Meditation For Health


by Nancy Poitou,
M.A., M.F.T., C.T.S.

Most of the research done on meditation has been done on Transcendental Meditation referred to as TM. I am not promoting TM over any other type of meditation, any technique is used has pretty much the same effects on health.

Research in the new field of psychoneuroimmunology show that emotional states, behavioral patterns, and mental attitudes are central issues in health and disease. A well documented relationship between the brain and body function is the neuroendocrine pathway. Stressful circumstances reduce the body’s immunologic response by suppressing disease fighting blood cells, lymphocytes with the production of cortisone-like compounds. A ten CPS (cycles per second) Alpha state induces a strong immunological system, more control over pain, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and even bleeding.

The most well known and well documented study of the power of the mind in an Alpha state is of course that of Dr. Carl Simonton and his use of relaxation and visualization in the early ‘70’s. Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles, states, “Visualization takes advantage of what might almost be called a ‘weakness’ of the body: it cannot distinguish ~ between a vivid mental experience and an actual physical experience.” If we,’can “experience” a vivid mental picture of health we can fool the subconscious mind into activating the immune system. A relaxed Alpha state is the first requirement toward producing the mental state necessary to vivid visualization. The average survival time of the Simontons’ patients is about two and a half times that of similar patients who received only the standard medical treatment.

Studies conducted around the country, confirm the negative connection between stress and the immune system and the positive connection between meditation, resulting in the reduction of stress and a strengthened immune system. “ Scientists at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and at other major centers have shown that meditation can reverse some of the dangerous aspects of the stress response. Heart and breathing rates can be lowered, cells use less oxygen, blood lactate is lessened - all signals of decreases in central nervous system activity.”

Studies done by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, at Ohio State University School of Medicine on students found that the stress of taking academic examinations, resulted in a measurable decline in the aspects of immunity including the ability to produce interferon. Other studies in the early ‘70’s done by Keith Wallace at U.C.L.A. and David Orme-Johnson at the University of Texas have shown that the physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM) were the exact opposite of those caused by stress. Stress expert Hans Selye states that, “ stress is a fundamental cause of almost all human health problems.” Long term studies are showing that meditation not only increases longevity but improves human functioning in many areas indicating an improved quality of life.

In a 1976 study done by Boston’s Kundalini Research Institute at the Veterans Administration Hospital in La Jolla, California, showed that regular yoga and meditation increased blood levels of three important immune system hormones by 100%. In 1980 psychologist Alberto Villoldo of San Francisco State College showed that regular meditation and self-healing visualization improved white-blood response and improved efficiency of hormone response to a standard test of physical stress - immersing one arm in ice water.

To quote Dr. Siegel again,

The immune system, than, is controlled by the brain, either indirectly through hormones in the bloodstream or directly through the nerves and neurochemicals. One of the most widely accepted explanations of cancer, the ‘surveillance’ theory, states that cancer cells are developing in our bodies all the time but are normally destroyed by white blood cells before they can develop into dangerous tumors. Cancer appears when the immune system becomes suppressed and can no longer deal with this ~ routine threat. It follows that whatever upsets the brain’s control of the immune system will foster malignancy . . . Studies of people who meditate regularly have shown that their physiological age is much lower than their chronological age. These techniques do people no good without the motivation to use them. The first requirement is to get people to love themselves enough to care for their bodies and minds . . . Meditation also raises the pain threshold and reduces one’s biological age. Its benefits are multiplied when combined with regular exercise. In short it reduces wear and tear on both body and mind, helping people live better and longer.

Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, The Mind/Body Effect and Beyond the Relaxation Response, has outlined his meditation technique he calls the “Relaxation Response” as a simplified, demystified and non-denominational way to open the door to a renewed mind and changed life. He has found that as we meditate and quiet the conscious mind a building of communications between the left and right brain hemispheres takes place. This alters our habitual ways of thinking. A breaking up of old thought ~ patterns helps up stop habits that are unhealthy

Exposure to health promoting influences immediately after meditation sets the stage for new more beneficial habits to take root. Electroencephalograms reveal an increased coherence of the Alpha and Theta brain wave frequencies between the left and right sides of the brain during meditation, resulting in greater creativity. Creativity allows new ideas to flow into the conscious mind, new options, and new responses. A shutting off of stress and accompanying production of catecholamine hormones associated with the “fight or flight” response and may be a habitual unnecessary reaction to a stressful lifestyle. Dr. Benson summarizes his physiological findings:

1. Overall reduction of the speed of the body’s metabolism

2. Lowered blood pressure

3. Decreased rate of breathing

4. Lowered heart rate

5. More prominent slower brain waves

6. Increased brain waves simultaneous in left and right hemispheres

The following short article I have included in its entirety.

