Different Theories on How it Works
The physiological mechanisms by which emotions and cognitions are altered during meditation are not fully known. Like other methods that induce relaxation (autogenic training, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, progressive muscular relaxation), meditation brings about changes consistent with decreased sympathetic nervous system arousal (e.g., reduction in oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate, galvanic skin resistance, changes in blood flow, etc.) Alterations of brain physiology also occur with meditation, as documented by EEG studies which show increased synchronicity of alpha-theta brain wave activity during the meditative state. One theory on the psychobiology of meditation is that it entails greater activation in the right hemisphere where non-verbal, spatial-holistic, intuitive capacities predominate. It is also hypothesized that the simultaneous increase in mental alertness and relaxation that occurs in meditation makes it a unique physiological event that is qualitatively different from ordinary rest.
Conditions it Works Best For
Although controlled research on meditation/relaxation is relatively recent, there is considerable evidence documenting its stress reduction benefits. According to government and medical society clinical guidelines, meditation and relaxation are beneficial in the treatment of post-operative pain, management of cancer pain, treatment of substance use disorders in children, adolescents and adults, chronic insomnia, chronic pain, and temporomandibular disorders.
Clinical studies to assess the benefits of meditation/relaxation have shown that this therapeutic approach is beneficial in the treatment of chronic pain, insomnia, phobias, post-operative pain, psoriasis, psychological symptoms, surgical pain and the reduction of cardiac events after myocardial infarction. In addition, federally funded research in progress includes studies on the beneficial effect of meditation/relaxation for stress reduction, mental well-being in chronic disease, breast cancer coping, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.