Spending time with a loved one in an accident and emergency room is a hairy experience. They were suffering from chest pains that wouldn’t go away, and I was there for support (seven hours worth of support!) During that time, I saw at first hand the amazing biological effects of Mindful Meditation in action. We’ve all heard about the psychological effects, but less about how it directly effects the functioning of our body.
The patient was hooked up to a machine monitoring heart rate, heart rhythm, respiratory rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure, and I familiarised myself with the readouts. After two hours of tests and medication, the numbers, pain levels, and breathlessness were still poor, but immediate medical activity ceased. We were now apparently playing a waiting game.
I know research on Mindful Meditation says it can have a good effect on the mind and the body, so I decided to ask if I could give it a try. ‘Well, I suppose it can’t hurt!’ the nurse replied. The patient was willing and by this time the fear of imminent death had subsided, and I thought it might help his stress levels even though he was not a regular meditator.
I started by asking him to close his eyes and just to notice his breathing. Not to control it, just notice it. To notice the sensation of air in his mouth as he panted, and the movement of his chest and diaphragm. Within seconds, his breathing rate began to slow, he stopped panting, and started breathing through his nose. I asked him to notice how the air was slightly cooler in his nostrils when he breathed in, and at body temperature when he exhaled. Then to notice the movement of his diaphragm as he breathed. After a few minutes, I suggested he take three deep breaths from the diaphragm, in through the nose, slowly releasing from the mouth as if the air was going all the way to the other side of the room. Then to allow the breath to return to normal, and focus all his attention on the physical sensations of breathing in the present moment: to feel the life-supporting oxygen being drawn coolly down his throat and into his lungs; to hear the sounds of his breathing; breathing that happens so naturally and easily that the human body does it without any conscious effort at all, while you are asleep, while your thinking brain is off-line…
As his body relaxed and his breathing slowed, I watched the monitors. His heart rate slowed to a normal level, and the rhythm became more regular. His respiratory rate slowed from a jagged twenty per minute to seven wonderfully smooth breaths. His oxygen saturation and blood pressure adjusted to more normal levels. Right before my very eyes the machine showed that he was physically changing his body in response to the Guided Mindful Meditation. I was truly impressed. It is one thing to know something, quite another to see the miracle measured by medical monitors manifesting before me!
In all, the meditation lasted about thirty or forty minutes. When he stopped meditating, the pain increased slightly, and the arrhythmia and breathlessness returned to a lesser extent. So, we did a little more. Each time the improvements lasted slightly longer afterwards. When the nurse returned she was so impressed she asked me for a business card. She not only wanted to spread the word in the hospital about Mindful Meditation, but come to Meditation Room herself! On the basis of our very own live experiment, I suggest that the research might be right – regular Mindful Meditation may give a positive boost to our health. But even in an emergency, Mindful Meditation has positive and immediate biological effects for the good.
Images by Paul Brennan and Public Domain Pictures at Pixabay