Transcendental Meditation for Health

Transcendental Meditation TM) has been credited with improving such things as mental health, creativity, intelligence, energy, self-esteem, and anxiety tolerance. All these assertions have been substantiated in various research studies. TM is a means for the general public to achieve self actualization. It has also proven to be effective as a treatment for stress, having various physiological effects. Given these facts, it would be natural to hypothesize that regular TM practitioners would lead healthier lives.

A major field study of the effects of TM on health has recently been reported. For a five-year period, from 1981 through 1985, the medical care statistics of the SCI Insurance Group was studied. SCI is a health insurance group which requires its membership to have practiced TM for a minimum of six months before enrolling. Continued eligibility is contingent on sustaining the practice of TM.

MIC is a major health insurance carrier of which SCI is a member, along with many other insurance groups. Annually, MIC compiles claim averages for each insurance group. Because of MlC’s statistical accounting, SCl’s figures could be compared against all the other insurance group figures under MIC. Only those insurance groups having a membership primarily of white collar professionals, comparable to the SCI membership, were used in this study.

Comparisons were made between SCI and these other insurance groups on both inpatient and outpatient medical-care utilization, including x-rays, laboratory tests, surgery, and doctors’ office visits, and emergency room treatments.

During each of the five years studied, SCI used significantly less medical and surgical inpatient and outpatient medical services than did the other groups. According to the five -year averages on utilization rates, SCI had 63% fewer inpatient medical admissions, 71% fewer inpatient surgeries, and 58% fewer outpatient surgeries. The only area in which SCI’s admissions were greater than the other groups was with regard to obstetric admissions. It was 5.6% higher than the norm, but this was not a statistically significant difference.

The following age groups were used for comparative purposes: 0-18, 19-39, and 40+. This showed interesting results. In the 0-18 range, there was 49% less utilization of medical care among TM practitioners than among the other insured’s. In the 19-39 age range, there was 52% less utilization, and in the 40+ age group, overall utilization was 71% less. This result suggests that the positive effect of TM Practice on health increases with age. This statistic may also indicate a cumulative effect, reflecting the number of TM practice.

Spending 20 minutes twice a day in quiet contemplation seems to be an easy way to cut health care costs in half!

Restful alertness, a state reportedly experienced by regular TM practitioners, seems to have both a direct and an indirect influence on health. It has a direct and marked effect on reducing stress. Indirectly, it seems to help better life styles emerge as people become “better choosers.” The reduction of stress may reduce “inner noise,” thereby making it easier to receive messages from the inner voice.

Whatever the explanation, it would seem that TM, besides its positive effects on health, has a definite economic impact in terms of health-care utilization. Spending 20 minutes twice a day in quiet contemplation seems to be an easy way to cut health care costs in half!

Source: ‘`Medical care utilization and the Transcendental Meditation program.” Psychosomatic Medicine, 1987, Vol. 49, pp. 493-507. Author David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Maharishi International University, Fairfield, IA 52556. (Reported by Ruth M. Brown.)

Dr. Kenneth Pelletier has made a psychological study of many patients who recovered despite great odds, he found five characteristics common to all of them:

1. Profound intrapsychic change through meditation, prayer, or other spiritual practice.

2. Profound interpersonal changes, as a result: Their relations with other people had been placed on a more solid footing.

3. Alteration in diet: These people no longer took their food for granted, they chose their food carefully for optimum nutrition.

4. A deep sense of the spiritual as well as material aspects of life.

5.. A feeling that their recovery was not a gift nor spontaneous remission, but rather a long, hard struggle that they had won for themselves.

In a recent article on stress in the Accent section of the Orange County Register, Dr. Peter Gott wrote, “Clearly, future studies will blaze trails into the wilderness of mind over matter, how we can think our way to health and the physiologic basis of prayer, meditation and a positive attitude. Our control over our destinies, through our immune systems, may, in fact, lie in our minds - as the greatest world thinkers have repeatedly emphasized.”

In conclusion, this century has seen the fastest most radical change in the average lifestyle, especially in urban areas. Our daily stress level has risen and stays up. A common experience of getting on a traffic packed freeway twice a day before and after a stress filled day at work eats away at our body’s immune system. Modernization and progress have outwardly improved the quality of life but inwardly reduced our equilibrium necessary to counteract the effects of stress. We need to now learn how to exercise mental control over our bodies. By learning to control and make use of other states of consciousness that come naturally we can again reach a balance that will allow our bodies to regain its own defense against stress and disease. We as patients can work with orthodox medicine and participate in our own inner healing process, while feeling more in control of our own emotional states, mental attitudes, and physical health.