You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating. Meditation is one of the simplest and effective ways to treat pain, and the stress, depression, and anxiety that comes with it. And, meditation works. Here’s what the research says about the benefits of meditation.
Easing pain and stress with mindfulness meditation
Meditation. This word often conjures images of a solitary figure on a mountain top. Sometimes there are robes involved. There is always a smile on the face and a peaceful air of calm about the person meditating. Throughout the history of the world, sages have taught that simply sitting and clearing the mind is the way to calm, peace, and well-being. The western world tends to be more skeptical. Lately, though, science is obliging our need for proof. Meditation is effective when it comes to stress, creativity, focus, and even healing the physical body.
When I have time, I meditate for ten minutes. When I don’t have time, I meditate for an hour. ~Zen proverb~
Slow the breath. Focus, with intention, on each inhalation. Give equal focus to each exhalation and direct your gaze to a point between your eyes, or in the middle of your chest, to your heart center. Count each inhalation, pausing at the top of each breath, then exhale slowly for slightly longer than your inhalation. Stay in the moment of the breath, even if your mind wanders. Bring it back to focus on the breath, without judgment.
This is mindfulness meditation, and there is increasing evidence that it can ease many medical conditions. Daily mindfulness meditation can decrease stress, change the way the brain responds to pain, lower depression in adults and teens, help with weight loss, and even help teens who are battling cancer.
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is. ~Sylvia Boorstein~
What is mindful meditation?
Not just any meditation has these dramatic effects. There are different types of meditation, with only certain types proven effective in valid research studies. Mindful meditation is one of the most effective. It is the practice of raising your own awareness of a situation and remaining non-judgmental. It focuses on acceptance and problem-solving when conditions are less than ideal. The practice itself is very simple: stop and pay very close attention to your breath. Slow down, and feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Your mind will race, and that is okay. Try to keep bringing your attention back to the breath. If thoughts arise, let them come and go, and keep returning to the space between each thought.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is not complex, but the execution is difficult. Daily life and worries interfere constantly with the quest for a quiet mind. It can be hard to stop for even ten minutes a day to just sit and breath.
What does science say about meditation?
There are five different types of meditation recognized by scientific researchers: mindfulness meditation, yoga, T’ai chi, Qigong, and mantra meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the type that is studied most often, but an analysis of studies done on each type reveals significant flaws in research methodology, which are problematic.
Of the over 3,000 studies located in a research database, only 4% of them had randomized control trials (RCTs) which helped eliminate the placebo effect. This means that any positive effects in those studies may have simply been psychological. The participants may hav