Using Meditation for Health Benefits

Meditation has for many centuries been associated with spiritual health and a general sense of well being. Those in the Eastern countries, where meditation has always been widely practiced, may have recognized its holistic effect, and the direct part meditating can play in good physical health as well as spiritual.

In Western countries, though, there has mostly been a dismissive attitude to the part the practice of meditation can play in health. In fact, any benefit from meditating was mostly derided until recently. Health, of course, is the profession of doctors and support professionals, so while doctors have been widely dismissive of meditation as a health aid, it is not surprising the general public in Western countries have followed their lead.

In some ways, though, those traditional attitudes of the medical profession do not stand up to close examination. How often have you heard of a patient being told, on being examined, that there is nothing wrong, “it is all in the mind”? There you have a doctor saying, without hesitation, that the patient’s symptoms are all in the mind; they come from the brain and are not “real”. So, if they acknowledge so readily that the mind creates symptoms, why dismiss entirely that the mind cannot also play a part in cures or improvements in health?

It has also been common for doctors to dismiss some improvements to a patient’s symptoms, when taking a non-drug treatment, that it is merely a placebo effect. In other words, the improvement is “all in the mind”. On these occasions, the doctors, in trying to dismiss the patient’s health improvement, are acknowledging that the patient’s own mind has brought about that improvement.

The human mind, of course, is in contact with the whole of the body 24 hours a day, so if you look at it from that angle, the mind and body, physical and mental health, are all inextricably linked at all times. As meditation helps to establish more self control over your mind, it does leave wide open the possibility that meditating can be used to affect health. In recent years, some health practitioners have come to realise that meditation can have some health benefits, and these are the areas where interest has been most focused:

1. Most modern doctors will acknowledge that stress is a source of health problems, and some now acknowledge that meditation can reduce stress and help people to relax.

2. There has been some study into blood pressure being lowered during meditation. That is one positive use of meditation on health that I can vouch for, as I have measured my own blood pressure during meditation, and brought my diastolic reading down by 10 points or more, on several occasions.

It is good to read that some hospitals and doctors are incorporating some stress reduction therapies, such as meditation and massage, into their every day activities. In fact, my first experience of yoga meditation was 10 years ago, in a class organised jointly by the local hospital and council. I was the only “baby”, being under 50, in the class, which was aimed at those with some physical restriction (in my case fused vertebrae) and thus attracted mostly those in their late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. All felt some benefit from the sessions, including two patients with Parkinson’s disease. No miracle cures, but they did say it helped them.

While there is a lack of scientific study into meditation and health, it is probably wise not to ignore the possible benefits to your health in meditating, especially as a preventative measure against stress. For specific health problems, you should follow your doctor’s advice, but there is no reason you should not ask if meditation, or other relaxation techniques, may help you. These days, you may be surprised by his or her answer.