“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” Big Book page 84-85
While the text above is referring to the efforts of Step Nine, it is our belief and experience that these are also the promises of meditation.
In fact, it is our experience, that a practice of meditation will enhance the benefits of all the steps - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
But, let’s let science and documented research show us the proven benefits of meditation. We begin documenting our "benefits" citing a book that provides an extensive review of meditation research titled The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation; A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography 1931-1996 by Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan. We will use this as our primary source for the information presented below.
Greater empathy for others - This is one of the common spiritual qualities emphasized by all spiritual schools – concern for the condition of others. In 12 Step programs we might call this “getting out of self.” Researchers are showing that meditation increases the caring and sensitivity towards others. Pages 90-92
Abilities to become more self-actualization are increased - Abraham Maslow and the basic meditation philosophies share the perspective that humans have the ability with certain potentials for growth that are blocked by our conditioning and fears. A number of studies have shown that meditation, over time, helps people to progress towards greater self-actualization, which is the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can. Pages 94-101
Reduces both acute and chronic anxiety - It is interesting to note that modern therapy strives to lessen or diminish suffering, but most spiritual traditions strive to remove it through transformation or liberation from self. Both modern and traditional approaches agree and research has shown that meditation calms mental activity, help produce calmer physical bodies, through “concentration helps to unify scattered feelings and thoughts, that introspection facilitates catharsis, that self mastery builds self-confidence that mitigates fear.” Page 102
Emotional Stability – This is often regarded by meditation traditions as a first result of meditation. This has been supported by researchers and this benefit is described by them as:
- “…enhanced adaptation to a large range of fluctuating experiences.”
- …the tranquility of the mind and body, the detached neutrality, the experience of global desensitization, and the greater behavioral stability reported by meditators.” Page 135.
Detachment – Modern meditation researchers describe detachment experienced in meditation as”
- “disidentification from pain or inner dialog
- sensory detachment from the external world,
- full awareness of the outside world while remaining unaffected by it, paring away detachments
- a growing sense of being the witness. Page 135
The physical benefits of meditation are the most researched aspects of meditation. For science this is the easiest and most objective place to begin their studies.
Heart Rate slows with meditation - There are many studies that have found this and a number of them have demonstrated that “some experienced individuals may achieve a permanent lowering of the heart rate with continued practice.” Page 46 PPEM
Blood Pressure is lowered while meditating - “There is strong evidence that meditation helps lower blood pressure in people who are normal or moderately hypertensive. This finding has been replicated by more than 19 studies.” Page 50 PPEM
Recover more quickly from stressful situations - There is “evidence that meditators recover more quickly from stressful impacts and demonstrate fewer chronic or emergency
Increase in alpha brain rhythms - Alpha brain waves are one of four basic brain waves (Delta Waves, Theta Waves, Alpha Waves, and Beta Waves) Alpha are not present in deep sleep or in fearful or angry situations. They are seen in while awake in a relaxed, effortless, attentive state. pg 57-58
Increase in Theta brain rhythms - Theta brain waves are strong during activities such as meditation, prayer, and spiritual awareness. They are associated with the state between wakefulness and sleep and is seen in connection with creativity, intuition, daydreaming, and is a repository for memories, emotions, and sensations. Pg 58
Heightens perceptual awareness - Meditation was found to increase perceptual awareness in a number of studies. Page 60
Quiets the bodies metabolic and respiratory systems - A common claim of meditation is that it calms the craziness of ordinary life. Studies have shown that meditation lowers the body’s need for energy and oxygen consumption needed to operate it while lowering the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled in the breathing cycle. Page 70
Muscle tension is reduced - Through meditation we become less defensive and can begin to relax more deeply. This relaxation of our muscles “contributes to the body’s lowered need for energy, the slowing of respiration, and the lowering of stress related hormones in the blood. Page 72
Lowers stress and anxiety - One of the classic stress or anxiety measurements is through the skin through the skin resistance ad the galvanic skin response test. Studies of these measurements have confirmed the one of the common benefits cited or meditation, that it reduces stress and anxiety. Page 73
Helps in the treatment of a variety of diseases - In the quest to treat cancer, researchers that a “broader, holistic approach involving meditation was needed. He (researcher Magarey) pointed out that meditation is associated with physiological rest and stability, and more positive attitude toward life, with an inner sense of calmness, strength and fulfillment.” Page 76
Significant factor in the healing process of cancer - There are a number of studies and cancer treatment facilities in the US, such as the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Massachusetts, that have demonstrated that meditation is a factor in the healing of cancer patients.
Helps with the treatment of Asthma. Page 76
Helps to alleviate chronic pain - Jon Kabat-Zinn, bestselling author of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, has demonstrated that “large and significant overall physical and psychological improvements were recorded with the various pain measuring indicators. Pages 77-78
Enhances perceptual abilities - Many meditation practices claim that sensory, perceptual and cognitive abilities are enhanced by meditation. Studies have shown the visual awareness and attention to visual imagery is increased through meditation. This may attributed to the ability of being more fully present in the moment with the practice of meditation. Pages 85-85
Greater ability to concentrate and focus attention Page 87
Memory and intelligence performance improves Page 88