Meditation as a medicine. Published by the Australian College of Nursing
Meditation as a medicine. Meditation is a word popping up everywhere, once viewed as an alternative practice by small subgroups, it’s now entering the mainstream. The more studies that are being conducted are leading to an increasing quantification of the benefits that meditation provides. So the momentum is worth listening to.
Stress as a leading cause of sickness is increasingly prominent, and the analysis of the dis-ease is under the telescope. With more understanding as to the havoc stress places on immunity, cardiovascular and metabolic functioning grows, so does the detrimental biochemical impacts on brain structure. The relationship between stress and dementia is seeing some connections, and linking precursors of mind degeneration could support solutions in prevention.
Dr Linda Mah, author of research findings from University of Toronto, said: (Mah L, et al. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2016) “Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.”
Stress is on the rise in the hustle and bustle of modern life. Where the word “busy” is the new norm and “should” and “musts” are on your to-do list, it’s no wonder depression, anxiety and stress-related illness are increasing. You could roll your eyes and say “it’s never going to change”, “pressures are here”, “you have to stress to get anything done”. But, what if there was a practice that could change the state in which you react to those life situations? What if there was a medicine that reversed the signs of an ageing mind and melted the motion of sickness. Would you take it?
There is increasing evidence around the benefits of meditation, specifically as a practice to relieve stress. A recent study (Neuroscience Letters Vol 556, 2013) from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre suggests that the brain changes associated with meditation and stress reduction may play an important role in slowing the development of age-related cognitive disorders and dementia.
Participants were randomised two to one, either to a group who participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using meditation and yoga, or a control group who received normal care. The results of MRI imaging showed that the group engaged in MBSR had significantly improved functional connectivity.
“What surprised us was, for a condition that has few other treatment options—and without FDA-approved medications to stop the progression to dementia—an intervention [like meditation] may impact the very areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” says Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH.
If stress is a precursor to age-related illness, such as dementia, meditation could just be the medicine needed for the mind.
(Gaser 2013) Researcher Christian Gaser from Jena University shared that “the mental processes in meditation trigger the growth of new brain cells”. In their recent study evaluating brain scans of 50 non meditators and 50 meditators, the researchers (Gaser 2013) “These findings suggest that meditation is beneficial for brain preservation, with a slower rate of brain ageing throughout life,” Gaser
As the complexities of the mind breakdown and meditation’s positive relationship gains greater understanding, there will be further solutions for sicknesses that creates so much pain.
“It is refreshing and exciting information rising within scientific studies of meditation and its benefits”, says Marie Louse, co-founder Evolve Yourself Institute.
“It opens minds to the tool as a resource for healing. With advancements in technology, the ability to see the once unseen shows us the benefits of ancient practices. Stress is like poison; it creates a toxic biochemical mix within the internal system creating illness. A calm state creates chemicals that regenerates and renews, allowing the body to do what it does so well and heal”.
Marie Louise has seen the power of a calm state first hand.
“A young 9-year-old client could not open her eyes because of her eczema. My goal was to provide her with tools that would calm her central nervous system regularly. With reflection on life situations that cause diseases, a practice of 10 minute morning and night meditations, and using the tool of breath; I saw a clearing of her eczema on her face in 16 days. This was empowering for this young child, and not an isolated incident. I see meditation as a powerful practice to support any healing. This is definitely a great reason to be curious about meditation, it might just be your medicine.”
Slow the time of age with meditation as a tool
- Start your meditation practice with five minute guided meditation
- Alleviate chronic stress from your life, with a practice of becoming present
- Take up a movement practice of yoga, tai chi, nature walks
- When thoughts of worry, to do and shoulds and shouldn’ts consume you. Use your body as a cue to get you here and now
- Take on a breath practice of diaphragmatic breathing to calm your central nervous system
- Get into nature, nature has a way of slowing the body down, your environment affects your internal state, choosing environments that serves you helps regeneration
- If time is an issue, bring micro moments of breath and presence into your day. On the toilet, hall, or desk
Meditation as a medicine references:
Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center, the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at BIDMC and NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) K24 AT004095, http://www.bidmc.org/News/PRLandingPage/2013/November/Wells-Meditation.aspx
Eileen Luders, Florian Kurth, Arthur W Toga, Katherine L Narr, Christian Gaser (2013) Meditation effects within the hippocampal complex revealed by voxel-based morphometry and cytoarchitectonic probabilistic mapping. Frontiers in psychology 4: 07, http://publicationslist.org/christian.gaser
Neuroimage 134, (2016) Estimating brain age using high-resolution pattern recognition: Younger brains in long-term meditation practitioners http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811916300404
Neuroscience Letters, Volume 556, Meditation’s impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: A pilot study, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394013009026?via%3Dihub