriented, shifted);
- Improved working memory;
- Better emotion regulation (cognitive and physiological practices that counter stress);
- Greater compassion (especially from loving kindness meditation);
- Improved personal happiness in various forms;
- Greater access to deep wisdom about the WAY things are, the nature of reality (less so in secular practices);
- Informed insight into causes of personal suffering;
- Improved breathing capacities (respiratory volume, respiratory efficiency, oxygen exchange) and skills;
- Better awareness in both focused and open mental orientations;
- Faster and better alerting perceptual skills;
- Improved relaxation and equanimity – the famous “relaxation response;”
- Better response inhibition – better self-control in challenging emotional situations;
- Improved overall psychological and emotional well-being (life coping, contemplative quality, life purpose, life meaning, life satisfaction, etc.);
- Greater gratitude for what you do have right now;
- Reduced depression and anxiety;
- Improved chronic pain management;
- Better concentration skills;
- Reduced self-medication habits;
- Improved physical health – especially movement meditation and meditation/yoga coupled with exercise;
- Deeper social and earthly connections (non-duality);
- Strong transformational processes with improved integrations of body-mind-heart-spirt experience (via spiritual/religious path practices);
- Improved personal behaviors in life – more positive compassion-based behaviors, less negative greed-based behaviors); and,
- Positive impact on cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal disorders.
With all these potential personal benefits from regular meditation (and yoga) practice, WHY would you NOT do such practices????? It is time!
For more information refer to Kaszniak, A. W. (2014). Contemplative pedagogy: Perspectives from cognitive and affective science. In O. Gunnlaugson et al. (Eds.). Contemplative Learning and Inquiry Across Disciplines. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp. 197-211. See also Khalsa, Sat Bir S. (Winter, 2016). Unpacking the science of yoga. Kripalu: Stockbridge. MA. This research is based on work done and used at Harvard Medical School. And Quintiliani, A. R. (2014). Mindful Happiness…Shelburne, VT: Vermont Voices Press.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness