A regular meditation practice is the best prescription you can get.
Time has come for me to say it: I meditate. Every day. Some people will think I am coming out, some others will rather say I am outing and think of me as a hippy- freak- weirdo that protects herself from substances abuse with an amethyst pendant and checks her iris to detect any diseases. The reality is that I am still a scientist, and therefore I would never talk about this without any scientific proof. I would simply meditate and that’s all.
But in fact, that is not all: several studies show how meditating positively influences our minds and bodies. It all started more than thirty years ago, in 1979, when a group of scientists leaded by Prof. Jon Kabat- Zinn proposed the idea of mind- body and integrative medicine: the mind can really impact our health and recovery. To gather evidence they created the Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR): a course based on Buddhist meditation practice for people with chronic diseases. And guess what happened? They observed a great reduction of medical and psychological symptoms. If you are getting interested or if you are still sceptical, read which medicines could be partially substituted or helped by a regular meditation practice:
Note: the information reported is purely informative and does not substitute medical consultation.
Anti- Aging Cream
Everyone wants to look like a teenager even when turning eighty. Ok, ok, you are right: meditation is not a long life elixir, but neither are all the products you have in your bathroom shelter. On the other side, meditation can slow down cellular aging, which your creams cannot. This extraordinary feature was discovered by Epel and colleagues a few years ago, but you are still in time to read it and apply the method to your daily routine!
Prozac and Valium
Several studies showed that MBSR training helps reducing the occurrence and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress, even long after the Mindfulness course ends. If you want to learn more, a review was recently written by Hoffmann et al. in 2010. This confirms the validity of the correlation between meditation and reduction of ‘mood problems’. In addition, the control of such disorders may also help reducing the probability of an heart failure, as shown by Sullivan et al. (2009). Keep on reading to get to know more about that.
Rehabilitating after a heart attack is tough, so it is helpful to get as much aid as possible and benefit from all the available treatments. As mentioned above, meditation training is one of them: researchers found out that heart rate and blood pressure can be substantially lowered by simply meditating (Anderson et al., 2008; Delizonna et al., 2009). Hypertension and chronic heart failure will not be a heartache anymore!
Maybe you just have headaches once in a while, maybe you are ‘monthly persecuted’ by cramps, or maybe you suffer from fibromyalgia or another chronic pain. In any of these cases we generally solve the problem by cancelling your activities for the day or, more ‘productively’, by taking an aspirin. But did you know that commonly used painkillers are not as effective and safe as we think? That’s what Doherty et al. (2011) found out! However, with a spoonful of mediation you can stay healthy, while saving you money ánd your day. Still don’t believe it? Check Kabat- Zinn et al. (1985) or Rosenzweig et al. (2010) articles.
I am sure you will not believe it, but meditation boosts your immune system so much that it can actually improve the protection provided by vaccines. In 2003, Davidson and his colleagues observed that meditators that just received an influenza vaccine produced more antibodies compared to non- meditators. Tic toc, the next flu shot is due soon!
The first thing you say to someone having an asthma attack is: “Relax and breath”, so it is obvious that meditation practice can act as a useful tool to improve this condition. Although lung function did not improve, individuals undergoing a MBSR programme felt less stressed and notice an overall improvement on their quality of life. On the other side, no meditation- no gain… (Pbert et al., 2012)
Meditation can also relieve from irritable bowel syndrome. It helped several people in lowering the symptoms and they felt less grumpy (Gaylord et al., 2011; Zernicke et al. 2013). Imagine having a dinner with your friends and being able to enjoy it completely, wouldn’t it be great?
Alzheimer, Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis Therapies
In this case there is a personal component involved: my father has recently been treated for cancer and both his analyst and the MBSR training gave him the force to feel reborn. But this is not scientifically proven. To keep it scientifically, try and write on Google Scholar or any other search engine ‘cancer mindfulness’: you will find hundreds of scientific articles claiming that improvements in the quality of life, reduction of stress and sleep quality were achieved in cancer patients attending a MBSR course. The effect is similar in other degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer and multiple sclerosis syndromes (Mills et al., 2000): maybe the personal health will not get better, but the feelings of the diseased and the family may do.
