It's tempting to think that meditation is all in the mind. It is, sure, but the mind/brain connection also produces some interesting physical side benefits. In 1999, a National Institute of Health study showed a significant reduction in post-operative pain for patients who listened to music, practiced relaxation techniques or both. A division of the NIH, The Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, continues to study meditation and relaxation as well as many other behavior-based therapies. Some of these include the study of meditation on coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and binge eating disorders.
Although the brain is not a muscle, it has some similarities. Muscle is built when tiny tears in the muscle fiber heal. Its the actual resting period between exercise that strengthens the muscle. With the brain, insted of muscle fibers, the brain has cells called neurons and neurotransmitters, the chemicals that deliver messages back and forth between the neurons. Brain cells cannot be regenerated, but we can strengthen the connections and slow thier inevitable loss. One way to do this is to use them. Keeping our minds active into old age can be effective in fighting senility. Another way is to give them a break every day with a meditation workout.
The modern medical community has spent much time and effort on the subject of meditation and rigourous studies have appeared in scientific journals on psychology, psychiatry, psychobiology, alternative medicine and neuroscience. The concept of mind-body medicine is spreading and becoming more main stream. We are now finding scienfific solutions that validate the ancient teachings. Researchers have discovered that meditation shares many of the psychiological qualities of stage 1 non-REM sleep. THis is the stage of sleep where you start to become drowsey. However, researchers also agree that they are two separate phenomena. Different studies show that those people that meditate regularly have more efficient REM sleep, the stage at which dreams occur. This results in more restful and rejuvinating sleep. Comparing rest and meditation, the differences stand out where arousal responses are gauged. Sleepers have a much slower arousal time while meditators did not. This means that resting can dull the senses making you slower to react to stimulus. In comparison, meditation seems to awaken the senses, sometimes to the point of hyper-awareness making you more easily roused by stimulus. Insted of spacing you out like rest, meditation fine-tunes the attention to a sharp point of focus.
Meditation can give you control over bodily functions including temperature, blood pressure and heart beat. Biofeedback is a technique through which you learn to control various internal processes such as brain waves or blood pressure by seeing them displayed on a monitor. Subjects who suffered chronic anxiety were taught to control and increase their alpha waves (the brain waves associated with relaxed attention, as in the first stages of meditation). They reported a subsequent sense of well being compared to subjects who were unsuccessful at the technique and whose anxiety remained unchanged. This also bridges the connection between meditation and building concentration, something that can be learned or cultivated. That's surely good news to those that believed that its something you either have or you don't.
One last compelling aspect of meditation is that the activity of the neurotransmitters, those little chemical messengers shooting back and forth between the nerve cells, can actually change nerve cell metobolism and even the structure of the cell membranes. Neurotransmitter release can make nerve cells more easily excitable and more resistent to stimulation. To think that the processes in the brain can change the brain, and that meditation creates these processes in the brain, then we have to only conclude that meditation can change the brain. What we find is that we have tapped into a wellspring of psychic intuition we never realised existed in us. If meditation makes us more aware and more sensitive to the more subtle vibrations, then perhaps we are not only picking up on the more subtle vibrations but our awareness of those vibrations are actualized, it seems easy to conclude that meditation is a key to learning to be psychic.