Meditation helps reduce stress, which is a normal part of life that helps the body protect itself from danger. A physical threat causes our body to release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to provide us with the strength for fight or flight. Throughout history stress enabled people to run from an attack to stand up to an attacker. The difficulty stress poses in modern times that while we are seldom in physical danger from wild animals, even in minor situations are perceived as mortal threats. We become stressed by events in life that we feel as earth shattering. For example, when our baby cries, we are concerned over what is wrong with him or her. If our child gets bad grade, we worry how he or she is going to get into college. When we bring our car into a repair shop, we worry. Multi-tasking stresses us. The result is that cortisol levels flowing through our body are elevated. Cortisol might have a short-tem benefit, protecting us from true physical danger, but when everything is perceived by our mind and body as a danger, we respond by releasing higher levels of cortisol than we need. Besides its benefits, there are dangerous side effects even when cortisone is prescribed as medicine. For example, cortisone can cause breakdown of body tissue resulting in weakened bones and muscle tears. Thus, increased level of cortisol and adrenaline take their toll on the body.
Medical researchers have linked certain illness to our state of mind and emotional condition. When we undergo mental stress, emotional pain, or depression, our physical resistance to disease drops. We become more susceptible to contracting a disease because our ability to keep our immune system in top working order decreases. Science has pinpointed heart disease, digestive problems, circulation and breathing problems, and migraine headaches to be sometimes stress-related.
Spending regular, accurate time in meditation has been shown to reduce stress. One meditation study, by Dr. John L. Craven published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, states: “Controlled studies have found consistent reductions in anxiety in meditators...Several stress-related conditions have demonstrated improvement during clinical trials of meditation including: hypertension, insomnia, asthma, chronic pain, cardiac tachyarrhythmias, phobic anxiety.” (Craven, Dr. John L., “Meditation and Psychotheraphy,” Canadian Journal of psychiatry, pp.648-53).
In another study, Dr.Ilan Kutz states: “As the ability to meditate develops, a hierarchy of sensation develops, ranging from deep relaxation to marked emotional and cognitive alterations..Many of these peripheral changes are compatible with decreased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system..The peripheral physiological changes have proven to be of value as a primary or adjunctive treatment for variety of medical disorders such as hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, as well as in relieving anxiety states and pain.” (Kutz, MD, Ilan, et al., “Meditation and Psychotheraphy,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 142, pp. 1-8).
Meditation is a way to eliminate the lack of balance caused by mental stresses. Through it, we create a calm haven and restore our equilibrium. Researchers have recorded brain activity in people. They found that our brain waves measure from 13-20 Hz when we are involved with stressful situations at work, driving in traffic, or in a flight-or-fight mode. Those who spend time in meditation register brain waves at 5-8 Hz, a state of deep relaxation. Their mind becomes calm, which in turn, calms the body. If we could spend some time each day in meditation, we can reduce our stress levels.
Besides reducing stress during meditation, there is a carryover effect. We can have more inner peace of mind. As we perfect our medications, we can maintain a calm state of mind in the midst of turmoil and strife. We can have control of our reactions and maintain an even keel.
In hospitals around the world, doctors suggest meditation to their patients both before and after surgery to improve their healing. With illnesses, there is pain, discomfort, and worry. When patients meditate, they can reduce the cortisol levels and aid in their recovery process. Man medical centers and hospitals routinely offer classes in meditation.
By becoming absorbed within, we can divert our attention away from the effects of illness. We come in contact with a stream of bliss and joy that makes our attention away from our pains. We enter a refuge of bliss and peace, safe from the ravages of physical pain. Mediation helps us rise above discomfort. It lifts our attention to a higher level of consciousness so that we are calm and peaceful.