Meditation Training Lessens Symptoms of Chronic Illnesses

Meditation training helps patients with chronic illnesses ranging from AIDS to sleeping disorders reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life, according to a new study. The study is published in the July/August issue of General Hospital Psychiatry.

Daily functioning as well as both psychological and physical symptoms improved in patients participating in a meditation training program. Patients also reported dramatically improved ability to cope with stress, improved sense of well being, reduced body tension and increased mental clarity, says lead author Diane K. Reibel, Ph.D., of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

The meditation program is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR, an intervention designed for patients with chronic illness. The program consisted of eight weekly group sessions plus a full-day intensive meditation retreat in the sixth week of the program.

“Mindfulness meditation helps in facing all aspects of life, however painful, with increasing degrees of equanimity, wisdom and compassion,” says Reibel.

One-hundred and four patients completed the meditation-training program, representing 90 percent of the original patients recruited. The most common chronic illnesses were anxiety/panic disorder, asthma/allergies, cancer, depression, gastrointestinal problems, hypertension, chronic pain, sleep disorders and stress.

“MBSR programs contain several potentially therapeutic elements that may account for observed improvements in physical and mental health among participants. These include mindfulness meditation training as well as other therapeutic factors inherent in group intervention, such as emotional expression and social support,” says Reibel.

Of patients who responded to a one-year follow-up questionnaire, 91 percent had formally or informally kept up with their meditation. These patients also maintained similar psychological and physical benefits at one year as measured directly after completion of the training program.

However, the researchers warn that since only 30 percent of the original program patients responded to the one-year assessment, the results may have been skewed toward the patients who had sustained benefits from the intervention. They note that the study is also limited by the lack of a control group but point to previous research that support the hypothesis that meditation can produce profound effects on the mind and body.

“The health promotion effects of MBSR appear to complement conventional biomedical treatment in a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to healing and alleviation of human suffering,” they conclude.

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