By Kac Young PhD, DCH, ND, Certified Transformational Meditation Trainer
Ask anyone who meditates regularly and they will tell you they receive mental, physical and spiritual benefits. Medical doctors often recommend mediation to help reduce chronic pain, stress, high blood pressure and anxiety.
Science has yet to fully explain how meditation works, but we can clearly say it has to do with the connection between the mind and body. Psychology Today tells us, “Maybe meditation isn’t so mysterious after all. Neuroscientists have found that mediators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety.”
Meditation is simply the act of putting your attention on a single area of focus for a period of time. Specific focus distinguishes it from daydreaming, musing or fantasy. The word meditation means the emptying of the mind of thoughts, or the concentration of the mind on one thing, in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation (1).
Meditation comes in many forms. Transcendental Meditation, for example, focuses on a mantra, which can be a word, phrase, or sound that is repeated with every slow breath. Zen Buddhist meditation involves sitting in special positions as you direct your awareness to your posture and breathing. A third form is mindfulness meditation where you practice being aware of the present moment by observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without making judgments or allowing yourself to think about the past or worry about the future.
Over the past 30 years mindfulness meditation has been shown to help in conditions such as insomnia, chronic pain, psoriasis, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, and some psychiatric disorders. It has been shown to alter aspects of the immune, nervous, and endocrine system. Research suggests it may be particularly useful in helping people reduce anxiety and depression associated with illness (2).
Any condition that’s caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through meditation, says cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The relaxation response [from meditation] helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves,” Benson says. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as the body receives a quiet message to relax. As a cardiologist he recommends meditation to his patients with heart disease.
Some documented results achieved from meditation are:
• Immune Booster. Meditation also helps ward off illness and infections. In one study testing immune function, flu shots were given to volunteers who had meditated for eight weeks and to people who didn’t meditate. Blood tests taken later showed the meditation group had higher levels of antibodies produced against the flu virus, according to the study in Psychosomatic Medicine.
• Hot flashes. In a study in Menopause of 110 women going through menopause, those who participated in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program coped better with their hot flashes. Though the program didn’t significantly reduce the intensity of hot flashes, the women reported improved quality of life, better sleep, and less anxiety and stress.
• Depression. In a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry of people who had been successfully treated for depression, mindfulness-based therapy was as effective as antidepressants in preventing relapses.
• Pain. Long-term practitioners of mindfulness meditation handle pain better, a study in the journal Pain found. Anticipating more pain makes current pain worse; being attentive to the present helps prevent this. Another study in the same journal found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain and increased physical function in older people with chronic low-back pain.
• Heart Health. Countless studies have looked at meditation and heart health. Regular practice has been shown to significantly help high blood pressure over the long term,according to government-sponsored studies conducted at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa.
If you want to have a healthy heart, alleviate stress, create more balance and lead a more centered life mediation may be the practice for you. To begin:
• Look for classes locally and visit three or more meditation centers.
• Experiment with different types of meditation. Find the method that works best for you.
• Check out DVDs that offer guided meditations if you can’t attend classes regularly.
• Create a schedule that includes meditation every day.
• Document your progress in a journal. Describe the changes you feel on your program.
• Stay faithful to the practice and don’t let yourself get sidetracked.
• Enjoy the peace meditation brings.
PEACE. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart. ” ~ unknown
(1) Encarta Dictionary
(2) Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society.
– Dr. Kac Young – www.HeartEasy.com