In recent years the scientific community has taken a strong interest in studying the effects of meditation. Because of the links found between stress and disease, and the interest in relaxation as a preventative model, scientists are earnestly studying the physiological and psychological effects of meditation.

The society we live in has become busier and busier. We are a culture of consumers, busy making money to buy things and making things for people to buy. We are raising our families, commuting, working, watching television, talking on the phone, shopping, and driving, driving, driving. We clench our jaws, grind our teeth, hold our breath, bite our nails, and suffer from insomnia, road rage, and stiff necks. We are stressed out. Heart disease, cancer, hypertension, depression, alcoholism, mental illness, and many other diseases are on the rise. Multiple studies have been done, linking these dis-eases to stress. Stress makes us sick. Health-care costs are astronomical, and many people are beginning to look to preventative approaches for improving their health and well-being.

Time magazine did an article in August 2003 called Just Say Om, written by Joel Stein (pg. 50). This article presents such a comprehensive study of the most up-to-date scientific information on the effects of meditation on the human mind and body, that much of the following information is referenced from this source. Actual quotes give credit, but some of the following information is also paraphrased from the article.

In 1967, Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School began a study involving practitioners of transcendental meditation. He found that when the subjects were meditating they used less oxygen, and their heart rates were significantly lowered. He also found an increase in the Theta brainwaves which occur during deep relaxation and which most often appear right before sleep. Dr. Benson wrote a book called The Relaxation Response, and founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute. He asserted that meditation “counteracted the stress-induced fight or flight response, and achieved a calmer, happier state.”

According to Joel Stein, “…Current interest [in meditation] is as much medical as it is cultural. Meditation is being recommended by more and more physicians as a way to prevent, slow, or at least control the pain of chronic diseases like heart conditions, AIDS, cancer, and infertility. It is also being used to restore balance in the face of such psychiatric disturbances as depression, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that meditation can boost the immune system function. Many recent studies have been done which show that meditators tend to be healthier. Because we know that stress makes us sick, and we know that meditation reduces stress, a clear link is established between meditation and wellness.

One of the driving factors of the steady increase in interest in preventative medicine, is the high cost of health care. In the article in Time magazine, Joel Stein puts it frankly: “Compared with surgery, sitting on a cushion is really cheap.”

In addition to the beneficial physiological effects of meditation, there are some major psychological benefits. Those who meditate might say that all these things are connected, in the “Unified Field of Being.” Physical Science, on the other hand, has traditionally tended to compartmentalize the realms of the body and the mind. Despite this tendency, the scientific world is having to admit that the most recent research shows what meditators and practitioners of metaphysics have been saying for ages: that you cannot separate the mind, with its patterns of thinking, from the body and its manifestation of health or illness. Science and metaphysics are meeting at the point of understanding that the mind is the cause, and the body, the effect.

According to Joel Stein, a researcher in India named B.K. Anand, “found that Yogis could meditate themselves into trances so deep that they didn’t react when hot test tubes were pressed against their arms.” What happens to the brain in these deep states of awareness? Recent technology has allowed us to be able to take a look at the brain during meditation in new and fascinating ways.

Stein tells us of the study done in 1997 at the University of Pennsylvania by Andrew Newberg, a neurologist. In this study Newburgh “hooked up a group of Buddhist meditators to IV’s containing a radioactive dye that he hoped would track blood flow in the brain, lighting up the parts that were the most active. But the only way for Newberg to freeze-frame the exact moment when they reached their meditative peak was for him to sit in the next room with a string tied around his finger.  The other end of the string was guided under the door, and lay next to meditators. When they reached meditative Nirvana, they pulled the string, and Newberg released the dye into the arms of the subjects. His results showed that the brain doesn’t shut off when it meditates but rather blocks information from coming into the parietal lobe. So as one practices meditation, outer stimuli ceases to be accessed by the brain, allowing the attention of the mind, or consciousness, to rest in its true nature.

Course Continued…