Most of the world's major religions are onto it, and now science is catching up by working out how to apply the "om" factor to specific health conditions, Jennifer Pinkerton and Siobhan Jordan write.
Most people are aware of the impressive list of pluses associated with meditating. According to the Victorian Department of Health's Better Health Channel website, it's been shown to:
- help manage life's stresses;
- give your emotional life a lift;
- sharpen your mind;
- help to keep your heart healthy ;
- assist with migraines, insomnia, chronic pain; and
- aid recovery from serious illness.
The pool of benefits, however, is on the increase thanks to the attention it's gaining from the world of science.
Anti-ageing for the mind
Meditation may help to reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal ageing. Activation of neural structures involved in attention, control of the autonomic nervous system and an alteration in the brain's response to pain, have all been observed in research, including studies published in the journal Neuroreport in recent years.
A three-year study of anxiety disorders published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry in 1995, found meditation to have a long-term beneficial effect in the treatment of poor mood.
Meditation has demonstrated a number of benefits to those living with cancer. In those with prostate and breast cancer, research led by Dr LE Carlson, and published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, noted improvements in quality of life, a reduction in stress and improvements in mood and fatigue.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Research led by Laurie Keefer and published in Behaviour Research and Therapy reported that after three months of meditation practice, improvements were noted in IBS symptoms including flatulence, belching, diarrhoea and bloating.
Which style is right for you?
Although some types of meditation have been more extensively studied than others, health-wise there is no evidence to suggest that one is better than the other. The best approach is to try different styles of meditation and choose the one that works best for you.
Considerations include guided meditation, body scan meditation, transcendental meditation and meditations which involve movement such as qi gong or tai chi. Regular, preferably daily practise will provide the most benefit to your health.