For Your Health
For decades, meditation has been studied as a healing method for ailments ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain. Research indicates that meditation has profound impacts on the mind and body.
A stressed body overproduces adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones suppress other essential biological functions in order to shift energy into preparation for the body to fight, fly, or freeze. This is very useful in the case of actual danger, but in today's "Age of Anxiety," the stressor is often unseen and relentless. Bodies that are constantly in stress response mode will eventually wear down faster and experience more health problems.
Anxiety suppresses immune system function, but meditation helps restore healthy endocrine balance. Meditation strengthens the immune system with life-enhancing hormones like oxytocin, melatonin, and DHEA. People who practice meditation may also experience more compassion, empathy, and the ability to perceive obstacles as challenges to overcome, rather than threats to their existence. When could this be more important than during pregnancy, birth, and parenting? Less stress for the parents means that they can be better prepared to welcome their baby to the world.
The simple act of sitting into silence, watching the mind take over, and returning to a state of awareness lends itself beautifully to a world in which stressors are unavoidable: even with eyes open and during activity, a meditator can function from a state of inner calm.
“Calm” does not mean passive or still: to be “calm” is to function from the space of inner wisdom that drives all actions. Calm Birth and Calm Mother are simple, effective meditations based in ancient Tibetan meditation science.
Phsysical benefits of meditation are shared with baby through the mother’s bloodstream and placenta. Postnatal benefits will be transmitted to the child through breastfeeding and sympathetic resonance. Before and after birth, meditation inseparably benefits the parents and the child.
Other benefits of meditation include:
- Extended perceptual ability
- Quick alert reaction time
- Field independence
- Reduced anxiety and depression
Biological Benefits of Meditation
This subject has become vast: it seems like every day a new research study is released with additional benefits of meditation! Here, we will focus mostly on hormonal balance and immune system enhancement, since these are primary concerns for the pregnant body.
To summarize: meditation boosts of pain tolerance, while producing pleasure agents in the nervous system, reducing physical pain. A healthy hormonal balance, achieved through relaxation and complete breathing, results in an enhanced immune system. This means that you will have an easier time with physical discomforts during every stage of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, and (bonus!) a boosted immune system that keeps you from getting sick. Read on to learn more about the hormones that meditation releases.
DHEA, a life-enhancing hormone, was one of the first biological benefits of meditation to be observed. DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, just above the kidneys. Issuing from the same glands that produce the stress hormones, elevated levels of DHEA imply reduced production of restrictive cortisol and adrenaline. DHEA has a variety of health-impacting benefits, including:
- Immune enhancement that has been beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lupus and other conditions
- Stimulating the production of monocytes (T cells and B cells), potent immunity bio-chemicals that cause the production of other immune system agents
- Healthier bones, muscles, blood pressure, vision and hearing.
- Mood elevation
Anxiety and stress lower normal DHEA levels in the bloodstream. Meditation elevates DHEA levels.
Meditation produces elevated levels of melatonin, the hormone secreted by the pineal gland located at the center of the brain. Melatonin many be the most potent and versatile antioxidant.
- It directly stimulates interleukin (IL-2) activity, which optimizes of immune function.
- Melatonin directly restores and increases T-helper cell production in bone marrow.
- Melatonin is renowned as a sleep-aid. Especially when produced naturally to elevated levels, it helps establish normal sleep and rest even in challenging situations (such as trying to sleep with a pregnant belly!).
- Melatonin is known to have a calming effect, bringing contentment and improved mood.
Meditation is also known to produce endorphins, peptides secreted throughout the nervous system that have a very strong pain-relieving and pleasure-inducing effect.
Endorphin production is important to a woman in avoiding the risks of medical interventions and in gaining confidence in her natural abilities in childbirth.
Another important benefit derived from meditation is increased tolerance of pain based on psychological factors. Extensive research (Murphy & Donovan, 1999, p.77-78) demonstrated reductions in:
- present moment pain
- negative body image
- inhibition of activity
- mood disturbance
- the need for pain-related drug use.
Other observed benefits of prenatal meditation:
Prenatal meditation is still emerging as a field of research inquiry, but the studies that have been performed have yielded promising results! So far, prentatl meditation has been shown to:
- Increased positive affect (Duncan & Bardacke, 2010)
- Increases in mindfulness and compassion (Dunn et al., 2015)
- Increased sense of empowerment and community (Fisher et al., 2015)
- Significantly reduce prenatal anxiety and stress (Vieten & Astin, 2008)
- Reducing the incidence of preterm birth (Sriboompimsuay et al., 2011)
- Healthier cortisol levels in the baby, lasting at least five months postpartum (Chan et al., 2012)
- Reduction in cesarean birth and epidural anesthesia (Benson, 1996)
- Decreased fear of childbirth (Byrne et al., 2014)
- Decreased levels of depression and
- Reduced rates of postpartum depression (Dimdijian et al., 2015)
As we discover more and more dimensions of physiological and psychological function, and as mind/body methods become more and more a part of childbirth medicine and the focus of research, we’ll learn more about the potential benefits of meditation in childbirth.
Please note that meditation should not be used solely as a medical treatment for physical ailments, but it can be a powerful complement to any health challenges. Please consult your doctor if any medical concerns arise.