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The Science Behind Meditation


a blog by Joanne Verkuilen, Founder, Circle+Bloom, November 12, 2010

What can we learn from research completed on cardiac and blood pressure health for fertility? The answer is being able to consciously manage stress levels through relaxation and meditation.

Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School, pioneered an entire body of research showing how by consciously relaxing the body through meditation, we can literally take control over the effects of stress in our body. Since stress is repeatedly shown in various studies to have a connection to fertility, this is something we should learn a bit about.

The Fight or Flight Response

Our bodies were built to live as long as possible. When the human race was just getting started in this world, threats and stress came from impending danger. Think lions, tigers and bears (“oh my!”). Our senses quickly assess such threats, and our hypothalamus and adrenal glands respond quickly and efficiently, flooding the body with both adrenaline and cortisol. This moves blood flow to our limbs so we can get out of the way of these lions, tigers and bears smartly and quickly.

But since we no longer have to deal as much with physical threats, our minds (and bodies) still perceive threats in our day-to-day hectic, modern lifestyles. Deadlines, money problems, family stressors and, most importantly, feelings of lack of control create a chronic and very harmful level of stress that we all must deal with, whether or not we are trying to get pregnant.

The Relaxation Response

Dr. Benson explains how meditation helps control the stress and creates the relaxation response:

    “What we found was that when people practiced meditation, there were a set of profound physiologic changes that were opposite to those of stress. Namely, decreased metabolism, decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decreased rate of breathing and also slower brain waves. The importance of this is that 60 to 90 percent of visits to doctors are in the mind-body, stress-related realm, poorly treated by any drugs or surgery. So initially, I felt that this was a very important finding, that in our minds we have the capability to bring forth a response opposite to the fight-or-flight response that could have therapeutic value. And then our teams discovered that there is a physiologic state opposite to the fight-or-flight response, which we labeled the relaxation response, which has been practiced and brought forth for millennia.”

The statistic he mentions — that 60 to 90 percent of visits to doctors are in the mind-body, stress-related — realm is particularly eye-opening!

I was fortunate to have been asked to lead an interactive mind-body workshop at the Resolve NE conference. I led the group into a deep breathing exercise and then a progressive body scan. Even after five to seven minutes, everyone in the room felt a real shift in their body — not just a relaxed state as when you are watching TV, for example, but a feeling similar to the after-effects of a full body massage or a great yoga session. And this was done all by using the mind’s power of visualization.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we talk about tips to learn how to meditate on your own.

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