Meditation has been used for centuries in Eastern cultures, primarily as a religious practice tied to Buddhism and Hinduism. But in recent decades, Western scientists have been examining a simple form of mediation for its effects on the human body.
A landmark 1972 study revealed that meditating lessened activity in the sympathetic nervous system, or the body's "fight or flight" response, which causes blood pressure and heart rates to rise and blood vessels to constrict.
Using brain scans, recent studies have shown that meditating decreases gray matter in an area of the brain linked to anxiety and stress. Other studies show that mindfulness meditation reduces symptoms of pain and depression. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine earlier this year analyzed the findings from 47 major studies on meditation and concluded that it moderately improved anxiety and depression symptoms in patients.
Meditation is now recommended by a growing number of doctors. Most meditative practices are done in a quiet place and require focused thinking, while some involve deep breathing or visualization. There's no set time for meditating, but many doctors recommend that patients start slowly and work up to 20 minutes a day.