Transcendental meditation was introduced in the United States in the 1960s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. People began to hear reports of Indian yogis who could alter their states of consciousness and control bodily functions by using this technique. It wasn't long before Western researchers, doctors, and the general public began to explore the potential health benefits of the ancient practice. It received more attention when Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard physician, wrote The Relaxation Response in 1975. The book described how this practice could help in the treatment of high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, and other ailments.
There are several different techniques one can use, but they all have similar effects on the body. Studies have shown that this practice lowers levels of stress hormones, and keeping stress levels low supports a healthier functioning of the immune system. It has also been found to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood by decreasing the level of epinephrine, a stress hormone.
Brain research conducted while people meditate has shown that it increases the frequency of alpha waves to levels not seen even while sleeping. Studies have also found that people who meditate have improved blood circulation, which protects the arteries, and lowered blood levels of lactic acid, a chemical that is associated with anxiety. Heart rate and breathing slows, thereby placing less demand on the heart, and allowing the body to use less oxygen.
A 1998 study published on Psychosomatic Medicine showed that people who meditated regularly, had lowered levels of lipid peroxide, an enzyme that can contribute to atherosclerosis and other chronic diseases associated with aging. Another study published in 1999 in the same journal showed that blood pressure was lower immediately after meditating.
In 1998, a study published in Alternative Therapies included this act as part of a program that helped to decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by muscle pain, fatigue, and depression. According to a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1998, Psoriasis patients who listened to a meditation tape during their ultraviolet light therapy, experienced faster healing than those who participated only in the light therapy.
Researchers have also found that this method produced a significantly larger reduction in tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use than either standard substance abuse treatments or prevention programs. This technique has been attributed to reduced cigarette use, due to the fact that it promotes a balanced state of functioning in which potentially harmful behavior can be avoided, without strain or effort. It has been about twice as effective as traditional smoking cessation programs.
Insomniacs who practiced this art found that the time it took for them to fall asleep was greatly reduced. Insomnia generally occurs due to tension and stress, and meditation techniques relieve stress from the nervous system on a deep physiological level. This process could be a preferred treatment for insomnia, because it is easy to perform, takes effect immediately, results are consistent over time, and there are no unfavorable side effects.
In addition to specific health benefits, meditation has been associated with reduced health-care costs, fewer hospitalizations, a longer life span, and a better quality of life. It is a simple and effective treatment for numerous physical and psychological ailments, and it can be easily incorporated into anyone's schedule, so everyone should try it. It doesn't cost a penny, but the benefits are priceless.