By Faye Martins
The ancient art of meditation is becoming well known as cultures around the world adapt the practice to suit their spiritual and health-related needs. While scientists still do not understand the exact mechanisms for its success, doctors are now recommending meditation as a means of staying healthy and coping with chronic illnesses.
Regardless of the technique, the goal of meditation is to improve physical and mental health by focusing on the present moment. Known as mindfulness, this process calms the body through concentration on the breath. Although it was once associated with religious or spiritual rituals, meditation has also become a part of many wellness programs. Recently, it has been suggested that feelings of gratitude and compassion serve as meditation.
How does meditation help in the treatment of ailments?
1. There is evidence to suggest that meditation influences the involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system. This system controls functions like breathing, perspiration, digestion, and heartbeat. It has two parts:
• The parasympathetic nervous system regulates the heart rate, increases circulation by dilating blood vessels, and increases the production of digestive enzymes.
• The sympathetic nervous system produces the adrenaline surge that mobilizes the body for action. When there is stress, breathing and heart rate rise, and the blood vessel constrict, reducing the flow of blood.
Meditation for ailments increases the activity in the parasympathetic system and lowers the activity in the sympathetic nervous system.
2. Clinical studies based on scans of monks during meditation show that meditation has the ability to alter brain waves. Other research found that people who meditated for approximately 30 minutes a day for two months had visible changes in the sections of their brains associated with stress, anxiety, self-awareness, memory, and empathy.
Which ailments does meditation help?
Although meditation contributes to an overall sense of well-being, it has been specifically used to treat a number of chronic conditions and ailments. Among these are the following:
• Stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other mood-related complaints
• Chronic pain, especially back pain
• Emotional and physical side effects related to chemotherapy or chronic illness
• Burnout among caregivers
• Digestive problems
• Hot flashes in menopausal women
• Attention deficit disorder
• Respiratory and circulatory problems
Simple meditation techniques can be easily learned and practiced almost anywhere. Options include Yoga breath awareness meditation, guided meditations, mantras, music with binaural beats, and focused breathing. Moving meditations, such a qigong or walking, and writing meditation are also effective. As more is known about meditation for ailments and the relationship between health and consciousness, the practice will likely become even more entrenched in standard medical care.
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