The father of Zen Buddhism, he remains today

 

The
Science of Meditation and the Body

 

            As we progress with time we see how a large number of
individuals everywhere throughout the world that have benefitted enormously
from meditation. With each having their own story to tell they can describe
their experiences and tell you how meditation changed them vigorously by
lifting them to an alternate plane spiritually and mentally. However, although
there is no question that mediation has its spiritual and mental benefits, that
is not all that meditation can do to and for you. Besides spiritual and mental
improvements, you can expect to see an increase in your physical health as
well.  This paper examines the science of
meditation and its impacts on the human body. Through
multiple studies we will look at how Buddhist meditation practices have
enhanced the livelihood of people’s bodies physically, psycologically,
internally and externally.

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Buddhism and Health

.
“Bodhidharma is the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in a line of descent from the
Buddha via his disciple Mah?k??yapa, Buddha’s successor after his death” (The Buddha)
Bodhidharma was a spirited teacher who commended all Buddhists, monks or lay
people to make their best effort in this lifetime. Since he was opposed to the
idea of earning merits by making donations he acknowledged that everyone has “Buddha-nature”
and encouraged each and every one to be Awaken. “Awakening is uncovering to the
reality that has always been and by doing so one must experience the Four Noble
Truths which is the process of understanding and experiencing suffrage” (The
Buddha) Besides being known as the father of Zen Buddhism, he remains today as
a prime symbol of determination, strength of mind, self-discipline, and
Awakening.

For
Buddhism, physical suffering is always going to be a part of life no matter
what. From old age and death, sickness is something we can’t avoid and causes
us to suffer to some degree. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t relieve pain
through accessible medical resources, but if we continue to suffer, we should
accept, acknowledge, and mindfully endured it. “Inside the Buddhist tradition,
physical pain and illness can provide an occurrence to the development of
healthy and alluring mental states including avoidance and tolerance” (Virtbauer
pg68) Meaning that it isn’t the overall concept off being sick, but rather how
we respond to it that has spiritual value in the Buddhist tradition. This
establishes the idea of dualism because it separates how our body perceives
pain and how our mind perceives pain. Though we physically feel pain, if we
reject it in our mind it become less of a distraction to us. In his lessons,
the Buddha censured any type of self-mortification and abuse of either the body
or mind. “Underlying this way to dealing with wellbeing and illness is
Buddhism’s view that the body and mind are interrelated and interdependent” (Virtbauer
pg69) Meaning that the body is a significant instrument whose great wellbeing
is simple for furthering our spiritual development. With that being said
however, meditation practices, which is a center piece of the Buddhist
traditions, are composed to some degree to avoid and address physical and
mental illness as well

                                                    
Dogen

“Dogen
Kigen (1200-1253), the man who would later become known as Japan’s greatest Zen
Master, started his spiritual life at a young age as a monk of the Tendai
school of Buddhism on Mount Hiei, near Kyoto” (ZEN BUDDHISM) Dogen calls the
path of practice-enlightenment “the Buddha way.” “The Buddha way” is the path
of all awakened ones of past, present, and future. The heart of this teaching
is zazen, or meditation in a sitting posture, from which all understanding is
established. Dogen offers a highly defined way of doing zazen, as well as
guidelines for activities in the monastic community. Details of what and how to
eat, and what and how to wear, are all presented as essential aspects of the
life of the awakened ones. The guidelines offered by Dogen using teaching from
zazen untimely contributed to people living a healthier life and lifestyle.

Zen Meditation

            “Zen meditation is a spiritual practice that promotes
awareness and presence through the undivided engagement of mind and body” (ZEN
BUDDHISM) When one engages in Zen meditation, there is a three-step procedure
that is highly encouraged for people to follow: adjusting body, breathing, and
mind. When we talk about adjusting the body, the change of the body intends to
set oneself up (one’s mind-body) so that one can achieve an ideal state of
being free. One way to accomplish this is by changing eating habits, engage in
physical exercise, and avoiding behaviors that go against nurturing a healthy
mind-body condition. “Also in adjusting the body we recognize two sitting
postures: the lotus-posture and the half-lotus posture that contribute to
helping one calm the mind” (ZEN BUDDHISM)

