(NaturalNews) Meditation is a powerful tool, but not until recent years has its wide array of benefits been studied so extensively. Once neurologists discovered how meditation creates changes in the brain, research of this alternative tool rose exponentially. Many recent studies have proven that meditation can diminish pain, improve memory, and sharpen focus.
Meditation can help lower blood pressure
A recent study published in NeuroReport suggests meditation can activate specific areas of the brain that may influence heart and breathing rates. Sara Lazar, Ph.D., author of the study, used a brain imaging process known as fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging, to measure blood flow changes in experienced meditators. Senior author of the study and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Berth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Herbert Benson said, "What we found were striking changes. There was significant decrease in blood flow and activity in specific areas of the brain."
Meditation is better than morphine
Researchers have also found that individuals who partook in an eight week mindfulness meditation program experienced increased density in sections of the brain associated with empathy, memory, one's sense of self, and stress response. The study was published in the medical journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, meditation can reduce pain more than morphine can. The study, led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., reported individuals new to meditation displayed a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness after only a few quick sessions of mindfulness meditation training. For reference, morphine generally lessens pain by about 25 percent.
In the case of Cassandra Metzger, meditation worked to reduce her pain caused by fibromyalgia. Metzger was 34 when she was diagnosed. Doctors prescribed pain killers, sleep drugs, muscle relaxers, mood stabilizers and other drugs to help manage her pain, fatigue, insomnia, and depression but nothing worked well. Metzger credits meditation saying it, "saved me from despair more than once." She adds, "During episodes of acute illness, I was saved by knowing that the experience of pain was just one moment in time - maybe an excruciating moment, maybe a long moment, but still a moment. I learned this by meditating."
Meditation benefits everyone around you
In instances of stress and/or severe pain the brain's natural fight-or-flight response causes the release of adrenalin, which is stressful to the body. Meditation helps the brain calm the body. "People with chronic illnesses often experience a lot of self-loathing and self-blame," says David Vago, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. He adds, "If you can transform those negative emotions toward yourself into compassion and love, it not only benefits you, it also benefits everyone around you."
For example, people suffering from chronic pain, such as those with fibromyalgia, tend to dwell on thoughts about pain because they frequently experience acute pain. Dr. Vago's research team saw those types of tendencies disappeared after eight weeks of meditation. Meditation teaches you to recognize pain, anger, or fear without letting yourself be overtaken by negative thoughts or behavior that typically accompany those emotions. According to researchers, meditators have discovered how to effectively manage their emotional response to pain although they still sense it. Katherine MacLean, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains that meditators are,"...actually more in tune with the sensation of pain, but they don't have their usual emotional reaction to it.
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