While the Western world took a considerable amount of time to discover yoga and meditation compared to the ancient Eastern world, its positive effects are beginning to show throughout the modern day healthcare system. In a recent study carried out by Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)’s Institute for Technology Assessment and the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI), it was found that meditation and yoga has helped to reduce healthcare costs by as much as 43%. In the study, patients participated in a relaxation training program which significantly lowered stress-levels and anxiety while lowering blood pressure, heart rate and decreasing muscle tension. The patients were found to use much fewer health care services in the year following their participation in the relaxation program. Utilising both the data from the Harvard Relaxation Program and also data obtained from the Research Patient Data Registry (RPDR) of Partners HealthCare from between 2006 and 2014 shows a reduction in the need for additional healthcare services.
Considering anxiety and depression rate as the third biggest expenditure in American healthcare services, adopting almost cost-free services such as yoga and meditation could see huge pressure lifted off the health care system. This could include greater availability of services and more prompt delivery of those services and also see more funding available for research on other non stress-related diseases that require more attention. Prescribing medication such as anti-depressants only fixes the problem short term. Focusing on more long-term alternatives such as regular yoga or meditation should be the key to effectively helping a patient reach optimal vitality and assist in the recovery and treatment of disease. Unfortunately modern Western medicine is not yet focused on this and still relies almost solely on medication.
The link between body and mind
Going back to the Eastern World, many practitioners believe there is a very strong link between body and mind and the prevalence of many diseases. This belief has only in recent times spread into the Western World where before they have long believed that the mind is not interconnected to the body. In our modern day, fast paced lifestyles it becomes quite easy to forget about the importance of slowing down and taking time out for ourselves. Every day we find so many places we need to be, people we need to see, jobs we need to do and children we need to take care of. Couple this with emotional, financial and physical stress, it’s no wonder we have a hard time actually paying attention to what our body is trying to tell us. It goes even deeper, in that we are also seeing a link between the mind and the immune system and our emotions and their effect on our body. These incredible findings have been made much more easier to prove thanks to development in technology, in particular in neuroimaging which measures specific brain function and molecular biology which reads various biological interactions between cells.
When you are stressed your body releases hormones that have a big impact on how your nervous system and internal organs function. Cortisol is the main hormone that affects your body’s function when placed under stress. It has been found to impair memory and function, increase weight and bring about multiple cardiovascular diseases. Your digestive system can also be directly affected by stress and it has been shown that nutrients are not as effectively absorbed when stressed. Irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies are also closely linked to stress. The brain communicates to your stomach via the vagus nerve.
When placed under continual stress your immune system begins to suffer which leaves you wide open to many illnesses. The body is unable to fight effectively against harmful bacteria and infections, resulting in inflammation which can occur at many levels. For this reason it is believed that many autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and osteoarthritis form in the body as a result of stress.
Adapting yoga and meditation into your schedule
Attending a yoga or meditation class even once a week can have a big impact on your overall health and wellness. A guided class will allow you to dedicate at least an hour to your practice without distraction. If you are unable to find the time to attend a class, there are many guided meditation and yoga sequences available on the internet. Finding a quiet place in the house and spending ten minutes a day at a scheduled time will help you develop the important habit of taking time out for yourself. You can then extend your practice to a longer period of time as the weeks go on.
The simple act of focusing on your breath will do wonders at reducing your stress levels and calming your mind. When you have a relaxed stress response system you will notice deeper breathing, a lowered heart rate and a positive change in your overall mood.
Hopefully in the future we will see the prevalence of many more yoga and meditation programs offered in place of prescription medication to treat a variety of mental illness and mind-body related disease.
Resources: Relaxation proves positive www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/10/relaxation-response-proves-positive/
Stress and hormones: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/
Psychoneuroimmunology: The Science Connecting Body and Mind: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/psychoneuroimmunology/
Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/#R359