Is healing the body through meditation possible?
Yes, and no. There’s ample research to show that having a regular meditation practice can strengthen the body and heal it of many conditions. However, it’s not a replacement for treating all illnesses – although it can work well as a complementary therapy.
Meditation holds profound healing powers for the body. Its effectiveness in reducing stress, improving sleep quality, and raising self-awareness, among other benefits, is well-researched. In many ways, having a regular meditation practice empowers you to heal your own body.
That being said, it is not a miracle cure. I’m in no way suggesting that any illness can be “healed” with meditation, although meditation can be a companion therapy to medical treatments.
Let’s explore the possibilities of meditation and healing the body.
Healing Effects of Reducing Stress with Meditation
Stress, a common byproduct of our hectic lifestyles, is responsible for loads of physical health problems. Here’s an overview of the impact of stress on the body, and how meditation helps reduce the stress load.
Healing Stress-Related Inflammation
Chronic stress contributes to systemic inflammation in the body. By some estimates, 75% to 90% of human disease can be attributed to stress and inflammation. Yes, I was shocked too when I saw that figure.
This inflammation from stress can manifest in lots of ways, both psychological and physically. On the physical front, research links inflammation to cardiovascular disease (like heart disease or stroke), diabetes, autoimmune disorders (like rheumatoid arthritis), and upper respiratory infections (like the common cold).
Through regular meditation, though, you can significantly lower your levels of inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of these conditions. By getting chronic stress under control, your body can go a long way to healing itself.
Short-Term Stress Management
Even short-term stress can cause problems for the body, and meditation is here to help.
Short-term stress might appear in any period in your life where there is a lot of time pressure or emotional distress. During these times, it’s common to experience short-term stress effects, such as headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, and sleep disturbances.
Here, even quick meditation sessions have been shown to cut down on stress and relieve symptoms by reducing the production of stress-related chemicals in the brain.
Managing Stress During Disease Treatment
Meditation has emerged as a powerful tool to mitigate stress for severely ill people undergoing disease treatment.
Here, meditation does not replace medications and other doctor-prescribed treatments, but rather it helps manage the stress that people experience when facing uncertainty and anxiety, and dealing with pain.
For instance, research done on lung cancer and breast cancer patients showed that practicing meditation (particularly mindfulness-focused meditation), alleviated their anxiety, boosted their mood, and improved the quality of sleep.
Some studies on people suffering arthritis determined that breathing-based meditation exercises helped them reduce pain intensity by working on the area of the brain that perceives pain.
How Self-Awareness Through Meditation Benefits the Body
Practicing meditation leads to an enhanced sense of self-awareness, similar to the mindfulness you experience by doing yoga. This heightened awareness is not just limited to thoughts and emotions but extends to your physical state.
If you stick with your meditation practice, you’ll start to notice an increased sensitivity to your body’s cues. Not just top-level cues, like hunger and sleepiness, but deeper-level ones you have either ignored or not noticed before.
These can be things like persistent tension or discomfort in areas of the body, a feeling of fatigue even when you sleep well, cravings that kick in at certain times, or restlessness.
Through this heightened self-awareness, you will want to explore what these body cues are all about, and what triggers them. For instance, maybe fatigue is not from lack of sleep but from lack of movement, or just boredom. Can you try something to fix this? Similarly, being aware of hunger cues can lead to more mindful eating habits, avoiding overeating or unhealthy food choices.
The positive cycle initiated by self-awareness is transformative. As you start caring more for your body, you observe improvements in physical health, which in turn motivates you to continue this nurturing practice. It sets a positive cycle in motion.
How Meditation Builds Self-Control and the Benefits
Meditation’s role in cultivating self-control is profound. The discipline you develop to be able to sit still, focus the mind, and observe your thoughts without judgment builds mental strength. It’s basically training the brain to have more willpower.
This mental strength has far-reaching benefits for healing your body.
For example, enhanced self-control – through the practice of meditation – can lead to better eating habits, aiding in weight loss and healthy weight management, which as we know does untold good things for the body.
The ability to control the mind with meditation has also been shown to help in overcoming harmful habits and addictions, such as substance abuse.
In my meditation journey, increased self-control has been a game changer for caring for my body. It’s given me strength to make healthier choices (like doing exercise when I’d rather stay in bed), resist unhealthy impulses (like saying “no” to junk food), and maintain more balance in my life.
Source: Cleveland Clinic
How Meditation Improves Sleep and Healing
The importance of sleep in the body’s healing process is well-known. Loads of research points to the fact that sleep is essential for the body’s repair and rejuvenation. It also plays a role in reinforcing memory and the proper functioning of the immune system. Research also suggests that sleep helps the brain “clean itself” – removing cellular waste and excess proteins in the brain, preventing accumulation that could otherwise result in inflammation and cell death.
Poor sleep over a period of time is linked to heart problems, increased risk of obesity and diabetes, cognitive decline, and decreased immunity, among other negatives.
What’s also becoming known is that meditation is shown in studies to be effective in improving sleep, especially for those with sleep problems. Sleep appears to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleepiness.
Some people like to incorporate meditation into their nightly routine to improve their sleep. The video above has some great tips, including Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep practice.
I prefer to meditate in the morning, but I mentally repeat a mindfulness mantra to myself at bedtime. It’s a short statement of gratitude and affirmation that calms me down and gets me to focus on positive instead of negative thoughts. I often fall asleep even before I finish it!
The path to healing the body through meditation is not a cure to all ills, but rather a natural way to increase your body’s own capacity to heal itself whenever possible. By reducing stress, enhancing self-awareness, building self-control, and improving sleep quality, you can achieve a healthier, more balanced physical state.