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The Health Benefits of Meditation


Meditation is widely understood to provide a range of health benefits.

Meditation, described by Better Health Channel as the ‘focusing of attention to bring about feelings of calm and heightened energy and awareness’ (2015), can help to reduce anxiety and stress.

The meditating person may utilise deep breathing or mindfully focus on an object.

Meditation is:

‘grounding and mindfulness – being aware of inner experiences (such as bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts and memories) and simply observing them without judgement’

(Better Health Channel 2015)

Medical professionals have actually been able to detect the changes in brain activity that take place while meditating with EEG (electroencephalography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology (Better Health Channel, 2015).

It can be wondered what role meditation may have in evidence-based healthcare or best practice nursing.

Health Benefits of Meditation young woman

Meditation for Mental and Physical Health

The systematic review and meta-analysis by Goyal et al. (2014) focused on meditation for psychological stress and wellbeing, concluding that meditation programs can reduce stress with a small to moderate effect (Goyal et al. 2014).

The evidence that meditation could produce slight improvements in stress, distress and quality of life was small, however, additionally Goyal et al. found moderate evidence that meditation can generate small improvements in anxiety, depression and pain.

It was interesting to note that Goyal et al. (2014) explain there was not enough evidence to conclude whether meditation can help to improve the health behaviours that are linked to stress.

Similarly, a systematic review of mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare was completed by Gotink et al. (2015).

This review outlined that there is evidence to support mindfulness in the easing of mental and physical symptoms ‘in the adjunct treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, depression, anxiety disorders and in prevention in healthy adults and children’ (2015).

Again, similar suggestions of health and wellbeing benefits of mindfulness were raised by the systematic review and meta-analysis of Galante et al. (2014). This review focused on ‘kindness-based mindfulness‘ (KBM), which is meditation aimed to improve consciousness of kindness (Galante et al. 2014).

The review states that quality of included reports was low or moderate (Galante et al. 2014), yet concluded that there was evidence that KBM could benefit health via its influences upon wellbeing and socialisation.

A systematic review of mind-body interventions to relieve anxiety in pregnancy was carried out by Marc et al. (2011).

This review indicated that mind-body approaches could possibly help to reduce anxiety in pregnancy. However, conclusive evidence was limited due to the blinding and randomisation methods utilised during trials (2011).

Similarly, Salhofer et al. (2016) completed a systematic review that found there to be insufficient quality evidence to conclude or evaluate the effect of meditation on people with haematological malignancies.

Bloack and Slavich stated in their systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that:

‘The findings suggest possible effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological ageing, but these results are tentative and require further replication.’

(2016)

Additionally, Goyal et al. (2014) describe that meditation is a skill that requires a professional or expert guidance and training to achieve competency. Thereby, the amount of practice that a person has with meditation and the qualifications of their instructor is likely to affect the health outcomes of meditating (Goyal et al. 2014).

Thus, Goyal et al. (2014) convey that health professionals should discuss meditation programs to prevent stress for clients.

Obviously, there is a need to evaluate the meditation program in terms of the qualifications of the instructor(s), mental activities promoted by the program, religious/spiritual appropriateness to the client, and whether the meditation program is part of a larger therapy course that includes other aspects of training such as yoga (Goyal et al. 2014).

Either way, it is fascinating to see the different applications of meditation are being explored in terms of health benefits and links to the idea of holistic healthcare, or care of the spiritual and inner self, as well as the physical self.

Risks

You may or may not be aware that the Better Health Channel (2015) expresses that there can be risks for meditation. Better Health Channel (2015) highlights that a mentally unwell person should only do meditation under guidance/supervision of a professional (e.g. psychologist, medical doctor etc.)

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References

  • Better Health Channel 2015, Meditation, viewed 16 March 2018, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/meditation
  • Black, DS & Slavich, GM 2016, ‘Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1373, no. 1, pp. 13–24, viewed 19 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26799456
  • Galante, J, Galante, I, Bekkers, MJ & Gallacher, J 2014, ‘Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis’, Journal of
    Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 82, no. 6, pp. 1101-14, viewed 19 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24979314
  • Gotink, RA, Chu, P, Busschbach, JJV, Benson, H, Fricchione, GL & Hunnink, MGM 2015, ‘Standardised Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Healthcare: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses of RCTs’, PLOS ONE, vol. 10, no. 4, viewed 19 March 2018, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124344
  • Goyal, M, Singh, S, Sibinga, EMS, Gould, NF, Rowland- Seymour, A, Sharma, R, Berger, Z, Sleicher, D, Maron, DD, Shihab, HM, Ranasinghe, PD, Linn, S, Saha, S, Bass, EB, Haythornthwaite, JA 2014, ‘Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’, JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 174, no. 3, pp. 357–68, viewed 19 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24395196
  • Marc, I, Toureche, N, Ernst, E, Hodnett, ED, Blanchet, C, Dodin, S & Njoya, MM 2011, ‘Mind-body interventions during pregnancy for preventing or treating women’s anxiety’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 7, viewed 19 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21735413
  • Salhofer, I, Will, A, Monsef, I & Skoetz, N 2016, ‘Meditation for adults with haematological malignancies’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 2, viewed 19 March 2018, http://www.cochrane.org/CD011157/HAEMATOL_meditation-adults-haematological-malignancies

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