With accumulating evidence, the practice of meditation may be proven as a treatment for many health ailments. It is still to be completely understood why meditation has such appreciable effects on the physical health and what mechanisms it uses. Observations of real improvements are seen in a variety of conditions. For instance, physical alterations are seen in those who regularly meditate including changes in the grey matter of the brain, the immune system, blood pressure and changes in the frequencies of electrical activity.
The practice may have immeasurable proven effects on the human body. These range from a regulation of cortisol levels to an increase in growth promoting hormones and melatonin levels. How meditation affects certain hormones may still need to be discovered. Increased melatonin may be a result of decreased liver metabolism of the hormone or achieved through a direct effect on the pineal gland. It may be essential in regulating sleep and additionally acts as an antioxidant and immune-modulator. Studies show serotonin is increased in meditators the precursor of melatonin, both believed to be important in mood regulation. Explanations into why melatonin is decreased during meditation and serotonin shortly after are still needed.
The beneficial effects on sleep quality may also be a result of this hormonal increase. The electro-chemical reality of the functioning brain is modified through meditation which has the remarkable ability to expand the time spent in REM and reduced wave sleep. As time in these stages of sleep seems usually reduced with increasing age, evidence suggests experienced meditators may retain the sleep patterns of younger individuals. Sleep is important because it diminishes arousal when autonomic flexibility has reduced a decrease in the quality of sleep is observed. Meditation allows practitioners to achieve an arousal/relaxation balance, with a parasympathetic predominance identified in meditators. One reason for this may be an alteration in heart rate variability. This occurs in both frequency bands during an inward attention meditation especially in a type which emphasises the skill of reduced breathing.
Psychological enhancements may also be explained by many of these factors. This may be because the quality of sleep alters emotional wellbeing, heart rate, respiratory rate and metabolism. Serotonin which is distributed throughout the body regulates all of these factors, in part by promoting growth factors to protect cells, enlarging brain structure, and increasing synaptic plasticity. This may illustrate why meditation has been a successful treatment for those with hypertension and cardiovascular conditions. Likewise, enhancements in mood and cognition have been clearly observed in those practicing meditation. Evidence shows how meditation increases activity in the left anterior part of the brain, previously associated with emotional well-being.
In correspondence with the magnitude of left anterior activity due to meditation, a number of antibodies an individual produces increases, this may be observed in response to a vaccine. This represents a real affect on the immune system of the body and brain derived from meditation. As particular psycho-social influences are known to have an effect on immunity, meditation may be a genuine solution. Interestingly when meditators with greater activity on the left side of the brain had particular emotions induced, more adaptive responses resulted. This may underlie the ability of humans to regulate their emotions, individuals with greater left-sided activity show faster recovery from emotional affronts. This may be explained by the emotional center’s plasticity, a building resilience and the ability of the frontal cortex to learn.
As meditation may be a safe and free therapy it means many may reap the benefits of the practice almost immediately. The practice appears to have a balancing effect on the body and brain. This may derive from the improvements in sleep as this operates as an auto regulator, perhaps the most important benefit of meditation. This process supports the adaptation of the body and brain in response to many physical or psychological stimuli. It might be also key to learning and memory which is essential for survival.
How does the psyche influence physical health?