Discoveries of the effects of Tibetan monk practices: Can meditation be useful in addressing psychological stress and physiological well-being?
Life adaptation – particularly to a brave new world of ever-new gadgets and gizmos – is particularly relevant for the aging population, requiring fundamental mechanisms apparently implicit in the human mind in order to prevent and treat the potential dangers to mental and physical well-being as caused by psychological stress and the fight-or-flight response.
Author William Cromie of the Harvard Gazette in the April 18, 2002 issue revealed one such implicit mechanism to counteract stress, accessible within the human mind. This article, titled, Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments, revealed the works of Dr. Herbert Benson, Associate Professor of Harvard Medical School. Beginning in the 1980’s, with support from His Holiness Dalai Lama, Dr. Benson has been conducting metabolism experiments on Tibetan monks practicing g Tum-mo meditation from Buddhist monasteries in remote areas of northern India. Obstacles due to low funding proved difficult for continued research – including the lack of electricity in the Himalayan areas – until the turn of the century, where g Tum-mo monks were brought to a Guinness estate in Normandy, France, to be involved with another temperature experiment.
Studies which commenced in the 1980’s and on have shown that these monks could lower their metabolism by 64 percent and reduce oxygen consumption by 17 percent just by simple meditation. This may lead to less free radicals in the body, thus less oxidation, and thus less “aging.” The g Tum-mo technique is known for its by-product of producing large amounts of body heat still unexplainable today. Through g Tum-mo meditation, Dr. Benson recorded that monks could raise the temperatures of their bodies to breathtaking amounts of heat – with increases as much as 8.3°C in their hands and toes. Large, chilled, wet towels placed on these monks’ bodies which would normally produce a shivering response did not produce noticeable shivers, and proved to be dry within an hour. Techniques such as g Tum-mo could prove priceless to preventing the onset of illnesses for the elderly – whom are more susceptible to the cold, thus leading to a weaker immune system, which may lead to considerable conditions, i.e. pneumonia.
Dr. Benson – inspired by meditation – has developed the renowned “relaxation response,” published as a book over 40 years ago but used widely today. This technique counters the stressful state of mind and targets physiological equilibrium. The components involve choosing a word, sound, prayer, or phrase, relaxing the body, and letting any thoughts that come to mind simply pass by while continuing to repeat the chosen saying. It is regularly recommended in treating patients suffering from heart conditions, high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, and many other physical conditions. Requiring only minutes to learn and just between ten to twenty minutes of practice twice a day, it can bring cost-effectiveness in all forms of public health ranging from general health clinics to those focusing on elderly care. Although g Tum-mo meditation – a well-guarded secret by the Tibetan monks who meditate hourly per day – may require years to learn and cannot be easily performed by the layman who would meditate 10-20 minutes twice a day, it is shown that simple meditation such as the relaxation response is all that is required to produce physiological, DNA-affecting changes in the body to alleviate the stressful fight-or-flight response and balance the body by putting it into homeostasis. To summarize, there is an indication from the trends of experiments that study some forms of meditation as practiced in Tibet that there may quite be something to the expression, “mind over matter.”
Dr. Benson’s experiments with Tibetan monks
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Cromie, William J. 2002. Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments. Harvard Gazette. April 18 2002 Issue. Retrieved April 12th, 2012 from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html