Meditation effective in stress reduction: study

The art of meditation can be practiced at a yoga studio or in the comfort of your own home.   Photo by Jessenia Feijo The art of meditation can be practiced at a yoga studio or in the comfort of your own home. Photo by Jessenia Feijo

Jessenia Feijo
Life reporter 

Research shows there’s a correlation between meditation and a reduction in stress.

A study by the University of California posted in March 2013 said training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past or worry about the future.

Caroline Dos Santos, 45, a Bradford resident, uses a local yoga studio she likes to call her “getaway.”

“When I meditate, I completely forget about everything that’s going on in my life. Whatever happened at work that day, if I got into an argument with my kid or with my husband, I just forget about it and focus on myself and my body,” said Dos Santos.

She advises her children, ages 15 and 20, to attend classes to relieve themselves from their first years entering high school and university.

In a state of stress, the body has physical responses such as increased heart rate, sweating and shortness of breath. The mind also has psychological reactions such as worry, obsessing over certain thoughts and anxiety, said Noah Gentner, University of Guelph-Humber professor in Fitness and Health Promotion and Kinesiology.

Joseph Gibbons, program coordinator for Exercise Science and Lifestyle Management at Guelph-Humber said the human body deals with emotional stress the same way it deals with physical stress.

When a situation is perceived as being a threat, there is a chain reaction with the release of adrenalin followed quickly by the release of the hormone cortisol.

“This evolutionary adaptation, termed fight or flight, was great when humans needed to fight for survival or escape environmental dangers such as an animal attack, but in modern society the epidemic heavily favours the emotional stress,” he said.

Since the body doesn’t distinguish between what is physical and emotional, it releases hormones the same way for both, Gibbons said

People don’t usually perform well under these circumstances and the stress causes both physical and mental fatigue, Gentner said

Busy students might complain about never having time to do anything, let alone meditate. However, Michael Des Barres, 19, a Media Communications student at York University said that after he is done working out at the gym, he goes to meditate.

“I feel that it is so helpful in my life. Taking time out of my day to focus on nothing but my body is the least I can do when I’m constantly throwing all-nighters and junk at my body,” said Des Barres.

Gibbons said exercise, when conducted properly and with the right nutritional balance, is very effective.

“One of the mechanisms (by which) exercise causes reduced stress is from the increased serotonin production as a result of exercise. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that serves many bodily functions, one of which is to help regulate mood.”

Beata Fabiano, a personal fitness and yoga instructor, said she begins every session with her clients with meditation to get them in a blank state.

“No one wants to work with someone who is worried about their phone ringing or stressing out about problems. You’re here to work out, get healthy and feel good about yourself. If I’m trying to help you do that by focusing, then I’m sorry for doing my job.”

Some exercises work better than others, Gentner said

“Exercise can decrease depression and stress, particularly aerobic exercise.”

Meditation can improve mindfulness which might help people uncover underlying reasons for stress, Gentner added, saying, “ten to 20 minutes of meditation can often be more beneficial than a 30 to 60 minute nap.”

Gibbons said quieting the mind through effective meditation lets the brain have a rest.

“During stressful periods, such as exams, students should aim to get some physical activity, choose more nutritious options which will give your body the building blocks to performs necessary bodily functions and help prevent fatigue, and get adequate rest so your brain has a chance to relax,” said Gibbons.