The health benefits of meditation can ease stress, improve brain function and help you focus your positive energy it’s been a secret of yoga practitioners, martial arts trainers and holistic healers for thousands of years.
Now science is confirming that the health benefits of meditation and how it can be used in our modern world to treat an epidemic affecting much of the population that isn’t always talked about: Loneliness.
You may feel lonely once in a while. It is a natural reaction when a relationship ends, you move to a new place or start a new job. Because you are naturally resilient, most bouts of loneliness gradually fade until one day you realize you’re no longer lonely.
However, chronic loneliness is much more serious. It can be insidious – causing feelings of self-doubt, sadness, fear and isolation. Chronic loneliness can lead to alcohol or drug addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Causes of Chronic Loneliness
• Physical isolation
• Low self-esteem
Human beings are incredibly social with a driving need to be part of a group and to have or seek personal relationships.
As children, socialization is how we learn and grow. As adults, we use socialization to further develop our personalities, to motivate us in our daily lives and long-term goals and as a support system during times of emotional struggle.
Researchers are now seeing that when human beings experience chronic loneliness, it takes a toll on our overall health, affecting us physically as well as mentally.
It starts with the self-awareness that we have few or no close relationships which leads to general sadness and in turn can cause feelings of emptiness.
Effects of Chronic Loneliness
• Less efficient brain function – including memory loss and trouble learning.
• Your body is flooded with stress hormones – your mental state is always fight or flight.
• Cardiovascular disease – resulting in high blood pressure and arterial deterioration.
• Less fulfilling sleep – more time tossing and turning, sleep is restless and unsatisfying.
• Increases your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and premature death.
University of Chicago psychologist, John Cacioppo found that physicians provided overall better care to those patients who had a support system at home. The long-term results of chronic loneliness, he said, are a “slowly unfolding patho-physiological processes” which lead to a slow and steady breakdown of the physical body.
Mental Health Benefits of Meditation
Young people and the elderly are particularly susceptible to chronic loneliness.
UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry, Steve Cole and his team studied the effects of meditation health benefits on their older participants who presented with markers of severe loneliness.
Each was examined, given a survey to determine the severity of their loneliness, and blood work was taken to evaluate their pre-study inflammation levels.
During the eight-week study – published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity – subjects were given a meditation program that focused on right now – instead of dwelling about negativity in their past or their feelings of anxiety about the future.
They called it mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and by the end of their research, scientists discovered a fascinating result.
Inflammatory markers were significantly repressed with meditation.
Over the last decade, the scientific community has repeatedly confirmed that chronic inflammation is the source of a variety of illnesses and diseases – both mental and physical.
Dr. Cole explained, “”Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression.”
Fellow UCLA professor of psychiatry, Dr. Michael Irwin, added, “The results were very encouraging. It adds to a growing body of research that is showing the positive benefits of a variety of meditative techniques, including tai chi and yoga.”
A previous study done at UCLA by Dr. Helen Lavretsky showed that meditation health benefits greatly improved the mental health of those people who cared for Alzheimer’s patients.
Yoga and simple chants reduced their stress and lowered inflammation – a growing problem for those involved in the long-term care of those with the disease.
Dr. Irwin added, “These studies begin to move us beyond simply connecting the mind and genome, and identify simple practices that an individual can harness to improve human health.”
Meditation in 5 Simple Steps
1. Get comfortable in a place you will not be interrupted.
2. Be completely aware of the “present” – not thoughts of past or future – such as smells, sounds and feelings at that moment.
3. Begin a series of deep, cleansing breaths through your nose. Concentrate on your breathing, feeling it move through your body.
4. Turn your attention inward, clearing your mind. Many find it helpful to focus on an image – such as a sphere or a prism – until they are more adept at quieting their thoughts.
5. Add a small chant to your breathing if you need the added focus.
Some people not use to meditation may feel silly at first – but there is no denying meditation health benefits. By carving out a small amount of time – 15 to 30 minutes – each day, you give your mind the ability to focus and recharge.
It isn’t silly if it works.