Meditation Goes Mainstream: Western Medicine says Yes

meditation

It’s just me in the sunroom before breakfast, sprawled out on my yoga mat, doing meditation for 15 or 20 minutes.  A series of deep breaths and letting my limbs go slack, a visualizing of a good moment.  The hard part is getting the habit, but having a time and place helps a lot..

The best motivator, however, is how relaxed it makes me feel, and coming from, me, I don’t say that lightly.  As a child raised in an alcohol ravaged home, security wasn’t a given and each day meant finding my place under the sun.  I used to think I was simply a chronic worrier and worried even about that.  Children of alcoholics often try to control their environment to maintain stability.  They find it difficult to tolerate loss or uncertainty.  They like their parameters tightly drawn.

You can take benzies like Valium or Xanax for anxiety and while they’ll work in the short run, they treat symptoms only and, worse, are often addictive.  As for anti-depressants, they may work for some, but then how intact do they leave the user?  I prefer taking a different route, sovereign over my psyche rather than pharmaceutically lobotomized.  I suspect they’re overly prescribed anyway.  And then there are the side-effects that sometimes make matters worse.

Anxiety is triggered by our perceiving danger.  This needn’t be limited to a threat to our safety, but losing our financial way through job loss, investments turned bad, the sudden onset of illness.  Sometimes it’s the loss of a friend or loved one that pulls the trigger.  The common denominator, no matter the source, rests within the mind, or the way we think about things.  Nothing can threaten us unless we give it permission.  We are what we think about.  Anxiety is future saturated, or our thinking fearfully about what may happen to us; depression is present tense.  We think the worst has already happened.

Meditation quiets our panic, producing a mindfulness that can sort out, clarify and more cogently respond to what troubles us.  When we’re stressed fear takes ascendancy, preempting alternative, positive ways of responding to crisis.

Meditation has now increasingly become a part of the medicinal arsenal that had traditionally been limited to pharmaceuticals and surgery in Western medicine.  We know that meditation has restorative benefits for the body when we incorporate the mind into our notion of the corporeal.   In fact, we can measure its physiological results in lowered metabolism, heart and breathing rates and replicate those results.  For a fascinating exploration and summary of the empirical data, pick-up The Relaxation Response by renowned Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson.

I happen to be a subscriber to Mind, Mood & Memory, a newsletter put out by one of the world’s internationally acclaimed medical facilities, Massachusetts General Hospital.  In its most recent issue (September 2013), Ann Webster, PhD., Director of MGH’s Program for Successful Aging at Benson-Henry Institute, informs us that “among these strategies for successful aging, perhaps the most effective is engaging in practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or repetitive prayer that help elicit the relaxation response.  Regular experience of the RR helps counteract stress and other factors linked with higher risk for illness and aging, and causes enormously positive physical, emotional, and cognitive changes.”

This doesn’t mean a trained counselor becomes superfluous.  A good psychologist can target needs and offer ameliorative insights to enhance reduction of stress and promote physical and mental health.  The best medicine is always integrative.

And what do I feel like when I open my eyes and put my mat away?  Hard to put into words, but something similar to the snowflake calm that descends when I play Enya and  find my bullying ghosts have fled..

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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