The Medicine of Meditation
A lot has been written in recent years about the medical benefits of meditation, which has been shown to lower stress levels, help with weight loss, and alleviate conditions like high blood pressure and chronic pain. But what you’ve read in magazines may just be the tip of the iceberg.
“The greatest benefits of meditation are the global effects it can have on a person’s life,” explains Lisa Nelson, MD, Director of Medical Education at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts, the nation’s largest institute for holistic living. “These days, we need help changing behavior, not just combating disease.”
Dr. Nelson points out that 100 years ago, the biggest threats to our health were infectious diseases like tuberculosis that could be cured with powerful antibiotics. But today, our most critical concerns are lifestyle diseases like heart disease and diabetes. To a certain extent, all the pharmaceutical drugs that modern medicine has to offer can’t effectively combat these illnesses without a change in lifestyle. And that’s where meditation comes in.
“Studies show that meditation, even for a short period of time, strengthens the prefrontal cortex in the brain. That’s the part of our brain that controls what we call ‘executive function’ – allowing us to make decisions from a calm and rational place, as opposed to reacting out of fear or addiction.”
In other words, meditation helps people get in-touch with their truest self, discovering how they feel and what they want on a deeper level. So we become less likely to grab a bag of potato chips or cigarette as a mindless way of dealing with our anxiety or turning away from difficult emotions. Meditation is thus a powerful tool in helping us improve our health by making better choices – and sticking to those changes.