“Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Be aware of yourself from within. Stay in the present. Don’t drift in the past or in the future. Bring your attention to now.”
Those are only some of the words that people use to lead their meditation classes, in particular, mindfulness meditation. Simple, yet powerful. Thousands have attested to the healing benefits of meditating, be it physical, mental or emotional healing. While the practice of meditation originated from the Buddhists in their quest for inner peace and balance, a large population of North Americans has been utilizing meditation for stress and pain relief. But how do these meditations work? How do mantras heal the mind, body and soul? Let us discuss the reasons here.
The Mechanism of Meditation
Simply put, meditation is the practice of contemplating, placing yourself in deep thoughts in order to achieve focus and peace of mind. It is transforming the mind into thinking positively.
So much research and trials have been performed to determine if the effects of meditation on pain and stress relief are only a placebo or something that is not real. After much doubt and speculation, a study done by experts on Buddhist monks themselves confirmed the validity of meditation and its ability to achieve inner peace, combat stress and relieve us from various types of pain.
The clinical trial was done on Buddhist monks while they were meditating. They attached state-of-the-art tools on the brains of these monks to monitor their brain waves, particularly the gamma waves, which are associated with functions such as attention and short-term memory. The outcomes proved that Buddhist monks, who spent years meditating, had shown increased plasticity of their brains more than normal individuals who didn’t practice meditation. This means that their brains were more adaptable and more resilient to change.
Physically, their brains also presented with an increased amount of gray matter, proving that meditation indeed improves cognitive processes, such as attention. In other studies, it was also discovered that meditation exercises increased the activity of the anterior Cingulate cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive control. This finding has led experts to believe that this is how meditation helps reduce stress and cure anxiety. Some medical practitioners and therapists have used meditation in conjunction with their medical treatments to help their cancer patients overcome their depression.
As with chronic pain, it was discovered through various studies that regular mental training such as mindfulness meditation pacifies the pain center by interfering with the circuits that signal pain receptors to the brain. There was an overwhelming 40% decrease in pain felt by those who practiced meditation compared to those who did not. Additionally, meditation relaxes the sympathetic system, which was responsible for fight and flight responses. There was a considerable reduction of pain and stress levels when sympathetic nerves were relaxed.
Through the years, meditation has proven itself worthy of being included in the rehabilitation of patients with debilitating diseases. It has helped individuals with mental disorders reduce their stress and anxiety levels. And overall, it has given us the opportunity to take control of our lives in a more natural way.