More on Meditation for Health

It was only last week that I wrote on meditation for health, but I just came across a great article on the topic posted on MIT’s website. My previous post talked about the mental and physical benefits of practicing meditation. The article I found is about MIT and Harvard neuroscientists studying the human brain in order to figure out exactly why meditation helps tune out distractions and relieves pain.

The MIT and Harvard scientists discussed in the previously mentioned article were motivated by studies showing that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in those who suffer from chronic pain. The underlying biological processes that produced relief were not clear, so these scientists decided to try and uncover the biological mystery at hand.

The study of these MIT and Harvard neuroscientists was published online on April 21 of 2011. It was published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin. A link to the abstract and outline can be found by clicking the following link: Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex.

The basic finding of this study, which followed people over an 8 week period who were trained to meditate, found that these people were better able to control a specific type of brain wave called alpha rhythms.

But so what—what does this mean to us laypeople. The alpha waves help us suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information. The meditation training makes you better at focusing and therefore, regulating how things will arise and affect you. In other words, those that meditate have more mind control.

This study was small. There were 12 people recruited who had never before meditated. Half were in the control group that did no meditating. The other half were trained in a 2 ½ hour session and then instructed to meditate every day for 45 minutes. They used guided meditations played on CDs for their daily sessions.

Something that I failed to mention in my previous meditation article was the availability and value of guided meditation CDs and such. These are great tools for all levels of practice. They are especially great for beginning meditation practitioners as they take away part of the worry and stress of “how do I do this”.

In case you had not guessed, the researchers did brain scans of the subjects. The scans were performed before the study began, three weeks after the start date, and at the end of the 8 week study period. One researcher was quoted as saying that practicing meditation helps people to turn down the volume on pain signals. This is a great way to think about what is biologically happening.

In closing, the study group that meditated reported feeling less stress that the non-meditating group. This is a little proof that meditation allows you to handle the stresses of daily life better. The researchers that conducted the study want to follow-up by studying patients who actually suffer from chronic pain and cancer patients. Both of these groups have been shown to benefit from meditation. It will be interesting to hear about the underlying biological processes uncovered by the MIT and Harvard researchers.