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Meditation: History and Positive Effects

Introduction

Meditation is a practice that has been used by people from all over the world. Currently, scholars have not come to a unified view on the definition of the word meditation. As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.” Meditation originated in ancient Egypt and China, then became popular in Asia, and finally was westernized. This technique gained popularity because it does not require any specific tool. All that is needed is a quiet place, comfortable posture, attention, and a positive attitude towards relaxation. This essay will focus on the benefits of meditation practice. Although meditation was initially related to religion and used to clean the mind, it now has non-spiritual implications in the treatment of depression, cardiovascular diseases and endocrine systems, and reduction of stress levels in schools.

The History of Meditation

The history of meditation goes back to 5000 BCE and takes its roots in Egypt and China (Ross). It was created based on religious notions, until later when it began to spread to Asia along the Silk Road. After it spread to Asia, it was changed and transformed according to each culture. Finally, from being a religious practice, meditation became an activity that was an essential part of everyday life. According to Ross, one of the first studies done on meditation was performed by Dr. Herbert Benson from the Harvard Medical School in 1967. He studied the behavior of people during sleep who practiced meditation. He then published his results in the “Relaxation Response”, and scientific society received a wave of interest. Ross also reports on another pioneer of investigation on meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who dedicated his whole career to meditation and opened the Stress Reduction Clinic at UMass Medical Center. Sometime after, meditation practice took place on massive scales. Celebrities started to raise awareness about the advantages of meditation, and today there is no one who does not know about this practice.

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Effect of Meditation on Depression

One of the advantages of meditation is its ability to impact mental health. It can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety by calming the mind. According to Sivaramappa et al., the results of the study on 59 patients with moderate depression showed a significant decline in the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) score after practicing Anapanasati meditation (p. 103). This kind of meditation uses only exhalations and inhalations and no breathing interventions. Another study by Winnebek et al. also investigates the effect of mindfulness-based intervention, which can help people with depression and anxiety (p. 6). The self-assessment of symptoms and cognitive reactivity assessment were recorded. The sample of 75 participants was engaged in 25-minute mindfulness-based intervention sessions twice a day. The results showed a reduction in the BDI score and cognitive reactivity in comparison to the control group. This effect helped the patients to be able to decrease the level of stress and to control negative mood.

Effect of Meditation on the Cardiovascular System

Meditation can also be a good treatment for cardiovascular diseases, which has always been one of the leading causes of mortality. Meditations can be an alternative to expensive medications and risky operations that have many side effects and require time for rehabilitation. According to Levine et al., the US government spends more than $200 billion on cardiovascular disease patients, and this sum is expected to increase (p. 4). Patients who practiced meditations regularly showed a significant improvement in heart integrity with a decrease in heart rate. Another study by Newberg and Olex explores the benefits of meditation on the cardiovascular system (p. 174). The authors claim that meditations can lower elevated blood pressure by improving the autonomic nervous system, thus serving as a treatment for hypertension. Moreover, they show the benefits of meditations on the anti-inflammatory reflex through the vagus nerve, which plays a vital role in atherosclerotic plaque formation. Thus, meditation can not only improve the overall well-being but also prevent or be a treatment of cardiovascular diseases as an alternative to traditional medicine.

Effect of Meditation on the Endocrine System

Meditation also positively affects the part of the endocrine system responsible for stress regulation. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, along with the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the central nervous system, regulate stress responses that play a crucial role in overall well-being (Pascoe et al., p. 2). “The HPA axis controls the synthesis and release of stress hormones, including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropin hormone, and cortisol, in response to stressors” (Pascoe et al., p. 2). If there is a malfunction of the stress hormone, cortisol, then the HPA axis will be dysregulated and result in mental health disorders. There were several studies conducted, in which it was shown that meditations could positively affect the HPA axis. For example, the results of the survey on 150 individuals showed that 48 hours after beginning the meditation practice, the level of adrenaline and cortisol declined significantly, as well as after 8 months of practicing. Thus, mediation can be used to maintain stress levels and well-being in general.

Meditations as Extracurricular Activities

Meditations can also be implemented in the school extracurricular activities to improve students’ and teachers’ well-being. Some students and teachers undergo stress in schools that can affect their performance and mental health. The study by Wilson investigated to what extent mindfulness-based meditation was implemented in the Maryland Public School (p. 12). The purpose of meditations was to decrease anxiousness and negative behavior in the class. The study was conducted on 145 students with different backgrounds. The evaluation spreadsheets were used to assess in-class conditions such as light, comfortability, overall environment, and students’ behavior. The results of six class sessions showed that mindfulness-based interventions could reduce negative responses in the class and calm the students. It can also help students to separate school from home and to set the mood for the school day if practiced before classes. Wilson claims that this study can be useful for other schools that plan to integrate medications into the curriculum (p. 23). Moreover, she points to the existing research that proves meditations to be effective with students with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. However, teachers should be careful and not integrate religion into a meditation practice.

Conclusion

To conclude, meditation is a technique that is used to reduce stress levels and improve the overall well-being. One of the first mentions of meditation practices was found in Chinese and Egyptian sources. Later, it was brought to the rest of Asia and the western world. In the past, meditations were used to clear the mind from things it cannot control. Today, it has a wide variety of implications. It can be used to treat mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, endocrine disorders, and it can also be implemented in schools to reduce stress levels. Scientists believe that meditation practice can be a good alternative to traditional medicine, and they continue doing extensive research on its benefits.