Benefits of Meditation
Whether you're looking for relief from an existing health condition or practicing preventative maintenance, the benefits of meditation can enhance not only your spiritual health, but your physical and emotional/mental health as well. Additionally, since it costs you nothing and be can be performed in the comfort of your own home, it's one of the most affordable, convenient, holistic and natural self-care strategies to be found.
Meditating has been found to be beneficial for improving a variety of conditions including high blood pressure, stress, heart disease, insomnia, depression, anxiety, chronic pain management, drug and alcohol addiction. even AIDS and cancer patients. Although it was once considered an alternative treatment method, meditation is now not only acceptable but encouraged by a variety of traditional physicians, hospitals and health care centers.
Dr. Herbert Benson, one of the first pioneers in the Western culture to recognize the benefits of meditation, tells us that real physical changes occur in the body when meditating. According to Benson, these changes can alter metabolism, blood pressure, brain chemistry and the respiratory system and produce what he calls the "relaxation response."
In Zen and the Brain, Dr. James Austin tells us that meditation actually rewires the brains circuitry. This theory has been confirmed with imaging techniques that record brain activity.
Another study published in the American Medical Associations Journal - Hypertension, reports that meditating was just as effective for controlling high blood pressure as prescription drugs.
While a study at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Mass. by Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D. reports that participants were able to reduce chronic pain by more than 50 percent. The participants in this study also experienced an increased ability to perform their daily activities and long-term improvements in mood.
Psychologist, Dr Gregg Jacob at Harvard University, found in his study that 75 percent of people with long-term insomnia were able to falls asleep within 20 minutes after retiring with the use of meditation and relaxation.
In a five year study by Dr. James Blumenthal of Duke University, participants with heart disease were able to reduce their risk of having a second heart attack by 74 percent using meditation, compared to participants who were using prescription medication.
The right form of meditation, particularly mindfulness based meditation, is very effective for helping to restore balance to dysautonomia or autonomic nervous system dysfunction, which is so rampant in our society today.
Mindfulness meditation also enhances the immune system.
Aside from specific health conditions, meditating is one of the most effective methods for reducing and managing stress and achieving relaxation, which is something we can all benefit from.
Another excellent benefit I have experienced a great deal during meditation is a high level of creativity. Some of my best thoughts, ideas, inspirations, words, etc. for writing come to me during meditation. I often find myself running for a piece of paper and pencil or to my computer to get the words and ideas down before they drift away after a meditation session.
When you meditate, it alters your brainwaves and the body's autonomic nervous system, stimulates the feel good neurotransmitters and soothes the stress response system, resulting in a more relaxed and harmonious state of mind and body.
In it's most basic form, meditation can be described as the practice of calming, quieting or clearing your mind to perform inner contemplation or concentrated attention on the mind. The goals are many, but for our purposes we simply want to achieve a more relaxed, less stressful frame of mind, inner peace, balance and perhaps achieve a higher state of consciousness and awareness, all of which will enhance our spiritual, psychological and physical health.
I would add that meditating is also about connecting more deeply with yourself. Going inward and spending time with the real and deepest you. Being intimate with yourself.
When the topic of meditation comes up many people are turned off by visions of celibate monks sitting in robes on top of an isolated mountain, or a bunch of tie dyed hippies sitting in a circle and can't see themselves as someone who can reap the benefits of meditation. They may feel afraid or think it's too complex or time consuming, but that is not the case.
Studying to be a Buddhist, taking classes, going to seminars, etc. is not really required. All you really need to do is read a book or two, or a few web pages, to get the general idea and go to it. I have a short, simple and very inexpensive little Eguide that can have you meditating like a pro in few short minutes called, Meditating for Health, if you'd like to get started right away.
Don't get caught up in tradition, method, technique or formality. Those things are not important and can actually interfere in finding time to meditate. You don't have to be a meditating guru or embrace all the beliefs or practices of a particular form of meditation. It's not essential to be sitting in a particular yoga stance, wear any special clothing or make unusual noises. The benefits of meditation can be achieved quite simply in a few basic steps.
Most experts recommend meditating 20 minutes, but 10 minutes here and there will be very effective as well. If you can work up to 20 minutes, good, but if not then do the best you can. Don't get caught up with time limits or this may prevent you from making time. As you begin to feel the benefits of meditation, you'll feel motivated to go for 20 minutes.
When you first begin to meditate your brain may be resistant. Be kind, patient and non-judgmental. You may feel slightly agitated and your brain will likely drift off continually to thoughts of this and that. Meditating is a skill and like all skill it takes time to develop.
Don't get upset or feel that you have failed when thoughts intrude. Any minutes that you can clear and calm the mind will be helpful. When thoughts come, gently acknowledge them and immediately release them. Let them flow in and out like a wave. Gently guide your focus away from the thoughts and back to your breath, music or visual.
Some people find it easiest to meditate in the early morning before they start doing anything because the brain is more willing to cooperate. When you wake from sleeping the brain is still in a relaxed and receptive state. It's always great to start the day more relaxed, balanced and harmonious. You can sit on the edge of your bed or looking out the window with breakfast. It's also helpful to practice deep breathing exercises simultaneously, as they too stimulate alpha brainwaves and help you stay more focused.
Visit my Instant Relaxation page, to learn about my most favorite meditation technique.
Sometimes if you inhale or exhale too deeply, breathe too shallow and fast or reach a high level of transcendence this can stimulate the excitatory neurotransmitters or trigger the stress response system and make you feel agitated, uncomfortable or even trigger anxiety and make you feel worse. For example, I can reach very high levels of transcendence quite easily and sometimes feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed with what seems to be excitatory neurotransmitter activity or stress.
If this happens, don't go too deep. Hold yourself back from transcending too high. Back off a little on the depth of your breath, your focus and/or limit your time. Adjust your breathing and focus until you feel comfortable. The way that you breathe is very important. You must not breathe in too deeply or hold the breath very long, or it can trigger the stress response system.
The position of the eyes is also important, because I have found if you put pressure on them it can trigger the sympathetic nervous system as well. Just look straight ahead without pressure. This is usually only an issue for those with a very hypersensitive sympathetic nervous system that occurs with conditions like advanced adrenal fatigue.
Life is a Meditation
As you practice meditating regularly and become more skilled, life becomes a meditation. Meditation can occur in your day to day activities like walking, making love, eating or watching a movie, by being one with whatever experience you are having at the moment. Transcending yet becoming more connected and one with the body. This can be very helpful for those who are living with a chronic pain or health condition. The essence of meditation is really about being in the Now and being fully present with whatever you are experiencing.
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Massion AO, Teas J, Hebert JR, Wertheimer MD, Kabat-Zinn J. Meditation, melatonin and breast/prostate cancer: Hypothesis and Preliminary Data. Medical Hypotheses 44 (1995) 39-46
Jon Kabat Zinn http://www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252
Clarity Seminars “Effects of stress on health and productivity" http://www.clarityseminars.com/stress_clinical_research.html
Clinical Psychiatry 62 (2) 2006