The use of meditation in medicine

Some kind of meditative practice is found in all the world’s wisdom traditions, and has been around for thousands of years, says Shauna Shapiro of Santa Clara University, co-author with Linda Carlson of the book The Art and Science of Mindfulness. Most include focusing attention and letting thoughts and emotions go by without judgment or becoming involved.

However, it is striking to note how in recent years meditation is progressively going mainstream, and is now the subject of research in scientific journals. A U.S. government survey in 2007 found that about 1 out of 11 Americans, more than 20 million, has meditated in the previous year. And a growing number of medical centers are teaching meditation to patients for stress and pain relief, as  conventional medicine increasingly embraces healing methods once dismissed as “alternative medicine” and combining them with standard treatment. Jon Kabat-Zinn credits the “colossal shift in acceptance” of meditation to accelerating research on the benefits of meditation.

His enthusiasm is shared by practictioners on the ground, like Dr. Barrie R. Casselith, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Service in New York: ”It’s not invasive, it has no side effects, it has tremendous benefits that are very well documented and it’s something patients can do on their own so it doesn’t cost anything. It’s not a cancer treatment….but… ‘it deals with quality of life and helps with symptoms. It can relieve pain, lower blood pressure and heart rate. It can make people feel calmer, it enhances mood. It does lots of good things.

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