            Second practice is the adjustment of breathing. The majority
of benefits composed from Zen meditation are closely tied to the practice of
breathing.  “Zen breathing is a shift
from unconscious, involuntary breathing to conscious, voluntary breathing” (James
1998) This means that Zen meditation is a way of regulating the “unconscious-autonomic
order” (James
1998)  of our being. This exercise has
the effect of bringing together one’s mind-body with fresh life-energy and
eliminating negative and toxic energy out of the persons system. “Zen breathing
has a way of naturally increasing the positive correlation between the activity
of the autonomic nervous system and emotion” ( James 1998) “Neurophysiologically,
it just so happens that the center where breathing is regulated and the region
where emotion is generated coincide with each other” (James 1998)This means
that the our awareness of breathing psychologically affects the pattern of how
we generate emotions, and at the same time it also has a neurophysiological
effect on how the “unconscious-autonomous” activity of the is regulated.

            Last and final practice is adjusting the mind. Once the
first two practices are covered the next is to adjust the mind. This means that
we consciously move to enter a state of meditation. Meditation conditions one
to sit with their self and psychologically isolate themselves from the external
world. “With this, one enters into an internal world of psyche”
(Strick pg1478). Once an individual tries to enter the world of psych?, a lot
of things start surfacing on the surface of the persons meditative awareness.
These are mostly things that have negatively impacted the history of someone’s
life, or things the individual has consciously tried to suppress over time for
various reasons. “A psychological reason that a person experiences these acts
of refreshed suppressed memories is due to the fact that the person has lowered
the level of conscious activity, by assuming the meditation posture, and doing
the breathing exercise” (Strick pg1479) As an individual continues these
practices they come to experience the concept “no mind” which mean “there is no
conscious activity of the mind that is associated with ego-consciousness in the
everyday standpoint” (Strick pg1479) In other word, no-mind is a free mind that
is not surrounded by ideas, desires, and images. Helping one remove themselves
from any negativity that is created in the mind.

Effects

Since
we have revealed some historical context in Buddhism and broke down the key
practices in Zen reflection we will take a look at how these practices have
added to enhancing people groups mental state and physical state (internally
and externally). Presently we concentrate on the impacts of different
reflective practices on three markers of internal physical wellbeing, one marker
of external wellbeing, and one marker of mental wellbeing. For the internal
physical health, we will look at the immune system activity, cardiovascular
health and pain perception. For the external physical health portion, we will
look at how meditation effect the Epigenetic Clock. For our final marker we
will look at the mental health aspect such as emotional regulation and
psychological state. For each, we summarize the literature linking the
health-related indicator to meditative practice.

The
first internal physical marker we will discuss is the immune system. Studies
conducted in the past have proved that Zen meditation helps improve the immune
system of the body. One of the studies conducted evaluated adults with previous
meditation experience over a 3-month-long course to see the effects of
meditation training on telomerase activity in immune cells. Epel explains, “telomerase
is an enzyme that maintains the protective “end caps” on DNA that promote
genomic stability and prevent mutation; higher levels of telomerase are linked
to lower levels of stress and better health” (qtd Kok et al) In another study done
to show the direct impact of the immune system individuals where put through an
8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training, which involved
open monitoring and focused attention practices similar to the practices seen
in Zen meditation. “The ending results showed a greater rise in antibody titers
in response to the influenza vaccine for adult meditators” (Davidson et al.,
2003). Why is this important? Because a better immunity means that you become sick
less often due to minor infections and sicknesses like common cold, flu, bad
throats, etc

Likewise,
Cardiovascular health. Practicing Zen meditation also helps lower the heart
rate, improve blood circulation, and lower blood pressure all of which also
contribute further towards having a healthier and proactive cardiovascular
system. Besides making you look and feel younger, improved blood circulation
has numerous other health benefits. “In a meta-analysis of the effects of
meditation on adults diagnosed with hypertension was more effective than
progressive muscle relaxation in producing a clinically significant reduction
in blood pressure” (Ospina et al., 2007). Why is this important? Because since
the heart is the most vital organ in our body and helps in many other functions
of the body like circulatory system we need it to be healthy to practically live.
Heart failure leads to about 90% of its patience to die. Meaning that we should
take the precautions to prolonging the healthiness of our heart.

