Sometimes it's what you do between training sessions that can affect your physical abilities the most. With that in mind, Robert Wang, M.D., explores the short- and long-term physiological benefits of meditation.

Meditation is an integral part of many Asian systems of self-defense. As martial artists, we understand that meditation techniques can bring a sense of calm and centeredness that's especially crucial in chaotic situations. Whether we're talking about training, real-life combat or just everyday life, having the right state of mind in the face of adversity is something we all desire. Like with any other skill, our ability in meditation techniques improves with practice. Those who practice meditation techniques regularly say they feel calmer, more resourceful and more prepared to handle whatever challenges they encounter. For centuries, martial arts masters have taught their students that meditation fosters an optimal state of mind and helps increase martial power. They've also preached meditation benefits such as improvements in overall health by bolstering stress management and even combating disease. These meditation benefits that masters have always known are getting closer to being proven by science.


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A team of psychiatrists from Harvard Medical School is researching how meditation techniques can affect the genes and the brain activity of people who suffer from chronic stress. Through a rigorous five-year study using the latest neuroimaging and genomic technology, scientists are investigating how mind-body harmony through meditation techniques can turn on and off genes that have been linked to stress and immune function. This research into meditation benefits is exciting because it takes us deeper into the relationship between meditation and human physiology.

Other studies have reported the discovery of meditation benefits, but those findings were based on variables such as participant-reported feelings, heart rate and blood pressure. The Harvard study regarding meditation benefits is enabling us to examine on a deeper level the effects of meditation techniques on the human body. The evidence indicates that the reason we feel less stressed and healthier when we meditate is the genes that control stress and the immune system are being manipulated.

Inflammation and stress are generally bad for the body — particularly if they're present for sustained periods. We know that stress is a natural part of life, however. As martial artists, we face it constantly in the dojo. What enables us to cope — and even thrive — is the subsequent recovery period during which the stress is removed. We desperately need time to recuperate so we can be ready and refreshed when we have to tackle another stressor. Meditation seems to control our genes in a way that helps shut down stress, thus allowing us to consciously bring about that recuperation period.

Need more evidence regarding meditation benefits? You've probably wondered why masters who meditate appear healthier, more vibrant and younger than others their age. Well, scientists at UCLA found that engaging in 12 minutes of yoga meditation daily for eight weeks increased the body's supply of telomerase, which they've dubbed the “immortality enzyme." Telomerase actually slows the cellular aging process.

As we live our lives, we should remember that although pharmaceuticals are necessary for the treatment of many illnesses and conditions, meditation techniques are a tried-and-true way to help us reduce stress and — when combined with proper nutrition, rest and exercise — avoid those illnesses in the first place.

About the Author:

Robert Wang, M.D., is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He's an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.

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