Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The mind-body benefits of meditation

Although the earliest scientific studies of meditation date back to the 1930s and 1940s, research into the psychophysiological effects of meditation took off in the 1970s, fueled by a burgeoning interest in Transcendental Meditation ™, Zen, and other Eastern meditation techniques. Since then, more than 1,000 studies have been published in English. In the book The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (first published in 1988 and revised and updated in 1997), Michael Murphy and coauthor Steven Donovan sifted through these studies and synthesized the data.

Murphy, author of the best-seller Golf in the Kingdom, has pioneered the exploration of human potential since he co-founded Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1962. (Esalen is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the human potential movement.) Donovan, former president and CEO of Esalen, directed the Institute’s Study of Exceptional Functioning. Based on the results of the studies they surveyed, Murphy and Donovan came up with the following mind-body benefits of meditation.

Physiological benefits:
  • Decreased heart rate during quiet meditation
  • Lower blood pressure in normal and moderately hypertensive individuals
  • Quicker recovery from stress
  • Increase in alpha rhythms (slow, high-amplitude brain waves that correlate with relaxation)
  • Enhanced synchronization (that is, simultaneous operation) of the right and left hemispheres of the brain (which positively correlates with creativity)
  • Reduced cholesterol levels
  • Decreased consumption of energy and need for oxygen
  • Deeper, slower breathing
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Reduction in the intensity of pain
Psychological benefits:
  • More happiness and peace of mind
  • Less emotional reactivity; fewer intense negative emotions and dramatic mood swings
  • Increased empathy
  • Enhanced creativity and self-actualization
  • Heightened perceptual clarity and sensitivity
  • Reductions in both acute and chronic anxiety
  • Complement to psychotherapy and other approaches in the treatment of addiction

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