10 Buddhist Practices Proven to Improve Physical and Mental Well-being
1. Loving Kindness
Recent studies in psychology have shown that even in small doses, practicing the short Loving Kindness Meditation increases positive emotions, decreases negative emotions, increases vagal tone (which also increases positive emotions and feelings of social connection), decreases migraines, decreases chronic pain, decreases PTSD, decreases schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, increases empathy and emotional processing in the brain, all leading to happiness and mental as well as physical well-being.
For a guided meditation recording, follow this link to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auS1HtAz6Bs
Guiding Loving Kindness recording from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/mpeg/05_Loving_Kindness_Meditation.mp3
2. Mindfulness or Insight Meditation
Very many studies of Mindfulness continue to be carried out in sciences, including including those that use brain imaging, positive and negative affect tests, DNA analysis, and more. These consistantly substantiate that there are numerous benefits for both adults and children in practicing mindfulness meditation. Studies find that the practice decreases stress and psychological distress, enhances mental health and congnitive functioning, increases emotion regulation and self-control, and much more. This is to say nothing of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant's attribution of basketball championships to mindfulness meditation.
For information on exactly how to get started with mindfulness, follow this link: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/
3. Giving of Yourself (Dāna)
For years people have studied the power of giving, called dāna in Buddhism. Dāna is the first of the Buddhist Perfections of Wisdom. In Buddhist thought, giving has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver. But dāna is not simply giving money or items to charities but is characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving of the self and letting go of whatever constraints keep us from doing so. When practiced by individuals, dāna is a basis of merit or wholesome kamma. When coupled with morality, concentration and insight, it leads ultimately to liberation from perpetual dissatisfaction (dukkha) that nags at us.
Studies have shown that giving improves ones own life, the lives of others around them, and may even lengthen the life of the giver. Benefits include lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, and greater happiness.
For information on how to practice dāna, follow this link: hhttps://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel367.html
4. Plant Based, Vegan, Vegetarian or Mostly-vegetarian Diet
According to the American Dietetic Association, "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." In addition, vegetarian diets have been studied by biologists in connection with the health of DNA telomeres, associated with longevity. A growning number of studies have connected plant foods to longer telomeres and higher telomerase activity. In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, data from 3,660 U.S. adults looked at diets rich in carotenoids and telomere length. The study found that a carotenoid-rich diet was linked to longer telomeres. Carotenoids are the organic pigments responsible for the bright colors of many fruits and vegetables. In 2008, Dr. Dean Ornish teamed up with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and found that just three months of eating a plant-based diet significantly boosted telomerase activity. In a 2013 follow-up study published in The Lancet Oncology, Ornish noted that telomere length had actually increased in the plant-based diet group.
Nutrients found in green leafy vegetables have been found to slow cognitive decline. Research finds that the effect of eating only 1.3 servings daily is similar to being 11 years younger.
Follow this link to the Mayo Clinic's article on a vegetarian diet: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446
Link to What the Health documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIONctjKPzc
Link to healthy and satisfying vegan salads: https://itdoesnttastelikechicken.com/25-hearty-vegan-salads-that-will-fill-you-up/
5. Right Actions (Buddhist Yoga)
In explaining the Eightfold Path, the Buddha describes Right Acition (samyak-karmānta) as not killing, stealing, lying, engaging sexual misconduct, or consuming intoxicants to the point of heedlessness. In terms of being pro-active, it also includes Bodhisattva activities, that is, selfless and sometimes anonymous acts that help others.
It turns out that such acts of kindness have direct health benefits for the person performing them. Studies find that they increase the feelings of satisfaction in relationships, decrease social avoidance in socially anxious individuals, create an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin that lowers blood pressure, as well as motivates and inspires children and others to do the same.
Follow this link to a Huffington Post article on Random Acts of Kindness: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/priya-advani/random-acts-of-kindness_b_3412718.html
6. Self-acceptance and Acceptance of Others (Kṣānti)
In Buddhism, acceptance means to see things as they are without clouding them with ego-based likes and dislikes. By doing so, we learn to accept even unkindness to ourselves and others as the mistakes they are. Studies find that if you develop acceptance, you will have more compassion for others, you will uncover your inherent gifts and talents, your self talk will become more supportive, you will radiate self-acceptance and attract more friends.
