Meditation on the Reservation: Improving health through meditation at Diné CollegeOct 31st, 2013 | By drobinson | Category: Features, Health & Wellness, Online features, Web Exclusive
The practice of meditation as a method to improve health and wellness is making an impact on students, faculty, and staff at Diné College. Those who meditate are finding that it is helpful in many ways. Students report that it releases stress, leading to an improvement in class performance and their overall grades. Faculty and staff maintain that the practice relaxes them and allows them to focus on their work duties. And all testify that it leads to greater self-awareness, harmony, and balance in their lives.
Meditation has been shown to give the mind and body deep rest and rejuvenation. One meditation technique, known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), in particular has proven highly effective. TM is one of the most professionally researched meditation programs. Studies conducted at UCLA and Harvard have detailed how the program leads to a sense of restful alertness in those who practice it, which is different from waking, sleeping, and dreaming states of consciousness (Wallace, 1970; Wallace, Benson, & Wilson, 1971).Further research in more than 350 professionally published studies have shown the technique to be effective in improving a wide range of mental functions—such as creativity and intelligence—while also reducing anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that TM practice reduces anxiety more than other relaxation procedures (Eppley, Abrams, & Shear, 1989).
The physical improvements in health resulting from meditation are also well known. Recently, the American Heart Association stated that the TM technique can significantly lower blood pressure (Brook, et al., 2013). Another important benefit is an improvement in diabetes symptoms. As reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, significant improvements have been found in variables of the “metabolic syndrome” related to diabetes, including insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, and hypertension (Paul-Labrador, et al., 2006). Such benefits are also helping to alleviate health care costs. The American Journal of Health Promotion found that the practice of TM significantly reduced medical expenditures and health insurance claims of practitioners compared to non-practitioners (Herron & Hillis, 2000).
Perhaps the best evidence of meditation’s effectiveness, however, comes from the practitioners themselves. And at Diné College, the positive benefits are being reported by a wide array of adherents. “I enjoy TM because it is relaxing as well as it allows me to be more focused on priorities,” noted Carrie Cate, a science instructor at the college. Lena Judee, who has worked as a counselor at the college, elaborated on how meditation helps reduce stress and has improved her overall well-being: “I have been doing TM for three months now. I have seen a huge improvement with my mental well-being. Prior to that, I dealt with anxiety and worried a lot about things. I am more aware of my true self and that empowers me. I love the feeling I get from doing TM.”
Of interest to educators are the cognitive benefits of meditation, as reported in science and scholarly journals. Increased use of brain reserves, creativity, IQ, academic performance, as well as decreased substance abuse, are just a few. Diné College student Shaquille Redhair underscored these positive attributes, noting, “I have been more focused in school and am currently holding all A’s in my classes, which included advanced human anatomy, chronic disease and epidemiology, intro to public health, and environmental health for health majors. Mostly it has helped me by keeping on track with school and it has helped me with my stress levels.”
Students are our future and tribal colleges and universities can play a key role in promoting innovative and effective techniques such as meditation to improve their health and success. Diné College student Cody L. Raphael summed up the far-reaching effects that meditation has had in his life: “It’s helpful—it gets you going, keeps you ready. It’s an opportunity to understand your self-awareness of your physical/emotional state, to absorb what goes on and accept the bad or negative. It is necessary for balance. I wake up and I know with that mantra I’m trying to restore harmony.”
Brook, R.D., Appel, L.J., Rubenfire, M., Ogedegbe, G., Bisognano, J.D., Elliott, W.J., Fuchs, F.D., . . . Rajagopalan, S. (2013). Beyond medications and diet: Alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension, 61, 1-24.
Eppley, K.R., Abrams, A.I., & Shear, J. (1989). Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(6), 957-974.
Herron, R. E., & Hillis, S. L. (2000). The impact of the Transcendental Meditation program on government payments to physicians in Quebec: An update. American Journal of Health Promotion,14(5), 284-291.
Paul-Labrador, M., Polk, D., Dwyer, J.H., Velasquez, I., Nidich, S., Rainforth, M., . . . Merz, C.N.B. Effects of a randomized controlled trial of Transcendental Meditation on components of the metabolic syndrome in subjects with coronary heart disease. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(11), 1218-1224, 2006.
Wallace, R.K. (1970). The physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation. Science, 167(3926), 1751-1754.
Wallace, R.K., Benson, H., Wilson, A.F. (1971). A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. American Journal of Physiology, 221(3), 795-799.
Don Robinson has been a science instructor at Diné College for four years. He previously taught at Chinle High School on the Navajo Reservation for five years. Don received his Ph.D. in physiology from Maharishi University of Management, where he researched the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on aging and chronic disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.