In recent years, doctors have been particularly interested in what Meditation can achieve. The results are impressive…
Have you ever meditated? Maybe not, it’s just an exotic thing for monks, yogis, and esoteric? Oh, come on, that’s not old school thought now. Because meanwhile, there are not only thousands of years old meditation procedures, which above all serve the search for sense and self-knowledge. Some are practised primarily for the sake of health. And these are gaining more and more acceptance. “In the USA, meditation is already offered at schools,” says Dr Ulrich Ott from the University of Giessen, who is investigating the effect of Meditation on the brain more closely. In America, it has long been part of everyday life: “Managers do it in the same way as housewives and students.
The fact that so many people meditate today is due, among other things, to the American professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn. In the late 1970s, he freed Meditation from the esoteric image of incense sticks and developed a strictly standardized 8-week meditation program for stress reduction.
The effects of the so-called mindfulness training have now been thoroughly investigated and found to be suitable by researchers. “In the last ten years more scientific work on the topic appeared than in the entire 40 years before, says Ott. in these five situations Meditation proved to be extremely useful:
Meditation can relieve pain
Jon Kabat-Zinn had pain patients in mind when he developed MBSR. Not those who occasionally take a tablet. “These were hopeless cases, chronic pain patients in whom even strong drugs were no longer sufficient,” says Ott. Because pain also triggers stress, and in people who can deal with it differently thanks to Meditation, the pain has been proven to subside. What works for the completely sick also works for the less ill: “Everyone who has pain benefits from it,” explains Ott. Meditation is particularly useful for joint and back problems: According to a study by Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, patients with chronic arthritis not only experience significantly less pain and are noticeably more mobile after the 8-week course, but their overall quality of life is also better. Another study was devoted to patients with back pain who had already undergone surgery: thanks to MBSR, they needed fewer painkillers than the control group and were significantly more mobile. Jon Kabat-Zinn had pain patients in mind when he developed MBSR. Not those who occasionally take a tablet. “These were hopeless cases, chronic pain patients in whom even strong drugs were no longer sufficient,” says Ott. Because pain also triggers stress, and in people who can deal with it differently thanks to Meditation, the pain has been proven to subside. What works for the completely sick also works for the less ill: “Everyone who has pain benefits from it,” explains Ott. Meditation is particularly useful for joint and back problems: According to a study by Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, patients with chronic arthritis not only experience significantly less pain and are noticeably more mobile after the 8-week course, but their overall quality of life is also better. Another study was devoted to patients with back pain who had already undergone surgery: thanks to MBSR, they needed fewer painkillers than the control group and were significantly more mobile.
Meditation helps against stress
The blood pressure rises, the heartbeats and the hands become damp: tension arises when it is not possible to build a distance between oneself and the demands of everyday life. And this is precisely where Meditation and the MBSR training (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn come in. A course with weekly meetings includes guided meditations, yoga sequences, and exercises that are done every day at home.
Also, it is significant to be mindful of everyday things, such as chewing, tasting or smelling. The whole thing is a kind of counter-project to the multitasking that the hectic daily routine so often demands of us. Meditation aims to learn to bring attention back to the present moment again and again.
Body sensations, thoughts, feelings that you perceive in the process are not evaluated but simply accepted by meeting them with interested attention. Only when you are aware of your thoughts and feelings (i.e. attentive) can you distance yourself from them. Once you realize that it is just a thought, you will quickly realize how relaxing it is and how much less disturbing it is to you. In this way, you can cope better with the hectic daily routine and stressful situations.
This effect has now been well documented, for example in a study by the University of Bologna: According to it, MBSR can reduce stress just as much as standard relaxation methods (such as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation). An additional benefit: the meditation participants were not only more relaxed but also less anxious and brooding than the control group.
Meditation helps deals with Routine Problems
Meditation helps with sleep problems
Those who are less stressed also sleep better – so far, so obvious. A study by the University of Minnesota shows just how much. According to the study, the MBSR course is just as effective against insomnia as taking a sleeping pill every night for eight weeks. And that’s not all: MBSR also includes the so-called Body scan, a meditation in which the body is systematically felt from head to toe. The sensations in each area are explored without wanting to change them. Although the actual purpose of the body scan is to train mindfulness, it helps you to fall asleep very well. After about 20 minutes there is usually a profound relaxation reaction in which all physical processes controlled by the autonomic nervous system calm down: Blood pressure drops, muscles relax, heart and respiratory rhythms become more harmonious and calmer. The Body scan can, therefore, be used as a sleeping aid, even if you do not meditate regularly during the day.
Meditation can also help with eating disorders
As early as the late 1990s, US psychologist Jean Kristeller from Indiana State University published the first results of her MB-EAT (Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training) program, which she had tested on patients who consumed uncontrolled amounts of food. With great success: Within only seven weeks, during which the patients met once a week for Meditation, lectures, and exercises, the number of eating attacks was reduced from 4 to 1.5 per week.
That mindfulness training helps with eating problems is obvious: On the one hand, it directs the concentration on the food itself. For those who chew thoroughly and consciously perceive how a diet feels and tastes will get a feeling of satiety more easily. On the other hand, mindfulness meditation also helps to understand one’s feelings and needs better. And if this succeeds, less frustration has to be compensated by eating (or not eating). An Australian study last year made it clear that even anorexic people benefit comparably from Meditation: Their desire to be thin was significantly reduced by 10-week mindfulness training.
Meditation is effective against depression and anxiety
We can only recommend MBSR to all those who have ever experienced depression or want to release and overcome fears through Meditation. Possibly also MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), a program introduced at the beginning of the new millennium that was developed for former depressives. The problem is that they often relapse – and MBCT can prevent this.
In addition to mindfulness training, the so-called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy provides information on the subject of depression and contains exercises from behavioural therapy. The idea is that the patients recognize their depression-promoting thoughts, fears and behaviour patterns, observe and accept them without fear and evaluation. Sounds banal, but works reliably: According to studies, the risk of relapse is reduced by half in people with three or more depressive episodes. And that should convince even the last doubters.
Now, off to the meditation pillow!
Regular Meditation is worthwhile for just about everyone. But one thing is for sure: As soon as you try to sit very still for the first time and just concentrate on your breath, you will notice how many thoughts go through your head and how difficult it is to leave out the to-do list, the conversation with your girlfriend and the trouble at work.
During a 30-minute meditation, for example, it is perfectly normal in the beginning that you have to consciously return to your breath more than 100 times because your thoughts have wandered away again. Don’t get discouraged; it’s all a question of practice. The longer you meditate, the more probably you are to be rewarded with a unique, very beneficial state of being: public, wide-awake awareness and most profound relaxation are possible at the same time.