Many of us have heard that meditation is good for our mental well being but did you know that it has many benefits for your physical health too?
A study by Harvard Medical School found that forms of deep relaxation, such as yoga and meditation, can alter our bodies at a genetic level, switching on or off genes. Dr. Herbert Benson who led the study stated that more “disease-fighting genes” were active in those who regularly practiced relaxation techniques.
Deep relaxation helps to counteract the ‘fight or flight’ mode that stress puts us into. Whether we are caught in a traffic jam or experiencing a much more chronically stressful situation, the body reacts in a similar way. Our blood pressure rises; our muscles contract ready to flee danger; and in the process bodily functions such as immunity and digestion can be sidelined. By practicing meditation we can start to counteract these symptoms of stress and improve our health.
Many of us recognize that when we go through a stressful period, we will often find that we fall prey to many more coughs and colds and this is because our immunity is suppressed. However, even in much more serious illnesses, such as cancer, relaxation can help. A study at the Ohio State University found that daily muscle relaxation reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Helps Manage Depression and Anxiety
Many studies have demonstrated that meditation can help calm the mind and in the process help to control anxiety and lessen the impact of depression. Mindfulness meditation had proved to be particularly effective in this area as it helps to train the brain to stay in the present moment. While focusing only on the present it is easier to let go of past regrets and worry less about what the future will bring.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The British Medical Journal published a study which found that those who regularly practiced meditation had considerably lower blood pressure. Cortisol is one of the hormones produced during stressful periods and it is this which contributes to high blood pressure and the laying down of fat around the abdominal region. A reduction in the body’s responsiveness to cortisol through meditation, leads to lower blood pressure and a wealth of other health benefits.
Alleviates the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is experienced by around 15% of the world’s population. The symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain and periods of constipation and diarrhea. These symptoms can come and go intermittently but sometimes last for weeks or even months at a time. The symptoms themselves can lead to even higher levels of stress for the person experiencing them. One thing that has been found to help however is meditation. The State University of New York carried out a number of successful studies into the management of IBS using meditation and they now recommend that sufferers practice meditation daily to help control symptoms.
Helps Control Weight
Weight control is a delicate balance of many factors including what you eat and how active you are. However, there is another element that is often underestimated and that is the role stress plays in weight fluctuations. As mentioned earlier, cortisol is a stress hormone and its release can have a big impact on metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Meditation can help to lower the impact of cortisol and in the process we might find that cravings for sugar and carbohydrates are reduced and less fat is laid down around the waist area. Plus mindfulness, which is a major part of meditation, can help us focus more on what we are eating and why. Are we genuinely hungry or are we using food to soothe stresses or worries?
Meditation offers so many benefits for our mental and physical well being, and even better, it’s easy to get started. You can follow a guided meditation, look for a class in your local area or just commit to putting time aside every day to practice deep relaxation. As we have seen, even 15 to 30 minutes spent in meditation every day can have a significant impact on your future health.
If you're interested in learning about how to meditate, ask your Trilogy therapist. We can help!