Lastly,
pain perception. Zen meditation helps reduce pain and our sensitivity levels to
it. It isn’t because people who participate in meditating do not feel the pain
which they do because that’s ultimately apart of being human, but Zen
meditation teaches individuals how to cope with the overall idea of pain.
People don’t dwell on it much because individuals choose to deal with pain in a
more dignified manner. A variety of meditation practices have been studied as
treatments for pain, both chronic and acute. “In a meta-analysis of 22 studies
of open monitoring practices as a treatment for chronic pain, the decrement in
self-reported pain intensity for open monitoring was comparable to the effect
size of standard treatment” (Veehof, Oskam, Schreurs, & Bohlmeijer, 2011). “In
two studies that compared the pain perception of people who practiced
meditation for more than 10,000 hours of their lifetime practice and
participants naïve to meditation, the long-term individuals reported to feeling
less pain in response to a pain stimulus administered while engaging in open
monitoring meditation” (Grant & Rainville, 2009; Perlman, Salomons,
Davidson, & Lutz, 2010). Why is this important? Because since naturally our
body isn’t fit to be in a painful state especially for long period of time
having something like mediation is convenient because it one: helps reduce pain
that we feel, but also provides a more natural way of doing so. It’s the most
inexpensive resource for people that experience pain that might not be able to receive
professional and medical help.

Now
we dive into how meditation effects the body externally. We all know that no
matter what there is always going to be the idea of getting old. As much as we
wish we can stay “forever you” we all have to accept that getting old is a
process of life, but what if there was a way to make that process just a little
bit slower? Meditation-based stress reduction interventions have increasingly
become a focus of scientific interest to promote healthy aging. In Zen
meditation, the practice of controlled breathing brings down the body’s rate of
respiration because you take in lesser oxygen if you meditate regularly. The
process of aging, which depends upon the rate at which you consume oxygen,
helps you take many years off your body simply by regulating your breathing
process. Recent studies have suggested that meditation has beneficial effects
in stress and age-related neuroplastic changes, mood and cognitive disorders
that all are generated from aging. “Molecular mechanisms involved in the aging
process, such as inflammation, immune and epigenetic pathways (Black and
Slavich, 2016; Kaliman et al., 2014), as well as telomere maintenance (Epel et
al., 2009; Alda et al., 2016), are also sensitive to contemplative practices”

Given
the well-characterized effect of meditation practice,
long-term meditators have shown slower rates of epigenetic aging. Side note:
Visually speaking when we look at people that have adopted Buddhism as their
main form of “religion” generally speaking we can look at them and see the
effect of meditation hands on. Even though there have been a lot of satire and
stereotypes based around this there definitely is some truth behind Why is this
good though? Because no one wants to be old or feel old and helping reduce that
can make for aging faster internally and externally, but also providing a
higher self-esteem. it.

Last
subject manner, emotional regulation and psychological state. Studies and
researches conducted on the psychological wellbeing of people have proved that
meditating regularly “activates the left prefrontal cortex while diminishing
activity in the right prefrontal cortex of the brain” (ZEN BUDDHISM) Since the
left frontal cortex is connected with positive feelings like calmness,
happiness, serenity and peace, meditation acts as a great stress reliever. It
has also helped many people find a solution to problems like stress and depression.
By lowering the stress levels, meditation helps lower the frequency of panic
attacks. “It also helps increase the production of serotonin, a hormone which
can cause depression, insomnia, obesity, headaches, etc. if not secreted in
adequate quantities”    ( ZEN BUDDHISM)  “A recent review of psychotherapeutic
approaches to mindfulness found that mindfulness meditation was linked with
improved emotion regulation, decreased rumination, and decreased emotional
reactivity to negative stimuli” (Davis & Hayes, 2011)

Conclusion    

The
teachings of Buddha have founded a lot of concepts that attributed to helping
people live a better life. For many years and years to come one of the most
beneficiary practices is Zen meditation. While Zazen helps you improve your
posture, as Zen meditation helps you strengthen qualities in mental and
physical health. If it wasn’t for Zen master such as Bodhidharma and Dogen can
we say that we would have discovered these practices and used them as a form to
reconstruct and rejuvenate our bodies? As we become knowledge about these
practices we do not only see them performed by cultures that primary initiate
in Buddhism. These practices have been seen all over the world and being
adopted in to places such as eastern and western traditions. Why? Because it
has help one universal thing that a lot of people have in common. Health.
Although we don’t all experience the same things in regard to health we all
know that the possibilities of experiencing something is 100% And because
studies done based around this we are able to see that through
multiple studies Buddhist meditation practices have enhanced the livelihood of
people’s bodies physically (internally and externally) and psycologically.