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Mind & Body

Should you be meditating?

Could the benefits of meditation include easing ailments like stomach problems and asthma? MADELEINE SPENCER finds out

Beauty

The benefits of meditation (on the mind and body) have been explored – and perhaps misunderstood – for centuries. The ancient practice has long been lauded as a long-term fix for stress, panic attacks and myriad physical gripes. But, until recently, the connection between meditation and its physiological benefits has been hard to explain. Now, new studies are providing the proof and understanding we need.

At the core of this research into meditation’s physical effects lies the relationship between stress and inflammation. “Stress is an inflammatory trigger,” explains Jillian Lavender, Vedic meditation teacher and co-founder of the London Meditation Centre and New York Meditation Centers. “In turn, inflammation burdens the cells in our body and contributes to all manner of chronic conditions like arthritis, asthma and ulcers.”

Inflammation is our body’s first line of defense against illness and injuries, and is really useful when active for short periods of time. However, problems begin to arise when inflammation remains in the ‘on’ position for too long and can ultimately contribute to disease and various physical ailments.

But good news comes from researchers at the Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab at Coventry University in the UK: their wide-ranging review of 18 trials including 846 participants found that genes related to inflammation became less active in people practicing mindfulness.

When meditating, the body is unburdened of tension, stress chemicals cease to be produced, serotonin is released, and the fight or flight cycle is broken

Further research out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, has also delivered promising results. The study published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry showed that mindfulness meditation training reduced blood levels of Interleukin-6, an inflammatory biomarker, in people suffering stress.

While there is much more research to be done to prove a direct link between meditation and physical health benefits, what has been uncovered so far is really promising and certainly points towards meditation as one tool in the arsenal against stress related illness and ailments.

“When meditating, the body is unburdened of tension as a result of oxygen consumption and a lower heart rate,” says Lavender. “Stress chemicals cease to be produced, serotonin is released, and the fight or flight cycle (wherein the body stops digesting food and dumps acid in the stomach) is broken.”

Experts suggest meditating twice for 20 minutes to bookend your day. If you’re a novice, try one of the many great meditation apps available on iOS and Android such as Headspace (headspace.com), which was created by former Buddhist Monk Andy Puddicombe. Time to get your om on…

SOOTHE YOUR SOUL

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