11 Dec 2012

Meditation may improve physical health

11 Dec 2012

I started meditating back in 2008 during a time when I felt lost, both personally and professionally. Three years prior a close friend told me about the positive impact meditation had on his life. I remember listening to his stories and thinking that he must’ve drank the cool aid. Within a few months of his initial retreat he’d completely changed his life. From an accountant to a nomad trekking through the Himalayas and talking about opening a yoga studio. Who was this strange, albeit happier man? I wasn’t looking for such a drastic change when I decided to give meditation a try, I just felt like I needed to somehow hit the reset button on my emotions and ambitions.  So I quit my job, and decided to take the year off to reevaluate my perspective on life.

Recently Dr Robert Schneider (Maharishi University of Management, Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa) led a study showing the positive effects meditation can also have on one’s physical health. The study specifically highlighted a transcendental-meditation program consisting of two 20-minute meditative sessions per day. The sessions significantly reduced the risk of all-cause mortality, or stroke in African American patients with documented coronary heart disease. The researchers also reported reductions in blood pressure, and other  psychosocial risk factors, such as anger.

Researchers evaluated participants at the start of the study, then at three months, and every six months thereafter for body mass index, diet, program adherence, blood pressure, and cardiovascular hospitalizations. Here are some of their findings:
– There were 52 primary end point events, which included death, heart attack or stroke. Of these, 20 events occurred in the meditation group compared to 32 in a health education group.
– Blood pressure was reduced by 5 mm Hg and anger decreased significantly among transcendental meditation participants.
– Regular meditation was correlated with reduced death, heart attack, and stroke.

During the first few days of my retreat the teacher said that observation in and of  itself changes the behavior of what’s being observed. I remember constantly repeating this to myself especially as I struggled to sit still during the three daily 1 hour long “completely motionless” sessions. I don’t know when, but at some point, this theory became fact for me. Before meditating I would stew in anger or sadness for 8 hours, and then after my first retreat I stewed for only 7 1/2 hours. The changes were incremental, but with continued practice, it added up.

I stayed at the Vipassana center for 2 months, volunteering and meditating. There I met a guy on a similar journey, who told me about another center, which instead taught Yoga. I took his advice and moved to the Yoga center where I lived for the following 8 months. Meditation completely changed my life, in ways I cannot put into words, and it brings me even greater joy to hear of the physical health benefits the practice can also have.

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