John M. Talmadge, M.D.

A Blog Covering Many Topics

Mindfulness Meditation Improves Health

During the years I have practiced mindfulness meditation, I have learned that regular meditation provides multiple benefits to my health. In addition to improving sleep and reducing blood pressure and heart disease risk, meditation will also relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and ameliorate depression. My patients who meditate require less medication, experience greater satisfaction in psychotherapy, and find other issues like addiction and substance abuse are easier to overcome.

In one study conducted at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, scientists found that doing meditation daily for a few minutes could relieve pain better than a powerful pain relieving medication.

What is meditation? If you've followed my blog here (or if you browse earlier posts) you know that my approach to meditation is quite simple and straightforward. Although I have studied theology and philosophy seriously, including the great religions, I do not see meditation through the lens of religion. Like contemplative prayer, however, meditation has the capacity to soothe, calm, and relax the mind, and the most challenging aspect of meditation is simply to practice on a daily basis.

Image of Words Related to Mindfulness

Meditation is the simple practice of making the mind calm, and silent, and bringing your thoughts to one point. In other words, meditation can be defined as making mind free from agitation, turning attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment. Some individuals incorporate meditation as part of religious practice, and others do not. Yoga, for example, is one approach to meditation that has spiritual roots, and the same is true of contemplative prayer in Christian and Jewish traditions. Zen meditation, deriving from Buddhism, also has spiritual aspects.

Christian writer Phil Fox Rose says, "The promise of a devoted spiritual life, of which meditation is an invaluable part, is serenity...that in everyday life you will not be anxious, restless or irritable; and that in good times you will be fully alive to enjoy them."

After practicing meditation for even a few weeks, what many people notice is that mindfulness becomes a part of everyday life. In other words, we become more mindful in every activity. We focus more clearly, we think and speak more in terms of the present moment, and we act with greater compassion and clarity.

Meditation produces many benefits. I have noticed that my meditation practice improves concentration, strengthens the mind and leads to multiple health benefits: lowering blood pressure, reducing emotional distress , diminishing anxiety attacks, and improving my relationships.

The Wake Forest study now shows that meditation each day could be better in relieving pain than taking morphine. Similar studies at Duke and Harvard point to similar findings.

In their study, the lead researcher, Dr. Fadel, examined the brain scans of individuals who had been trained to use relaxation and breathing techniques to cope with the pain. After studying the brain scans, his team noticed that the study subjects who meditated regularly had calmer brain scans. They saw a 27 percent reduction in pain intensity and 44 percent less emotional pain in group of volunteers who actually practiced mindfulness meditation.

Along with many others, I believe that such findings prove that mindfulness meditation can produce different patterns of brain activity to suppress the feeling of pain.
Based on the study results, the scientists believe 20-minute a day meditation practice could be added to conventional pain relief methods for better and quicker relief. The study focused on volunteers who were pain free, so the question remains as to whether individuals with more serious pain problems can achieve similar results. The study findings are reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Another study from the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center shows that mindfulness meditation can protect against depression. There are now hundreds of scientific papers on mindfulness. A Harvard Medical School study showed promising results in pain relief: "Recently, it has been demonstrated that pain can also be attenuated by mindfulness….Mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner during a mindfulness and a control condition. Mindfulness practitioners, but not controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipatory anxiety by 29% during a mindful state."

Let me know if you discover new findings in this exciting area of research!

Two Talks Today to Good Teams

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with the staff at Windhaven House in Dallas, a sober living program for women in addiction recovery. We discussed many of the important issues facing women in recovery today, and I was very impressed with the knowledge and commitment of the team at Windhaven. Later I enjoyed a really tasty lunch at Innovation360, a progressive program developed by my longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Kevin Gilliland. I presented my short talk, "Four Sides to Every Story," outlining the basic concepts advanced by Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins. I am happy to share the slides upon request. By the way, i360 has one of the most elegant websites on the net. Kevin and I are thinking about putting up some podcasts and videos, and i360 has already done some great media work.