Meditation Health Benefits
Since the 1960s, meditation has been thoroughly studied in the West for its psychological and physiological health benefits. As a result of this large volume of clinical research clearly indicating so many benefits, many health professionals are suggesting meditation to their patients. Clinical studies have demonstrated that meditation can produce a healthy state of relaxation. It does this by bringing about a generalized reduction in a number of biochemical and physiological markers. These include an increase in brain waves normally associated with relaxation, and a decrease in breathing rate, heart rate and cortisol (a principal stress hormone).
Clinical studies have shown that meditation improves illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, allergies, anxiety, chronic pain, depression, cancer, heart disease, hepatitis, emphysema, endometriosis, diabetes, indigestion, insomnia, high blood pressure, poor memory, menopause, osteoporosis, obsessive-compulsive-disorder, osteoporosis, psoriasis, premenstrual syndrome, recovery from surgery, sexual dysfunction, stroke and ulcers just to name a few.
Meditation can be broadly defined as any endeavor which keeps the mind peacefully fixed in the present moment. In this state, the mind is focused yet calm. On first glance, these seem contradictory. Being focused implies effort and tension. How can one be calm yet focused? Athlete’s experience this state as getting into “the zone.” When we are younger, it is common to find ourselves suddenly staring blankly at nothing and absorbed in a deep feeling of peace. This is known as a “Brown study” or being in a deeply abstracted state. Meditation is much like this. In a Brown study, we are focused yet calm. Parents will snap their fingers and try to get their child to come out of their peace but this is a mistake. Children should be brought to understand that a Brown study is a normal and healthy practice. It is a state of “being” as opposed to a state of “doing.” It is our natural state. Most lose the ability to do this spontaneously as we get older.
There are quite a number of techniques for meditation and most of them can be placed in one of two categories. These are concentrating meditation and mindfulness meditation. Concentrating meditation focuses one's attention on breathing, a sound such as a mantra or an image in order to bring about stillness in the mind thus allowing a larger awareness and clarity to manifest. In this technique, many thoughts are replaced with one thought. Perhaps the most common form of this is to set quietly and hold the attention on the breath. When an individual is distracted, frightened, agitated or anxious the breath will typically be rapid, shallow and irregular. When the mind is focused and calm, the breath reverts to a more natural rhythm that is slow and deep. As the mind becomes more deeply absorbed in the exhalation and inhalation of the breath, breathing becomes deeper, the mind becomes more peaceful and our awareness increases.
Mindfulness meditation is to allow our attention to become expansive and vigorously aware of the constant flow of smells, thoughts, sounds, images, sensations and feelings without becoming attached to them. The practitioner sits in a still place witnessing everything that passes through the mind without reacting or becoming involved in the various images, memories, worries or thoughts. This produces a clear, calm and non-reactive mental state.
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