Meditation - Antidote to Stress

Today we are seeing the emergence of meditation and yoga as a day to day aspects of our modern life. Many young people are turning towards this system of mental control as a means of attaining higher awareness. They are finding that it helps them to gain more out of life and to overcome the vacuum that has been caused by the impact of modern life.

It has been found that the effects of meditation are the exact opposite of those caused by stress. It has also been found that the effects of meditation are an antidote to the effects of stress, illuminating the disease-causing negative spiral effects of certain lifestyles. This negative spiral is a vicious circle in which stress causes discomfort and disease arid this disease causes more stress and so on.

Modern Life

It is a fact that most people are unaware of having stored tensions within. If you think you have no tensions then you are one of these people. Every person has some tension whether it be physical, emotional or mental. Lack of awareness has allowed these tensions to accumulate. It is because we move about through life in a kind of dream state not fully awake and yet not fully asleep, that they can manifest and cause disease.

Accumulated stress has led to the following: psychosomatic disease, anxiety, frustration and depression; dissatisfaction; decreased the ability of the individual to utilize his fullest capabilities of mind and body; emotional imbalance; mental imbalance and loss of clear thinking; inability to form rewarding and mutually gratifying interpersonal relationships; inability to make decisions, plan effective and work efficiently. This is reflected in the following statistics:

  1. One third of American males have hypertension, a psychosomatic stress-induced disease.
  2. One half of deaths in America are from heart and circuit diseases.
  3. Every year over five billion doses of tranquillizers, five billion doses of barbiturates and three billion doses of amphetamines are manufactured in the USA - all aimed at ameliorating the effects of stress.
  4. Doctors write over 200 million prescriptions every year for the above drugs, all of which are addictive and to be used only when absolutely necessary.

The above situation is frightening in terms of its huge proportions and the cause is not being eliminated, but is increasing more and every day. Drugs do not solve the problem of stress and anxiety, they only remove the overlying symptoms. Drugs also compound the problem by interfering with the natural pattern of sleep and shutting off the vital REM sleep pattern, which is essential to releasing stress. When this pattern is inhibited by drugs, symptoms become worse and the unsuspecting sufferer can become addicted.

Up to now there was very little for doctors to choose from in terms of techniques and possibilities of effecting a cure for this vast mental unrest. Now meditation is becoming more widely known and better understood as a result of increasing amounts of scientific investigation. It can therefore be employed to remove anxiety and the effects of stress by removing the deeply submerged stresses of the mind.

Meditation

Experiments have shown that meditation has the following effects:

  1. Metabolic or cell activity is reduced. Meditation decreases oxygen and carbon dioxide utilization of the body, as well as the need for oxygen. A level that is 50 to 75% below the scientifically determined minimum for body oxygen requirement can be reached (Anand et al. 1961 and 1970). This was thought to be impossible without endangering life until masters of yoga showed the opposite to be true.
    Wallace and Benson of the Harvard Medical School, USA found that in sleep the level of oxygen decreased by approximately 10% of the daytime level, while during meditation it decreased by 20% indicating that meditation gives the body greater rest.*1
    At the same time the carbon dioxide level was found to decrease by the same amount indicating that the drop in oxygen did not starve the cells of the body. That is, meditation seems to induce a healthier, more efficient energy conserving state of body and mind.
  2. The brain waves of meditators have been shown through a multitude of experiments to indicate relaxation. Increased levels of high amplitude (intense) alpha waves, even with the eyes open, have been observed. The average person usually has beta waves predominating, and cannot switch these waves off and on at will. Hit mind is 'stuck' in an extrovert, intellectual, tense state. Meditation loosens and frees the mind.
  3. The lunge take in less volume of oxygen and the breathing rate is decreased from a normal of 12 to 16 breaths per minute to 4 to 8 per minute during meditation.*2
    Other researchers reported that during meditation the rate of breathing can drop to as low as one breath per minute or less.
    At the same time the resistance to air-entry is reduced by 20% which means that air can enter the lungs more easily.*3
    This will be of benefit to asthmatics who have an increased air-entry distance from the normal. It is unique to meditation and does not happen in rest.
  4. The heart pumps out less blood as the metabolism is decreased and the body tissues need less oxygen. Thus, the tissues have a chance to rest and rebalance. Tissue metabolism can be concentrated on healing.
  5. In GSR (galvanic skin resistance) which measures the electrical resistance in the skin, the greater the degree in relaxation the greater the resistance. Wallace and Benson found that in meditation the GSR increases by 500%, while in sleep it usually only increases by 250%.*4
  6. Lactate, a stress related chemical, is reduced by meditation. More stress requires more oxygen utilization. The tissue requirement increases until eventually there is not enough oxygen to meet needs. This means that the tissues switch to another energy supply and function less efficiently. They tire faster. Part of this stress mechanism is related to the constriction of arterioles by the sympathetic nervous system, preventing the required amount of blood from picking up waste lactate and bringing enough oxygen.

