This won't be an article tip-toeing around the power that the mind has over the body and also over our health. The old model of science will have it that the two are not connected at all. But new studies on the impact that meditation has on not only our mental health but our physical health too, have taken place over the last two decades revealing what Yogis and Zen Masters have scribed since ancient times.
One eight week study conducted at UCLA involved 50 HIV positive men meditating for 40 minutes daily, dramatically halted the CD4 T-cell decline. (CD4 cells are T cells that are seriously reduced by HIV causing the immune system to breakdown thus progressing the disease into AIDS.T cells and antibodies make our our body's natural defence system.) Furthermore a study at Carnegie Mellon university showed that students who attended meditation classes had a higher CD4 count at the end of the study. Why is this and what is happening in our brains when we meditate?
Even when we don't meditate placebo studies have revealed that optimistic thinking made placebos more powerful. One such study conducted in 1954 showed patients given a water injection for a bleeding stomach ulcer were told either that the new experimental drug would heal them, or that it was unknown. Of the group who who told they would get better, 70% showed a marked improvement compared to 25% who were told otherwise.
There are so may more studies, and the question begs, 'Then why are we not meditating in hospitals, schools and offices? The West is slow and hesitant to take on-board new practises that aren't traditional to its culture, and reluctant to enter a new paradigm. In India more than 60% of the population meditate regularly. Undoubtedly this may be higher in places like Tibet.
Let's take a look at how meditation boosts 7 primary hormones that quite literally are mind altering.
#1. SEROTONIN - is "our happy neurotransmitter" and is a crucial chemical that contributes to our mood and overall well-being. Triggered by the sun, serotonin is the chemical of light which why we unconsciously associate being happy with sunshine. I spent years being affected by SAD (seasonal affected disorder) and would find myself craving the sunlight yet unknowing that was why. Meditation lifts serotonin levels and quite literally bathes the brain thus helping to replenish new brain cells and improve our moods.
#2 DHEA - "The longevity Hormone". DHEA is an important hormone which diminishes as we get older and research into the hormone have found a direct correlation between mortality and DHEA levels. Dr Vincent Giampapa a longevity researcher and Anti Ageing Medicine researcher, discovered that mediation practitioners have an incredible 43.77% more DHEA than ordinary people.
#3 GABA- "The Calm Chemical" (gamma aminobutyric acid) is a chemical that keeps us calm and has been found to be lacking in people who have addictions. It is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system. People lacking in GABA experience nervousness, anxiety, and sleep issues. To raise GABA even by 27% - just 60 minutes of One mindfulness or meditation exercise is more powerful than physical exercise! The more you meditate the more your GABA levels will stabilise.
#4 Endorphins - "Our natural high". Endorphins are neurotransmitters akin to making us feel a combination of happiness, elation, peace and vibrant energy. Many runners achieve this high (also known as the runners high), however a study showed that meditation not only releases endorphins also, but scored higher for feel-good-factor in the 1995 study published in the Biological Psychology Journal.
#5 Melatonin - "Sleep Molecule" Melatonin is manufactured in the pineal gland and is responsible for helping us sleep and also importantly is linked to immune function, prevents cancer, and is an essential hormone for overall health. We certainly all know how we feel after a good night's sleep! Triggered by the day and night cycles our natural melatonin levels surge in the evening after sunset. However with all of our artificial lights and brain stimulation by electronic radiating devices, it looks like we are messing up our natural melatonin levels dramatically. Research has shown that melatonin can be boosted by 98% with meditation!
#6 Cortisol - Drop, "The Stress Hormone". Long term stress has been one of 21st Century silent killers, causing anxiety, depressed immune systems, depression, brain fog, increased blood pressure, a link to cancer, and triggering heart attacks and strokes. Increasing general wear and tear on the body, cortisol is a major age accelerating hormone. The antithesis of this is to fast decrease cortisol levels and increase our states of bliss, happiness and peace. Studies have shown that with both mindfulness and meditation cortisol levels dramatically reduce within hours temporarily, and within weeks on a more permanent level, with people able to manage their stress responses far better.
#7 Dopamine - "The pleasure and reward hormone". Dopamine levels have been seen to increase directly after one hour of meditation by experienced meditators by as much as 64% - a study of eight people was conducted and compared both resting and meditative states.
To conclude, it makes far more sense (in my opinion) to tap into our body's natural chemical factory than tamper with it artificially. If we taught our children how to meditate we would perhaps have a different generation of human beings altogether. Are you ready to start?
References: "How your mind can heal your body" - David R Hamilton Phd. (Hay House), eocinstitute.org, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm - Divya Krishnakumar, Michael R Hamblin, Shnmugamurthy Lakshmanan "meditation and Yoga can modulate brain Mechanisms". PubMed. - Healthline.