I was meditating on the breath recently and I noticed that my breath slowed to a significant extent (not a huge insight admittedly). So this made me wonder if anyone has measured the effects of mindfulness type meditations on the body while the person is meditating. For instance what is the affect on breath rate, blood pressure, heart rate, the hormonal system and so forth.
This is a bit technical, but shows the positive effects from meditating in some key hormones we produce related to health and stress. I was discussing it with my girlfriend (she is endocrinologist and not buddhist) and she was quite surprised with it.
If you want you can skip to the end of the text to see the conclusion
" Previous studies of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique as a possible means of countering effects of stress have reported altered levels of several hormones both during the practice and longitudinally after regular practice of this technique. In this prospective, random assignment study, changes in baseline levels and acute responses to laboratory stressors were examined for four hormones-cortisol, growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone and testosterone-before and after 4 months of either the TM technique or a stress education control condition. At pre- and post-test, blood was withdrawn continuously through an indwelling catheter, and plasma or serum samples were frozen for later analysis by radioimmunoassay. The results showed significantly different changes for the two groups, or trends toward significance, for each hormone over the 4 months. In the TM group, but not in the controls, basal cortisol level and average cortisol across the stress session decreased from pre- to post-test. Cortisol responsiveness to stressors, however, increased in the TM group compared to controls. The baselines and/or stress responsiveness for TSH and GH changed in opposite directions for the groups, as did the testosterone baseline. Overall, the cortisol and testosterone results appear to support previous data suggesting that repeated practice of the TM technique reverses effects of chronic stress significant for health."
The Buddhist teaching revolves around 2 main pillars:
- The way out of Stress
So the psychological effect of practicing mindfulness meditation is that your come out of stress. This in turn would have physical benefits also. Also 4 scientific studies on how meditation can affect your heart, brain and creativity gives reference to some research on the physiological effects of meditation. Also Slow down! Enjoy life touches on both physiological and psychological benefits. Always the physiological and psychological benefits are always interrelated as we are dealing with Namarupa.
Another aspect of Buddhist meditation is that when you do Vipassana, your old fabrication / conditioning / karma surfaces as sensations and then pass away. If the you have a physical illness which is either psychosomatic in nature or Karmic in nature there is a chance that it might be heal by the passing away of the Karmic conditioning which might be causing the disorder.
Following additional references also may be of value (This is more on psychology but this has a knock on effect on physiology):