Meditation has received a lot of press in recent years, particularly as it relates to managing stress. In fact, many studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between meditation and overall health--and the results have been promising.
What is meditation? According to the National Centers for Complimentary and Integrative Health, meditation is “a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior.”
But meditation is more than just sitting cross-legged on the floor. There are many different ways you can meditate. Some forms of meditation include moving meditation like exercise, Tai Chi and Qigong and yoga, while other forms may be stationary like quiet breathing, seated reflection, listening to music, listening to a guided meditation or even participating in massage therapy.
What are the documented benefits of meditation? Meditation has been shown to have a variety of different health benefits for many different populations. Much of the existing research on meditation examines the relationship between meditation and stress on disease development and progression.
Meditation and Stress: Individuals who meditate regularly may experience decreased stress levels and improved stress management. Stress can be a good thing—it’s our body’s fight or flight response and its purpose is to help us survive. But, instead of fighting off a bear like our ancestors, we are faced with different stressors, like our jobs or financial worries that may seem like a bear to overcome.
Consistent levels of high stress can negatively impact our heart and vasculature, increasing risk of heart attack and stroke. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic levels of high stress may also contribute to the development of depression if a person isn’t able to effectively cope with stress.
Some studies have associated chronic stress with increased risk of cancer metastasis. Chronic stress can increase the expression of certain hormones that may be detrimental to the tumor micro-environment and promote tumor growth.
Meditation has been found to mitigate stress response and increase one’s ability to cope with stress. (This may be why meditation has been recommended for cancer survivors, though more research must be done to examine the role of meditation in relation to tumor growth.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, while a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it's not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.
With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
How can I meditate? Again there are many different forms of meditation—what works for one person might not work for another, so it is up to you to investigate what’s best for you.
At Burke we offer many programs suitable for those looking to become involved in a mind-body practice. Through our community wellness department we strive to offer different classes and services such as Tai Chi and yoga.
In our newest program, we combine two stress-relievers: massage and meditation. The Meditative Massage program incorporates a gentle, slow-flowing massage with guided imagery and positive affirmations. It can be a great way for beginners to learn a little bit more about meditation, while also receiving a relaxing massage.
For more information on meditation and these services visit our Adult Fitness Center on our main campus in White Plains or call 914-597-2805.
- Meditation: In Depth. .https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm. Accessed January 2016
- Grossman P, Niemann L, Schmidt S et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Volume 57 issue 1 July 2004 pages 35-43.
- Chronic stress cause depression? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/expert-answers/stress/faq-20058233 . Accessed January 2016.
- Moreno-Smith M, Lutgendorf SK, Sood AK. Impact of stress on cancer metastasis. Future Oncol [Internet]. 2010 Dec [cited 2016 Jan 25];6(12):1863–81. Available from:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037818/
--Kathleen Edsall M.S., CSCS, CET, Director of Community Wellness at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital