“The best doctor gives the least medicines.”-Benjamin Franklin
Healing is most often associated with reaching out and receiving help from doctors or health professionals however we sometimes hear of amazing stories of self-healing.
Whether it is curing cancer or stopping the progression of other severe illnesses, when we hear the miraculous stories of people’s self-healing successes, meditation has usually played a significant role.
The Science and the Spiritual
Whilst there are different approaches to understanding these profound cases of recovery there has been much cooperation among scholars of comparative religions, sciences and health over the years. Investigations into the connection between spirituality and health started in 1995 and significant to the overlap of these different approaches has been meditation (Murphy, Donovan & Taylor, 1997). There is a strong, growing body of evidence showing the benefits of spiritual meditation practices on the science of healing.
In terms of pathology, meditation provides a possible prevention strategy by helping people to learn and understand their physical and psychological limitations (Hamilton, Kitzman & Guyotte, 2006).
This is not to say that medical doctors and modern medicine are not important, just that viewing health from a spiritual perspective and respecting the self-healing benefits can also be remarkably powerful.
Meditation, Mindfulness and How they Heal
First of all, in the process of healing, meditation can help people by enhancing their tolerance of negative emotions from unpleasant physical symptoms. This is achieved through the mindfulness component of meditation.
Additionally the research of Edenfield and Saeed (2012) pointed out that mindfulness interventions calmed the mind and body which helped reduce the symptoms of illness including pain, anxiety, depression, stress and even eating disorders.
Whilst yet another qualitative study (Schure et. al., 2008) indicated that practicing mindfulness helped participants by improving their immune system and increasing awareness of their bodies.
The study also suggested that meditation could significantly change the brain’s structure and function, thus improving emotional well-being and overall quality of life.
These findings point to the power of non-judgmental awareness as a method to not only reduce the symptoms of illness but actually reduce the likelihood of illness as well through improved immunity and structural brain changes.
In terms of the power of self in healing Neff (2003) showed that the compassion that grows from meditation also helps individuals to heal themselves with kindness through increased understanding of one’s pain and seeing the experience as part of the shared suffering of all humanity.
Self-Healing: Your Road to Recovery
So we know that meditation is beneficial and the potency of mindfulness is evidently important for healing but how does meditation truly encourage self-healing?
The answer: Because suffering comes from you!
In Buddhism physical or psychological suffering is rooted in the “clinging to [your] sense of self” (Goleman, 2001).
When you get hurt, you suffer and in turn your sense of self gets threatened.
The book Emotional Alchemy: how the mind can heal the heart (Hamilton, Kitzman & Guyotte, 2006) states that “Patients often ruminate about pain and disease and catastrophize about the meaning of new symptoms or worsening disease status.”
This is a phenomenal realization as let’s say your real pain accounts for 30% of your feeling, it is the repetitive thought of ‘I’m getting hurt’ or other negative schemas that is actually increasing the pain to reach its 100%. So if we are able to emphasis our pain, imagine the power we have if we were to use our thoughts for self healing!
Meditation can play an important role here as through practicing meditation you become aware of ruminating thoughts. When you have this awareness, it lowers the strong impact of ego on your pain, essentially diminishing your suffering through detached awareness of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.
Despite the power of meditation in the prevention and management of illness it is important to note that modern medicine still plays a vital role in the treatment of pain and disease.
You can however put meditation in your first aid kit as meditation can help you to perform self healing wherever and whenever.
Now you can rest assured knowing that the first line of defense and recovery is already in you. Stay well!
Bennett-Goleman, T. (2001). Emotional alchemy: How the Mind can Heal the Heart. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Edenfield, T. M., & Saeed, S. A. (2012). An update on mindfulness meditation as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression. Psychol Res Behav Manag, 5, 131-41.
Hamilton, N. A., Kitzman, H., & Guyotte, S. (2006). Enhancing health and emotion: Mindfulness as a missing link between cognitive therapy and positive psychology. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 20(2), 123-134.
Murphy, M., Donovan, S., & Taylor, E. (1997). The physical and psychological effects of meditation: A review of contemporary research. Published by the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Ramachandra, P., Booth, S., Pieters, T., Vrotsou, K., & Huppert, F. A. (2009). A brief self‐administered psychological intervention to improve well‐being in patients with cancer: results from a feasibility study. Psycho‐Oncology, 18(12), 1323-1326.
Schure, M. B., Christopher, J., & Christopher, S. (2008). Mind-body medicine and the art of self-care: Teaching mindfulness to counseling students through yoga, meditation, and qigong. Journal of Counseling and Development: JCD, 86(1), 47.