The Benefits of Meditation
Tips and Techniques
Meditation is healthy, safe and affordable. In fact it's
free. The only expense you'll have is a meditation mat, which
isn't especially necessary-at least from my experience. Meditation
has been around for 5,000 years, and was originally a spiritual
component of yoga. Through the years non-yogis adopted it,
intuitively sensing and connecting the practice with greater
peace of mind. Personally, I can't say enough good things
about meditation. Its use has rewarded me with less worry
and much more energy. But I've never been one for anecdotal
evidence. Let's get to the science…
Recently, there's an incredible amount of science tied into
the benefits of meditation. The studies are endless and cover
a variety of meditative practices. On Transcendental Meditation
alone (mantra repetition) there are over 500 studies. Some
are more noteworthy that others. A study in the Japanese
Journal of Public Health found that through Transcendental
Meditation, industrial workers sleep improved and their smoking
decreased. Another study conducted at the MERU Research
Institute, in Buckinghamshire, England found that the
length of time practicing the Transcendental Meditation and
TM-Sidhi program correlated with younger biological age and
younger functional age.
Mindfulness meditation, which asks us to focus on
our breath to facilitate awareness of the present moment,
is another widely studied meditation technique. After studying
the effects of 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation on participants,
a 2003 report in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine
concluded: "A short program in mindfulness meditation produces
demonstrable effects on brain and immune function." Impressive,
but fairly vague. To get a more committed response to the
benefits of meditation we have to turn to Taiwan. In 2002
their journal Chang Gung Medicine reported that "training
in MM may be a medically superior and cost-effective alternative
to pain medication for the control of headaches with no underlying
organic causes in highly motivated patients."
Stress Reduction and Meditation
What causes these positive physical changes? To answer this,
other research has looked at the specifics of what happens
in the body during meditation. . Researchers at the Maharishi
School of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, found that meditation
has an enormous impact on stress reduction. When they examined
a group who had meditated for four months they saw that they
produced less of the stress hormone cortisol. They were therefore
better able to adapt to stress in their lives, no matter what
their circumstances were.
Having balanced cortisol levels is essential to mental and
emotional health. Notice I say balanced rather than none.
We don't want to completely eliminate cortisol. If we did
we'd be dead. Even low cortisol levels can be dangerous. Not
enough cortisol is the identifying trait of Addison's disease.
John F. Kennedy had this condition, which he denied passionately
during his presidency. Yet during his term he regulated his
levels through hydrocortisone (synthetic cortisol). The reverse
of JFK's condition is called Cushings Syndrome.
The five most common and noticeable changes of this condition
include; red face and puffy cheeks; excess fat surrounding
the collar bones, muscle weakness, and hypertension. But we
don't have to have Cushing's Syndrome to be damaged by extra
cortisol. The changes we experience may be subtle variations
of these. Plus, the changes caused by excess cortisol are
age dependent. Young people may stop growing and teenagers
can develop acne. The mature among us aren't safe either.
Since excess cortisol damages bone-tissue those over age 60
may develop fractures related to osteoporosis. So it's evident
that if we can regulate cortisol, especially through a natural
process, we owe it to ourselves to try.
Other Benefits of Meditation
Regina Drueding, MD, is a meditation instructor at Life
Circles in Utah, USA. She quotes the benefits of meditation
as follows: "more energy, improved quality of sleep, decreased
anxiety, lessened chronological aging, improved concentration,
improved visual acuity, increased alertness and heightened
immunity." She writes: "Besides the benefits mentioned earlier,
meditation results in improvement of hypertension, sleep disorders,
headaches, heartrhythm disturbances, chronic pain - pain due
to cancer, infertility and irritable bowel syndrome. Following
meditation, mental and physical refreshment result - and benefits
are cumulative with regular practice."
How to Meditate
Meditation is both simple and complex. It's like defining
the color orange: When you see it you know it. Similarly,
the experience of meditation is best, well…experienced. In
an article in New View magazine, Shippensburg University's
Dr. C. George Boeree describes the basics of Buddhist meditation.
In summary, the beginner's technique is as follows:
- Sit or kneel comfortably.
- The hands are loose and open with the palms up, one atop
the other and thumbs lightly touching.
- Head is upright. Eyes may be closed or open. If open
they should focus on your hands or a spot nearby.
- Beginning meditators should count upwards to ten on each
exhale. Breathe in a relaxed and natural way. Then begin
again at one and repeat. Continue to breathe naturally.
- Continue for 15 minutes.
In my personal experience, I don't find that the specific
length of time is as important as repetition and persistence.
To paraphrase, 10 minutes daily beats 15 minutes once a week.
This brings me to another point: We all have different personalities
and as such, different meditation approaches suit some more
than others. Thankfully there are many varieties of meditation.
Some varieties have sub-varieties.
Mindfulness meditation is one of these versatile practices.
Perhaps it's because its essence-awareness of the present
moment-is so versatile. Mindfulness in our daily life can
be practiced by slowing down and attending to our surroundings.
What are our 5 senses telling us? We can use mindfulness in
the middle of a hectic day, such as paying attention to our
breathing when stopped at a traffic light. We can also use
other everyday events as triggers for mindfulness. Buckling
your seatbelt? Make this a reminder to return to the present.
Really think about what you're doing and the details of the
The more traditional may benefit from a more formal mindfulness
practice. You may sit in the identical form as in traditional
Buddhist meditation- on a chair or kneeling. However, you
may also sit with your legs crossed. Your eyes are closed
and your posture is both straight and relaxed while your head
remains upright. Focus on your breath and allow mental chatter
to float by without regard. Thoughts, emotions and sensations
will come, but don't be influenced by them. Keep focused on
your breath. If you are getting involved with your thoughts
don't worry-your efforts aren't destroyed. The key thing is
to bring your attention back to breathing and continue. This
can go on for 5 minutes to 5 hours. It's up to you.
Transcendental Meditation is another popular form of
meditation. Generally, this type is practiced twice daily
for a period of 15-20 minutes. Again, this technique involves
sitting comfortably. Yet in contrast to basic Buddhist the
eyes stay closed. Each student is given a mantra and is instructed
to induce relaxation through use of this mantra. Since many
of either can't or won't go to a formal TM class, a no-fail
mantra I recommend is the classic OM. In The Heart of Yoga,
T.K.V Desikachar writes that repetition of "OM" enables us
to maintain mental and emotional calmness, overcome obstacles
and enable understanding. It is the shortest of the mantras,
and is said to be suggestive of God. If you're uncomfortable
with the religious aspects of OM I suggest a word that has
positive meaning for you, such as love, calm or peace. Calm
is an ideal substitute, since vocally it resembles OM.
You may never, ever choose to meditate. Yet if this is your
choice it may be valuable to question why. For a long time
I was reluctant because of images of the dropout hippie 60's.
Yet when I tried it the experience overcame my reservations.
If you try it the same may happen to you. If it doesn't you
haven't lost any money, and you've gained a new experience.
Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God Through
Meditation (Hay House Inc., 2003)
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh (Beacon
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