Optimal physical health is associated with a natural and harmonious lifestyle. Accordingly, it can serve as an excellent litmus test against which overall human functioning can be observed. Health affords a visible manifestation of the more inscrutable human experiences associated with the practice of meditation – such as perceived fulfillment, serenity and balance.
The endorsement of meditation as part of the health care prevention and intervention arsenal has followed in the wake of early research conducted on the work of Herbert Bensen, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Hypertension Section of Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. Bensen brought widespread public attention to the link between heart disease and stress, and developed a popular meditation method for reducing stress known as “The Relaxation Response.”
Since then, researchers have uncovered associations between meditation and lower blood pressure, pulse rate, and levels of stress hormones in the blood.
A placebo controlled, randomized study of cardiac patients carried out by J.A. Blumenthal and colleagues, and published in 1997 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, linked the practice of stress reduction techniques to a 75% reduction in recidivism. Moreover, compelling research conducted by Dean Ornish MD, and colleagues showed that 82% of participants who practiced meditation [as one component of an intervention package] experienced reduced arterial blockage and freer arterial blood flow, in comparison with their peers who did not meditate. In fact, for the latter group, the arterial condition worsened over the course of the study.
Also in the Ornish study, incidences of angina (chest pain) were reduced by 91 percent in the meditation group, and the non-meditation group (which was prescribed standard care in heart disease), experienced considerably more physical pain. This research team also found that the more closely participants integrated the meditation/intervention program into their lives, the more completely their arteries cleared. Because unobstructed blood flow is necessary for a healthy heart, these findings, which were published in JAMA, merit enthusiastic reception.
Psychoneuroimmunological research has clearly demonstrated that higher stress levels are connected with poorer auto-immune system functioning, and vice versa. And, while research is not conclusive, in its ability to demonstrate a causal link between meditation and reduced stress, it does strongly suggest that study participants who integrate meditation into their lives tend to experience both reduced stress levels and improved physical health.
Of particular interest to the value of Osho Active Meditations, which include powerful expressive components, are studies such as the one conducted by Annette L.Stanton and her colleagues from the University of Kansas. These researchers – who published their findings in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2000) – found that, for breast cancer patients, active processing and expression of emotion led to enhanced adjustment and superior heath status over the course of three months. They also found a greater tendency to express emotion (of all varieties) was associated with more vigor, fewer medical appointments for cancer-related morbidities, better overall health, and decreased distress.
Stronger auto-immune system functioning maximizes the body’s ability to protect itself, for example, against carcinoma, and facilitates speedier recovery from various health conditions and problems.
A team of researchers from the Ontario Cancer Institute, Princess Margaret Hospital, in a recent issue of Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, demonstrated a life-prolonging effect of combined meditation approaches in metastic carcinoma patients. Additionally, researches Schrock, Palmer and Taylor, connected various meditation approaches to increased survival time in persons with breast and prostate cancer in rural Pennsylvania. The latter findings were published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (1999).
Research carried out at the Arizona State University Institute for Studies in the Arts explored the immunological effects of emotional expression amongst method actors. Assuming that good actors actually experience the emotions of the characters they portray, Nicholas Hall – a neuroscientist of the University of South Florida – designed the study, which explicitly investigated the hypothesized link between health and emotional expression. Researchers concluded that actors’ immunological functioning was enhanced as a direct result of their willingness to dramatically express feelings such as rage, anguish, and others.
Better surgical outcome has also been linked to meditation. For example, researcher Holden-Lund determined that participants who meditated had decreased evidence of erythema (infection) at the surgical wound site subsequent to surgery, in contrast with those in the non-mediation study control group (Journal of Gerontological Nursing). Miller and Perry published findings connecting meditation with lower levels of post-operative pain (Heart and Lung 1990).
In addition, Elvira Lang MD, of the Department of Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical enter/Harvard Medical School, in a study co-founded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Office for Alternative Medicine (Lancet 2000), connected various meditation approaches to decreased pain, decreased consumption of pain medication and shorter surgical procedure times amongst 241 patients who were undergoing invasive balloon angioplasties.
The range of meditation practice techniques utilized in research studies has been quite diverse, yet the general findings in terms of health care outcome status are more consistently positive than we would expect to find by chance alone.
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