"Having had a chat with some new students today, we've looked a little at some of the health benefits of meditation.
As well as helping with lowering your blood pressure, lowering your resting heart rate, and generating a sense of wellbeing and calmness, meditation has a surprisingly positive effect on immunity levels, which is great news for us all in the winter months!
Again, this is backed by science, from a study run by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin with the biotech company, Promega. In the study, Promega staff were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The "experimental" group had training in mindfulness meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn, (Kabat-Zinn, a popular author of books on stress reduction, developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre). This group attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they also were assigned home practice for an hour a day, six days a week.
Members of the "control" group didn't have meditation training until after the study was completed. For each group (as well as asking participants to assess how they felt), the research team measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain. This is because previous research showed that, in people who are generally positive and optimistic - and during times of positive emotion - the left side of this frontal area becomes more active than the right side does.
The findings confirmed that the meditation group showed an increase in activity in the left-side part of the frontal region; suggesting the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain.
The research also tested whether the "meditation" group had better immune function than the "control" group did. All participants received a flu jab at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had antibody tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups (as expected) had developed increased antibodies, the "meditation" group had a significantly larger increase than the "control" group, at both four and eight weeks after receiving the vaccine.
We still have so much to learn about meditation, and whether it has a physical effect on the body, or whether we are "thinking ourselves well", which then enables our bodies to reach those higher immune response levels.
However, regardless of how the result is actually achieved, there's little doubt from this study that there's a really good reason to turn to meditation in the winter months!