September 20 2015

Meditation, Chronic Pain, Anxiety, Depression

The latest in medical research continues to strengthen the evidence of the health benefits of meditation.  JAMA Internal Medicine published an article in March 2014 that looked at several past studies to search for the evidence of meditation healing stress-induced illnesses.

Here are my take-home points from the meta-analysis study: 

  • The researchers reviewed 47 past studies that included over 3,500 participants who had enrolled in meditation programs in several different locations. 
  • Only studies in which the participants had a psychiatric or physical medical condition were included.
  • 15 of the studies were looking at meditation’s effect on those with psychiatric conditions including anxiety, depression, chronic worry and insomnia.
  • 5 studies were looking at the effect of meditation on those addicted to cigarettes or alcohol.
  • 5 studies investigated the effect of mediation on chronic pain, a TOP complaint in the clinic.
  • 16 studies investigated the effect of mediation on those with various medical problems including cancer, diabetes mellitus, HIV and heart disease.
  • The researches found that for those who were practicing mindfulness meditation, there was moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • The researchers saw this effect consistently across several of the studies that were reviewed!
  • Of note, positive effects from the mindfulness meditation practice were seen with only an average of 20 minutes a day of meditation. 

Bottom Line

Mindfulness meditation, which supports the mind to stay in the moment, can be helpful to reduce anxiety and depression as well as pain, and you don’t need to do it for long periods of time to feel the effect! 

Some personal thoughts on the study:

I have witnessed time and time again the positive effects of a meditative practice on my patients’ well-being. Those patients who meditate regularly experience reduced levels of anxiety which positively affects virtually every area of their lives. For those in chronic pain, as this study supports, meditation can play a huge role in reducing suffering.

There has been great research in the past few years about how stress might not be the “bad guy” as it is an inevitable part of all our lives and some stress hormones actually increase our sense of connection to others (example: oxytocin).  If stress isn’t the “bad guy” then what is? It is our RESPONSE to that stress…the way we react to the inevitable “fires” in our lives.  And one of the most rewarding aspects of meditation, as anyone who practices it can attest to, is the increased ability to react consciously rather than unconsciously, to create a space between the stress and one’s response, and to increasingly have control over that response.

As I often say, you don’t have to master the lotus position to practice meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh has written eloquently about the meditation one can achieve with walking or with washing the dishes. Simply practicing a quiet return and return again to the now through breath can bring you powerfully into the present moment, and into a state of healing. 

Quick Quiz

Dance Video

Here is a meditative piece about the meaning of home. It is called I Am Home. Please enjoy.

Choreography: Tumi Johnson
Dancer: Tumi Johnson
Music: CocoRosie, Samite
Poem: "I Am Home" by Tumi Johnson

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