Many people acknowledge that meditation has health benefits – especially the ability to decrease stress. However, its advantages are reportedly much more far-reaching. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School researched the effects of meditation on the health and body and his book “The Relaxation Response” (published in 1975) introduced the concept of meditation to many Americans. He found that meditation can help treat both psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety, as well as diseases like cancer.
In an interview with Health Insights Today, Dr. Benson stated, “What we found was that when people practiced Transcendental Meditation, there were a set of profound physiologic changes that were opposite to those of stress. Namely, decreased metabolism, decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decreased rate of breathing, and also slower brain waves.”
What Dr. Benson unearthed in the 1960s, Buddhist Monks have been practicing for centuries. The precise origins of Buddhist meditation are broadly debated among scholars. Early written records of meditation in Buddhism in India dates back to the 1st century BCE. What is widely accepted is the effect meditation can have – which is vividly demonstrated by studies Dr. Benson conducted with Buddhist Monks.
According to an article in the Harvard University Gazette, in the 1980s Dr. Benson and his team studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by g Tum-mo meditation, “raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees. It has yet to be determined how the monks are able to generate such heat.” The meditation team even documented monks spending a winter night on a rocky ledge 15,000 feet high in the Himalayas. Wearing only shawls during a winter night when temperatures reached zero degrees F, the monks fell asleep on the ledge, sleeping until dawn when they walked back to their monastery.
Thankfully, most of us will not need to use meditation to withstand freezing temperatures. We can, however, use the power of meditation in more ways than we can likely ever imagine. It’s being used increasingly throughout the world – sometimes combined with modern medicine, other times being practiced by casual groups of individuals sitting on strewn pillows in dimly lit rooms. Regardless, the use of meditation – of taking the time to focus attention and tune out distraction – has immeasurable benefits that can change not only our awareness, but our minds and our bodies.