Research on various groups of patients over the last decades has provided support for stress reduction by meditation techniques involving mindfulness as adjunct treatment. However, less research has been made with non-clinical samples than with patients. For those who are interested in the effect of stress reduction techniques for ordinary people, a recent Swiss study adds to the documentation. Read more…
A recent study of cancer patients, who were under stress, found that they obtained stress management through counselling (economist.com). This is fine, but perhaps no big surprise. However, the study also investigated the link between chronic stress and biological markers of changes due to the stress. This evoked my interest. Chronic stress causes biological changes, similar to signs of old age, e.g. premature shortening of the ends of the chromosomes – the telomeres. Under chronic stress they are torn to fringes, and their biological function is disrupted as a result of their shortening. Stress management not only stopped the telomeres from shortening, but also promoted their repair. This effect occurred simultaneously with the decreased emotional stress. The conclusion was that the obtained stress management was a result of the attitude. The biological markers described in the study are also signs of ageing. If the findings are replicated, it may increase our understanding of the relationship between the health of the mind and the health of the body.
One day in April, when Arne Heimdal opened his e-mail account back home in Oslo, his mailbox was filled to the brim with letters from Spain asking about courses in Acem Meditation. He had been coordinator of Acem’s activities in Spain since 2001, but had never experienced anything like this, with several hundred e-mails in just a few days. What had happened?
It turned out that Acem’s founder, Dr Are Holen, had been interviewed in La Vanguardia, the biggest newspaper in the Barcelona area. The interview covered the whole back page, which according to locals is the most frequently read page in the entire newspaper. Dr. Holen had visited Barcelona a few weeks earlier to give a public lecture about scientific studies of meditation, including Acem Meditation brain research in which he himself had been involved. (You can read an English translation of the interview here.)
“There is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how meditation affects brain function.” Professor Jim Lagopoulos, Sydney University, studied electrical brain waves in Acem meditators. There was an abundance of theta waves in the frontal and middle parts of the brain, different from ordinary relaxation.
Are Holen, expert in posttraumatic stress and founder of a meditation school
interviewed in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia
the original interview in Spanish.
64 years of age, I am Norwegian, married, with two children. Psychologist, MD, PhD in medicine and specialist in psychiatry. Professor of neuromedicine at the University of Trondheim. Education is the foundation of a country’s prosperity. Believe in a non-punitive God.
In a recent large-scale American review of meditation research, Acem Meditation is referred to 31 times, and seven studies on Acem Meditation are evaluated.
The 500-page evidence-based review, Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research by Ospina et al. (2007), was put together by independent researchers at the behest of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the studies are on high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and drug abuse. The review concludes that meditation has a positive effect on high blood pressure and other problems. The complete report is available here.
By Carl Henrik Grøndahl
If you meditate, you do as ten million American adults do, among them film stars Goldie Hawn and Richard Gere, and former Vice President Al Gore. You are also an object of study for serious scientists, who are now discovering that some kinds of meditation have interesting effects that can be measured.
Many people still associate meditation with romantic dreams of a golden age. Someone – a prophet, a guru, a reincarnated Maitreya – is going to come and initiate a new era, where all pain is gone and all enigmas are solved. People who practise meditation are seen as escapists guided by such fantasies of a problem-free existence. Meditation entails crystals and pyramids, weird notions and even weirder lifestyles. Normal, sensible and realistic people do not meditate.
Relaxation and achievement
In his thesis, Dr Solberg showed that Acem Meditation reduces stress and increases relaxation in the body. Pulse rate reduction was more pronounced in meditators than in people who rested without meditating. This effect was reinforced during long meditations. Dr Solberg demonstrated that the relaxation achieved during meditation differed from the relaxation obtained during rest. Meditators had higher initial levels of melatonin, suggesting that this hormone plays a central role in the relaxation process.
Most of the studies relate to the performance and recovery of sportsmen. One study showed that elite marksmen who practiced Acem Meditation achieved better results in competitions than marksmen who did not meditate. Another study indicated that marathon runners who had practised Acem Meditation for six months had reduced the negative impact of stress on their immune systems. Runners who practised Acem Meditation also showed less physical fatigue (as measured by post-exercise lactate levels) than either those who did not meditate or those who practised another relaxation technique called autogenic training.
Meditation is in Vogue – not only in a recent issue of the magazine, but in the international press generally.
The Independent (October 24, 2004) asks Acem’s founder Dr. Are Holen how to meditate. “All you have to do is let things pass while repeating the [meditation] sound in a non-concentrated, non-directed manner,” he says, and adds: “Reflecting on our lives gives us inner strength, which makes it easier to understand feelings and conflicts in ourselves and others. It also helps to get rid of stress.”
Under the heading “Meditation is the new mental work-out”, the Financial Times (February 13, 2004) writes:
“Could there be a mental equivalent of the work-out or diet plan that could make our minds fitter and healthier? The possibility is emerging from research combining 21st century neuroscience with meditation The results hint at an intriguing parallel between physical and mental fitness.”
by Svend Davanger, MD PhD
People have been meditating for thousands of years. During the last decade, researchers have obtained a better understanding of what goes on in the brain during meditation.
The impact of meditation on the meditator’s heart rhythm, blood pressure and hormone level has been known for many years. Recent technological developments are beginning to provide answers about what goes on in the brain during meditation.
For the last 15 years or so, new ways of applying MRI have made it possible to register and observe activity in the brain while it is consciously used for various tasks, including meditation.
These recent developments in neurological research indicate that meditation may actually change parts of the brain’s reactivity to stress.