Fact 1: Meditation assists healing. If you have any kind of health complaint at all then meditation can help you to get better.
Fact 2: Meditation can help you to stay healthy. If you are in good shape and want to stay this way, then regular meditation is a good idea.
Twenty years ago these would have been considered fringe ideas rather than facts, but not anymore…
Meditation Goes Mainstream
Meditation no longer belongs solely to the worlds of pseudo-science and spirituality, but has now been embraced by modern science as well.
Good western doctors know how meditation works to relax and heal. A recent survey of General Practitioners found that up to 80% of doctors had referred patients to practitioners of the three most popular Complementary Therapies – which included meditation, along with acupuncture and hypnosis.
Meditation has been extensively tested in laboratories around the world and is proven to help heal the body and mind of illnesses and disorders. As a result, more and more people are turning to meditation as a simple, cheap, and effective method of self-therapy.
In August 2003, Time Magazine (U.S. edition) ran a cover story on meditation in which they reported that over ten million U.S. citizens say they regularly practice some form of meditation, an increase of 100% in the ten years prior. Furthermore, Time went on to say that “it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid meditation. It’s offered in schools, hospitals, law firms, government buildings, corporate offices, and prisons.”
Meditation is recommended as a way to cure or improve many disorders. Key to this is the fact that meditation helps lower blood pressure and strengthens the immune system. It is effective both as means to prevent disease, and as a means to cure, manage or slow the effects of existing conditions. It is used as treatment for “heart conditions, AIDS, cancer, and infertility … depression, hyperactivity, and Attention Deficit Disorder” (Time).
Eric Harrison, Australian meditation teacher and founder of The Perth Meditation Centre, claims to have received around a quarter of his 15,000-plus clients as referrals from the medical profession. In his book ‘How Meditation Heals the Body and Mind’ (1999, Perth Meditation Center), Harrison claims that an even wider array of ailments can be managed with meditation. He suggests that by initiating the popularly cited ‘Relaxation Response’, the body is able to ward off or effectively slow and manage the effects of not just high blood pressure, but insomnia, fatigue, headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, infertility, sexual problems, and anxiety attacks.
Another respected Australian meditation teacher, Dr Ian Gawler, who used meditation to defeat a diagnosed terminal cancer, also cites the Relaxation Response as being a powerful tool for self-healing (we’ll look at exactly what the Relaxation Response is later in these articles). His work promoting meditation as therapy for cancer and other illnesses earned him an Order of Australia Medal. In his book ‘Peace of Mind’ (1987, Hill of Content) he says that meditation “rapidly and reliably brings immediate physical and psychological benefits.”
Stress – The Dark Side of Our Connectivity Culture
Modern humans are, in the majority, perpetually stressed out. An article on depression in the Medical Journal Australia** recently cited that stress levels “…among people living a Western lifestyle have risen by approximately 45% over the past 30 years.”
Practitioners of meditation believe this springs from the average person’s inability to disconnect from the stress of past events or perceived future threats. Whilst walking down the street, a person may not be doing anything stressful in that moment but may nonetheless be highly agitated due to the tendency of the mind to constantly mull over past or future problems. This occurs even though none of these problems may have anything to do with walking down the street.
In short – we are a society of perpetual ‘worry warts’, and many people fail to recognize this as fact, or indeed simply lack the skills to do anything about it. Even those who would not be described as ‘highly agitated’ or ‘chronically stressed’ are often still afflicted by a subtle level of tension which inhibits the mind from switching back into the Relaxation Response.
Our modern culture of 24-hour connectivity has made this even worse. Even low-tech hippies like me still compulsively check work emails “just quickly” before dinner and get interrupted on weekends by work related calls. This might be part-and-parcel of an interesting and otherwise rewarding career, but nevertheless it takes its toll on our ability to deeply relax. If you are always contactable, then you are never really “switched-off”, and yet, as you will see in my next two articles, this is a vital requirement in the quest for good health.
In the second post in this three-part series we will look at what the Relaxation Response is, how your body reacts to stress and why it’s bad for you.
Seamus Anthony is a musician, writer and entrepreneur who lives in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne, Australia. You can check out more of his personal development writing at http://rebelzen.com