Even if you were to count solely on a review of published, peer-reviewed and empirical studies that assessed psychological outcomes of meditation on decision making, mindfulness, loving-kindness, healing of the physical body, and compassion, completely ignoring thousands of years of wisdom offered by saints and sages who have practiced all forms of meditation from insight meditation to Zen or Vipassana, you would uncover so many benefits, even your monkey mind would be taken aback.
Though meditation can be used for many things, I often find that the physical body ‘speaks’ to many ailments, including those of a busy mind, and a broken heart. That is why, when I teach meditation workshops, I focus on the healing aspect of this practice.
It doesn’t matter if you are just beginning a meditation practice, you have several years of practice under your belt, or you are an advanced practitioner, meditation always reveals new levels of the Self that need healing.
If you have a chronic illness, including cancer, an autoimmune disorder, diabetes, heart disease, depression, or even if you simply find that you get sick often, and have a difficult time recovering as fast as you used to, then a deeper exploration of meditation may be right for you.
Here’s how meditation can help to heal chronic illness:
- Calm the mind – Paramahansa Yogananda, the same yogi who taught the Beatles how to sit and be with their thoughts once said, “The purpose of meditation is to calm the mind, that without distortion it may mirror Omnipresence.” That’s a tall order for many of us to imagine achieving, but when we calm the mind, a whole host of secondary physical and emotional outcomes transpires. For example:
- Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which then healthfully slows down heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, while soothing all other sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” functions. In many traditions of healing, stress is considered the foremost cause of disease. By turning off or at least turning down this fight or flight response, the body can switch into healing mode.
- Meditation enhances our breathing which fuels the qi or life force. As we improve our oxygen uptake, more nutrients flow through our blood. When we are stressed and anxious, the blood’s level of toxicity increases, causing more health concerns.
- Meditation causes more brain plasticity which favors states of calm, uplift, and joy. Even 30 minutes of meditation a day have been charted on brain scanners to show changes in how the brain thinks when you aren’t meditating.
- Additionally, there are four noted changes in the brain that happen when you meditate, the contribute to a calm mind.
- There is an increase in grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex. This area is associated with being able to better mitigate conflict.
- There is more grey matter in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, linked with problem solving and emotion regulation.
- An increase in the size of the hippocampus is observed, an area of the brain known to help with learning and memory, and that seems to be very sensitive to stressful emotions.
- The amygdala, the brain center associated with the fight or flight response, or anxiety and fear, decreases in size.
- Purify emotions – Meditation has attracted wide attention from both psychologists and neuroscientists over the past two decades due to a growing appreciation for its ability to affect cognition, emotion, and decision making. This includes being able to help us deal with stressful emotions –even when those emotions include being anxious about being sick! When we practice non-judgmental attention to the present moment, we can learn to regulate our emotions – often even more effectively than if we go to a psychologist’s offices for months or years. Meditation removes automatic self-doubt, critical thinking, and intolerance of both ourselves and others, so that our energy can be spent on healing.
- Focus/activate healing – Meditation helps to activate full-brain thinking. Often we are heavily influenced by the Left brain, which some have described as parasitic, on the right brain – the more creative, intuitive, and healing side of the brain. By meditating, we allow the right brain and left brain to become balanced so that we can think with insight and inspiration, and not just egoic force. This type of focus greatly reduces stress and allows healing to more easily occur.
There are also indications that meditation helps to change even how our cells respond. Scientists are still trying to understand the nuances of mindfulness and how it helps to heal the body, even at the level of our DNA, but researcher Bruce Lipton has done a great deal of work to discuss how changes in our thoughts and attitudes can change our physiologies. Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have supported his findings in their own studies.
- Strengthen the para-sympathetic nervous system – We were designed to spend most of our time in the para-sympathetic nervous system, but with our modern lifestyles, we are often entrenched in the sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight mode. With the strengthening of the para-sympathetic nervous system, we start to produce fewer stress hormones like Cortisol and Adrenaline. Our muscular, nervous, cardiovascular and hormonal systems are all ‘reset,’ as well so that healing can happen naturally, from the body’s innate intelligence.
- Strengthen the immune system – Our immune systems get a great boost when we are relaxed and happy. Five very specific things happen to our immune systems when we meditate:
- inflammatory proteins are lowered (these are called cytokines, and when they are on over-drive they can cause a host of diseases based in chronic inflammation
- cellular transcription factors and gene expression are enhanced toward health
- our immune cells are strengthened, and we grow more of them
- our immune cells don’t age as fast
- more antibodies are released to fight infection and disease
If you are considering using mindfulness to help heal chronic disease, there is ample scientific evidence, along with ancient wisdom to prove that your endeavors will be richly rewarded with greater health.
Sign up for the Healing Meditation class with Mika Ichihara today.
Mika Ichihara is an integrative master practitioner, master teacher, and the founder/owner of Love & Compassion Integrative Healing Center located in Manhattan, NY. Her Center offers unique quality holistic care and total body – mind medicine. Built on her 18 years of experience, she developed integrative programs that incorporate Eastern Medicine/Japanese-style acupuncture, Reiki Energy – Soul Healing, and Conscious Medicine for for physical, emotional and spiritual issues, self-awareness and life style changes for transformation. For more information on her practice and the Center, please visit www.loveandcompassion.com.
This article “5 Astounding Healing Benefits of Meditation to Inspire Your Practice” was originally created and published by LoveandCompassion.com under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Mika Ichihara, M.S., L.Ac., LL.M., B.Phar., Founder Owner and Grand Master in Eastern Medicine and Energy Soul Medicine. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio.