Seldom will you find a pharmacy dispensing recommendations on meditation, although it is regular part of my counseling practice. I firmly believe that if we as a society become more mindful, we will not only reduce stress and chaos in our lives, we will make a tremendous impact on our health, reducing the need for medications.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools for your health and wellbeing. Meditation is easy, free, feels great, comes with no drug interactions, has shown profound success in preventative medicine, as well as a perfect complement to any course of medical therapy.
Meditation can be as easy as breathing exercises, repeating an affirmation or mantra, even incorporating visualization techniques. Plus, with the convenience of smart phones you can download meditation apps to further guide you into a program that fits you best.
Meditation can be done in as few as five or ten minutes, or however long you would like. There is an old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Given the state of stress in our culture, there is something about this statement that is profoundly true.
If the history of yoga in the United States is a sign of where meditation is going, we are looking at a bright future for the health and wellness of our society. Think about it. Even though Hindu monks introduced yoga to the West in the late 19th century, it did not begin to gain steam until the late 60’s and 70’s. For many, it still seemed like it was too far out, something only hippies and the spiritual folk do, although social consciousness continues to evolve about yoga.
Now we are seeing a similar embracing of meditation as it is taking a mainstream role in people’s health, wellness, and as a stress reduction practice. What was once promoted by monks in robes and reluctantly accepted by the mass populace, meditation is gaining acceptance spurred by the promotion of scientists and practitioners in white lab coats as the body of scientific evidence on the health benefits of meditation continues to grow.
The military is experimenting with meditation to make soldiers more resilient, as well as helping with the treatment and management of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and related issues such as substance abuse.
Corporate America has begun incorporating meditation into wellness programs, such as General Mills creating meditation rooms in their corporate offices. Google has begun their own in-house mindfulness program called “Search Inside Yourself” and has created a labyrinth for employees to practice walking mediation.
Meditation is witnessing thought without judgment. Meditation is about finding silence, stepping back from being lost in random, incessant thoughts which waste our time, creativity, mood, and energy. When you give yourself the chance to step back, you familiarize yourself with the present moment, also known as mindfulness, not re-living the past or worrying about the future.
Research has shown that we have over 50,000 thoughts a day. A Harvard study has shown that the average person is lost in random thought about 47% of the time. Essentially we have become a society of chaotic, thought factories.
Much of the growth of meditation and mindfulness practice is based on stress reduction, and for good reason. In our over-connected lifestyle and culture of chaos where technology has practically built a wall separating ourselves from peace of mind, meditation has proven to calm the mind of over incessant chatter, the worrying about tomorrow while reliving the past.
The benefits do not stop at a calmer, more peaceful mind and stress reduction. Meditation has benefits in a number of areas of health, including:
• Reduce blood pressure
• Reduce cortisol levels
• Reduce pain
• Enhance the body’s immune system
• Reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, anger and confusion
• Increase blood flow and slow heart rate
• Help reverse heart disease
• Increase energy
• Enhance memory and prevent cognitive decline
• Reduction of crime in areas where people regularly practice
… all with a profound impact on medical costs.
There have been numerous studies of the financial benefits of meditation including: 28% cumulative decrease in physician fees, 55% less medical care utilization with lower sickness rates, including 87% less hospitalization for heart disease and 55% less for cancer.
Having been practiced for thousands of years, meditation continues to evolve. One of the leaders in the field of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has been teaching a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program which has been used in major University studies since the late 1970’s at the University of Massachusetts. He and his colleagues have been leading the way in the integration of meditation in mainstream medicine and healthcare.
A new mindfulness based intervention has been created and implemented by Eric L Garland Ph.D to help patients manage pain as well as reduce chances of pain medication abuse. Called, “Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement,” this program is designed to train people to respond differently to pain, stress and opioid (painkiller)-related cues, resulting in a 63 percent reduction in opioid misuse, as well as a 22 percent reduction in pain-related impairment.
Whether you are looking for meditation to maintain or improve your heath, or just feel better, there are a ton of options which make it ever so easier. What many might call a double-edged sword, smart phone apps have literally put guided meditation and assistance at your fingertips.
*Article originally appeared at Green Med Info.