The concepts of life and death as defined in Eastern philosophy are shown to have an uncanny similarity to some aspects of latest research in medicine. Core concepts of birth and death in Eastern philosophy have centered around the concept of having multiple births and lifetimes, finally leading to transcendence from this recurrent cycle of birth and rebirth to attain what is known as Samadhi or Nirvana.
Every individual born on Earth is a soul that chooses its birth receptacle (a womb and an oocyte created by sexual union) based on its previous births. To an extent, Eastern philosophy believes in programmed life and death because the soul gets to “choose” its receptacle, whose genetic make-up is predetermined based on the genetic make-up of the father and mother producing it. This philosophy also espouses the belief that the soul is supreme and that the physical body it receives after birth can change its future entirely. This idea actualises from the assumption that the human mind is all powerful and can create the body that it wants.
In fact, Eastern philosophy goes to the extreme in believing that mind and body are intricately communicative with mind controlling the body and its function ceaselessly. The new branch of medicine called Psychoneuroimmunology attests to this notion, after the discovery of thousands of chemicals messengers espousing minute to minute information exchange between the brain and the body.
This results in an updated composite status of the latter being conveyed to the former. If this has any change in the functioning of the brain is hitherto unknown. However, it is amply clear that this intercourse does affect the body adversely based on the emotional status of the mind. In other words, if you are depressed, your immunity gets compromised opening floodgates to unwelcome invaders including infections and cancers.
Mental training in the form of meditation enhances the mind’s control of the body. People with severe diseases like HIV or cancer who are going downhill despite receiving appropriate medications have shown complete reversal of symptoms by this method. Research has shown innumerable cases where doctors have drawn an exceedingly poor picture of a patient’s condition and even predicted death based on medical knowledge, but the patients have lived longer than could be anticipated by making lifestyle changes, including the practice of yoga and meditation, and by inculcating more happiness into their lives.
Many scientists and physicians have considered these cases to be outliers and random happenings with little scientific credence. These patients, though, certainly are outliers. Only a few people get the opportunity to practice a complete change in lifestyle along with their medication regimen because most do not receive the appropriate advice from their clinicians.
Most long-time meditators not only live longer, but also enjoy a better quality of life. Quite a few of them, even when at 90 years of age, look to be no more than 60 or 65. Commonly in India, yogis have a much younger look, even decades younger, than their actual chronological age. These differences have given rise to the concept of chronological age versus biological age. Thus, a meditator who has practiced for 20 to 30 years may have a chronological age of 70 years, but he is as active as and looks like a 50-year-old man.
Decreased aging gets manifested internally also. Memory losses due to brain aging are attenuated and in some cases even reversed, and hypertrophy of different areas of the brain has been found. Millions in the world suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, a poorly treatable condition caused by aggravated degeneration of the brain leading to severe memory loss in the elderly. Characterised by the degeneration of the cerebral cortex, or the higher centers of the brain, the disease results in severe memory loss, depersonalisation and often depression or agitation.
Meditation has been shown to decrease normal neuronal decay in the human brain, being the only recognised method to prevent age-related brain loss. Studies of the brains of meditators using magnetic resonance imaging have clearly demonstrated that the regular practice of meditation indubitably augments brain mass. No recognised medication to date has been shown to produce similar effects. Medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s disease are efficacious to a minor extent, allowing the disease to progress relentlessly.
Aging is known to cause the loss of neurons, resulting in a decrease in cortical thickness. The cortex is the outer layer of the brain that is most developed and performs complex functions attributed to humans and absent in all lower animals, including apes. Studies have shown that meditators 40 or 50-year-old have a cortical thickness similar to that of 20 to 30-year-old controls, a decrease of no less than three decades in biological age.
HIV patients who had been taught meditation and who had practiced regularly had much better outcomes than those of control patients who did not meditate. The reason for this is multifarious, however better control of addiction and structured lifestyle is paramount amongst other reasons.
For unknown reasons, CD 4 cells (cells in the human blood that mediate direct attacks and kill HIV or cancer-infected cells) seem to increase compared to levels in non-meditators, with patients in both groups taking anti-HIV medications. This finding can be attributed to an enhancement of the efficacy of the immunological system, as has been clearly shown to occur in meditators.
Cancer patients practicing meditation live much longer and are better at beating back both cancer pain and adverse drug effects than those who do not meditate. Advanced breast cancer patients with metastasis to the whole body have been shown to live longer than controls when meditation, visualisation, biofeedback and a host of integrative therapy augments current medical therapy.
Biological investigation of meditators has shown that the blood’s own police force, the T cells that attack and kill cancer cells, are more active in meditators than in those who do not practice meditation. Meditation plays a wide variety of roles – decreasing brain degeneration, increasing the body’s immunity, and perhaps using other, hitherto unknown mechanisms, in keeping the body healthy and youthful.
Humans always sought different concoctions to bring back youth: dye those white hair black again, banish those facial wrinkles, and lose those saggy under-eye bags. However, meditation techniques that have existed for more than five thousand years, help to do exactly this.
Thanks to advancements in technology, more properties of the astounding instrument called “brain” are getting uncovered.