For information on how to realize acceptance, follow this link: hhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-courage-be-present/201003/mindfulness-and-self-acceptance
Buddhism offers specific teachings and practices for the development of forgiveness. Forgiveness transforms anger and hurt into healing and peace. Forgiveness can help you overcome feelings of depression, anxiety, and rage, as well as personal and relational conflicts. It is about making the conscious decision to let go of a grudge. Studies link the following benefits to forgiveness: healthier relationships, greater psychological well-being, less anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, stronger immune system, improved heart health, and higher self-esteem.
To learn the Buddhist technique that actualizes the Power of Forgiveness, follow this link: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-kamen-gredinger-edd/forgiveness_b_2006882.html
8. Green Tea
Buddhism was closely associated with tea soon after it was introduced to China in the Han Dynasty and it was introducted to Japan by monks. East Asian Buddhists found that drinking tea helped with cultivating the body and mind and it became a common Buddhism practice done throughout the day.
Studies show that matcha tea is particularly beneficial because it is high in antioxidants, and is loaded with catechin (a disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant) and EGCg that fights cancer. Drinking matcha enhances calm, boosts memory and concentration, increases energy levels and endurance, burns calories, detoxifies the body, fortifies the immune system, and improves cholesterol.
Follow this link to learn more about these benefits: http://www.naturallivingideas.com/10-amazing-benefits-of-matcha-green-tea/
9. Friendliness and Friendship (Mettā)
Mettā is one of the "sublime attitudes" (brahmavihāras, lit. "abodes of Brahma"), a series of four Buddhist virtuous practices. Also known as the "Four Immeasurables", these include loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. When the Buddha's kind-hearted follower Ananda commented that friendship is one half of the Buddhist life, Buddha replied:
"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life."
Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pooled data from 148 studies on health outcomes and social relationships — every research paper on the topic they could find, involving more than 300,000 men and women across the world — and found that those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death in the studies' follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than people with more robust social ties. Studies also found that the immune systems of people with lots of friends simply worked better, fighting off the cold virus often without symptoms. Studies suggest that the immune response may be affected by stress hormones and that a strong social life acts on immune function by helping people keep stress in check.
For more on cultivating Buddhist friendships and its benefits, follow this link: https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-art-of-friendship
10. Cold Water Showers
Japanese Buddhists sometimes practice "waterfall austerities" (taki no gyō) for purifying the mind and body. While the Buddha did not perscribe cold water baths, living in forests and towns near the Himalayas as he and his follows did, this must have been the norm. The average temperature of the Ganges River is 10-15°C or 50-56°F, the same range of temperatures that modern studies find to be beneficial to physical and mental health.
Science has found that cold water showers improve blood circulation, is vital for overall cardiovascular health, relieves depression, keeps skin and hair healthy, strengthens immunity, increases testosterone, increases fertility, increases energy and well-being.
Follow this link to a NY Times article on the benefits of Cold Water showers: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/business/the-benefits-of-getting-an-icy-start-to-the-day.html
(One more) Zen Gardens / Tranquility Gardens
Numerous studies have shown that the Zen poet Musō Sokeki and other Zen master gardeners got it right.
- The experience of nature helps to restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work or studies, contributing to improved work performance and satisfaction.
- Urban nature, when provided as parks and walkways and incorporated into building design, provides calming and inspiring environments and encourages learning, inquisitiveness, and alertness.
- Green spaces provide necessary places and opportunities for physical activity. Exercise improves cognitive function, learning, and memory.
- Outdoor activities can help alleviate symptoms of Alzheimers, dementia, stress, and depression and improve cognitive function in those recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Contact with nature helps children to develop cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connections to their nearby social and biophysical environments. Nature experiences are important for encouraging imagination and creativity, cognitive and intellectual development, and social relationships.
- Symptoms of ADD in children can be reduced through activity in green settings, thus “green time” can act as an effective supplement to traditional medicinal and behavioral treatments.
For citations of these studies and more information, see the state of Washington's page on Urban Forestry / Urban Greening Research.
Avoid evil; cultivate good; cleanse the mind. This is the teaching of all Buddhas
The Buddha (Dhammapada, Verse 183