You probably knew all the previous treatments, while you may be guessing what this unpronounceable medicine cures. Neotigason is a common medication for psoriasis, a skin disease that causes spots or plaques. Many uncertainties still surrounds this condition, however what Kabat- Zinn noticed is that patients that integrated a regular meditation practice to the therapies reduced their lesions more than non- meditative patients. (Kabat- Zinn et al., 1998).
Do I still look like a freak? If I raised your awareness, you can read Kabat- Zinn’s masterpiece: ‘Full Catastrophe Living‘, attend a MBSR course, or go to a yoga class!
I will soon leave for a ten- day silence meditation practice, but I am keen on reading your comments or experiences as soon as I am back!
Anderson JW, Liu C, & Kryscio RJ (2008). Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis. American journal of hypertension, 21 (3), 310-6 PMID: 18311126
Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation Psychosomatic Medicine, 65 (4), 564-570 DOI: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000077505.67574.E3
Delizonna, L., Williams, R., & Langer, E. (2009). The Effect of Mindfulness on Heart Rate Control Journal of Adult Development, 16 (2), 61-65 DOI: 10.1007/s10804-009-9050-6
Doherty, M., Hawkey, C., Goulder, M., Gibb, I., Hill, N., Aspley, S., & Reader, S. (2011). A randomised controlled trial of ibuprofen, paracetamol or a combination tablet of ibuprofen/paracetamol in community-derived people with knee pain Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 70 (9), 1534-1541 DOI: 10.1136/ard.2011.154047
Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, Folkman S, & Blackburn E (2009). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172, 34-53 PMID: 19735238
Gaylord, S., Palsson, O., Garland, E., Faurot, K., Coble, R., Mann, J., Frey, W., Leniek, K., & Whitehead, W. (2011). Mindfulness Training Reduces the Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Women: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 106 (9), 1678-1688 DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2011.184
Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, & Oh D (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78 (2), 169-83 PMID: 20350028
Kabat-Zinn J, Lipworth L, & Burney R (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of behavioral medicine, 8 (2), 163-90 PMID: 3897551
Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M., Cropley, T., Hosmer, D., & Bernhard, J. (1998). Influence of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Intervention on Rates of Skin Clearing in Patients With Moderate to Severe Psoriasis Undergoing Photo Therapy (UVB) and Photochemotherapy (PUVA) Psychosomatic Medicine, 60 (5), 625-632 DOI: 10.1097/00006842-199809000-00020
Crane., B. (2002). Full catastrophe living; using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1996 Publisher: Piatkus, London ISBN: 0-749-915-854 Spirituality and Health International, 3 (2), 52-52 DOI: 10.1002/shi.88
Mills N, & Allen J (2000). Mindfulness of movement as a coping strategy in multiple sclerosis. A pilot study. General hospital psychiatry, 22 (6), 425-31 PMID: 11072058
Pbert L, Madison JM, Druker S, Olendzki N, Magner R, Reed G, Allison J, & Carmody J (2012). Effect of mindfulness training on asthma quality of life and lung function: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax, 67 (9), 769-76 PMID: 22544892
Rosenzweig S, Greeson JM, Reibel DK, Green JS, Jasser SA, & Beasley D (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of psychosomatic research, 68 (1), 29-36 PMID: 20004298
Sullivan MJ, Wood L, Terry J, Brantley J, Charles A, McGee V, Johnson D, Krucoff MW, Rosenberg B, Bosworth HB, Adams K, & Cuffe MS (2009). The Support, Education, and Research in Chronic Heart Failure Study (SEARCH): a mindfulness-based psychoeducational intervention improves depression and clinical symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure. American heart journal, 157 (1), 84-90 PMID: 19081401