The rate of formation of blood lactate was shown to decrease in Wallace and Benson's study of meditation. Its removal from the body during meditation is four times as great as that found when just lying down and resting on one's back, and three times faster than its removal in sleep.*5

Part of this is accounted for by the relaxation of arterioles, allowing more blood to wash out the wastes. There are ramifications here for the treatment of high blood pressure. This correlates with the subjective feeling of muscle relaxation reported by meditators.

Thus meditation appears to be a unique state which allows greater rest and recuperation from the effects of stress than normal rest such as sleep etc. Wallace and Benson state that:

"There is good reason to believe that the changing environment s incessant stimulations of the sympathetic nervous system are largely responsible for the high incidence of hypertension and similar serious diseases that are prevalent in our society.
In these circumstances the hypometabolic state representing quiescence rather than hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system, may indicate a guidepost to better health. It should be well worth while to investigate the possibilities for clinical application of this state of wakeful rest and relaxation."*6

Effects of Meditation on Personality

David Orme-Johnson, psychologist at the university of Texas, USA, demonstrated that there is an improved autonomic nervous system stability and therefore resistance to stress among people practicing meditation regularly.*7 He used a GSR to record individual al reactions to stress, in this case a loud noise. The greater the movement of the needle on the GSR, the greater the anxiety. Meditators were found to have less response to external stimuli in terms of stress reaction. At the same time their heart and breathing rate decreased, indicating increased parasympathetic activity in the autonomic nervous system and thus more relaxation.

There are two main types of personality as defined by medical science:

  • Stable: these people are independent, have less motor impulsivity, greater resistance to noise and sensory deprivation, greater mental health on psychological testing and less susceptibility to conditioning.
  • Labile: these people are more liable to get psychosomatic and mental illnesses. They expend more energy on maladaptive activities and, therefore, have only limited amounts of energy for combating stress or engaging in productive activities.

Labile people are more likely to get high blood pressure, asthma, ulcers, migraine, etc. Drugs used in their treatment may have uncomfortable side effects and remove the symptoms without getting to the root cause. They do not really offer long term cure in the majority of cases. Meditation offers long term cure for psychosomatic disease when combined with drugs for the acute condition, because the whole autonomic nervous system is rebalanced, and the mind and body can rest, recuperate, regenerate and relax.

Meditators report increased health and mental well being, along with decreased numbers of colds, allergies and headache. Therefore the therapeutic use of meditation is now being closely evaluated. Researchers such as Kelly and Gellhorn (1973) have found that increased sympathetic stimulation leads to hypertension through increased liability of the autonomic nervous system. K. K. Datey et al. have shown that through the use of shavasana, a yogic meditative or relaxation technique, high blood pressure can be effectively managed.*8 The drug requirements of successful individuals were brought down to as much as 25% of the original dose, white the blood pressure was brought to a normal level.

Thus both mind and body benefit from the use of meditation. The number of techniques available is enormous, and you must choose the correct one if you are to get the best result. With continued practice, however, the results are bound to come.

References

*1 Benson, H. and Wallace, R. K., "Physiology of Meditation", Scientific American, Vol. 226, No. 2, Feb. 1972, pp. 84-90.
*2 Allison, J,, "Respiratory Changes During the Practice of the Technique of Transcendental Meditation", Lancet, No. 7651, pp, 833-34, April 1970.
*3 Corey, P. W., "Airway Conductance and Oxygen Consumption in Human Subjects via a Wakeful Hypometabolic Technique", National Jewish Hospital and Research Hospital, Denver, Colorado, April 1973.
*4, *5, *6 ibid.
*7 Orme-Johnson, D. W., "Autonomic Stability and Transcendental Meditation", Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 341-349, July-August 1973.
*8 Datey, K., et al., "Shavasana : A Yogic Exercise in the Management of Hypertension", Angiology, Vol. 20, pp. 325-333, 1969.