Meditation Can Help Inflammation

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Shelly Young.

Mindfulness meditation is gaining more and more credibility as a practice that can have significant health and psychological benefits. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, funding agencies are beginning to look favorably on granting money for really expensive, difficult, and high-powered studies on mindfulness meditation. Researchers at major universities are getting grants from the National Institute of Health, and amazing results are being brought forth, demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness on physical and psychological health.

Practices that may once have been viewed as "hippy dippy" and esoteric activities are presently being used in clinics, hospital, mental health centers, prisons, youth centers, and corporations. Medical doctors and neuroscientists, themselves, have become serious mindfulness meditation practitioners. After experiencing the profound personal benefits, they are studying the methods at neuroscience labs of universities such as Harvard and other prominent universities.

Inflammation is an important and popular topic in medicine. It involves an activation of the immune system in response to infection, irritation, or injury. It is characterized by an influx of white blood cells, pain, swelling, heat and redness, and dysfunction of the organs involved. The diseases that it causes have different names when they appear in different parts of the body.

In David Mendosa's article, Inflammation: The Root of Diabetes, published at in June 2009, he discusses the strong evidence supporting the relationship of inflammation to type 2 diabetes. He includes Challem's Anti-inflammation Food Pyramid Chart for suggestions in creating an anti-inflammatory eating program.

Charles Raison M.D. of Emory University is involved in studying the possible ways which meditation practice is helpful for stress-related medical and emotional conditions. He says that stressful events and circumstances set off alarms within our nervous system, our endocrine system, and also in the form of an inflammatory response. If they occur frequently or over long periods of time, they can wreak havoc in our minds and bodies and contribute to or cause serious diseases. The inflammatory response has also been linked to disorders including cancer, depression, and arthritis.

Dr. Raison has been particularly interested in seeing whether mediation results in a reduction in the inflammatory responses associated with social stressors. In a study performed by Dr. Raison and his colleagues, participants were randomized either to training in loving-kindness meditation (compassion meditation) or an active control group (health discussion group). They were then subjected to an intense social stressor. Physiological measures were interleukin (IL)-6 (inflammatory marker) and cortisol, a stress hormone. Dr. Raison and his colleagues found that compassion meditation diminished the inflammatory reactivity to the psychosocial sttress

Melissa Rosenkranz, a research associate at the University of Wisconsin's lab for affective neuroscience, studied the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on cutaneous inflammation following stress. Rosenkranz and her colleagues administered two types of stressors to their research subjects. The subjects underwent a very stressful psychosocial task and they had a strong pepper cream rubbed into their skin, which resulted in blistering. Half the subjects completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) and the other engaged in a Health Enhancement Program (HEP) that included music, exercise, and several other components. The researchers found that the inflammation caused by the pepper cream was significantly smaller in the MBSR group as compared to the HEP group...and those individuals who spent more time practicing MBSR  techniques  showed greater buffering effect on inflammation than those who practiced them  less.

To practice the compassion type of mindfulness meditation, either  find a quiet place to sit  or walk slowly.  It's important to begin with compassion meditation towards yourself, since it is difficult to generate compassion towards others without your own self-compassion experience.

Begin by bringing into your mind, the image of something that makes you feel good. Bring a smile to your face and notice any pleasant feelings that are generated in your body. Repeat to yourself, "May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free from suffering as you  hold the positive images, while attempting to notice the  good feeling in  your body.  Repeat this over and over  allowing the good feeling to spread throughout your body.  If the sense of well-being diminishes, generate it again by thinking of something that makes you feel good and again wishing yourself well, noticing any good feeling.

To generate compassion toward another, bring a loved one into your mind and wish  that person  well-being and release from suffering. Do this over and over again.     You can continue to generate good feelings with your thoughts and then attempt to  put the feelings  outward to your loved ones.

Aside from helping with physically inflammatory conditions, developing compassion towards self and others can greatly help with psychologically inflammatory conditions as well. Love towards self and others can transform even the most aggravating life situations and have wonderful affects on the world.