The roots of meditation travel back to ancient times. Scripts dating back some 5,000 years, known as the tantras, refer to several different forms of meditation. Yet meditation is not only an ancient spiritual practice; it is popular today as a contemporary mind-body technique used for completely calming the mind, relaxing, and re-energizing the body. Recent studies have also shown that is it effective in the prevention and treatment of a host of illnesses and diseases including cardiovascular disease, the management of chronic pain, fibromyalgia, coronary artery disease, stress reduction and hypertension, prevention of psychotic episodes in schizophrenia as well as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Mediation is sustenance for the mind and body. Buddhist sutras refer to Samadhi as food. Samadhi means contemplation or meditation. Meditation can give you a mental and physical boost when your energy is depleted and can put your body’s energies back in sync to prevent illness and disease. Meditation is a very beneficial practice, particularly in our fast-paced world of increasing stress and anxiety, poor diet, disease, and environmental toxins.
Meditation and EEG
Electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings taken of experienced meditators (people with more than ten years of training and practice), during meditation sessions show interesting changes in brain wave patterns compared to the normal waking state. During meditation, there occurs a significant rise in gamma wave activity to a range between 80-120 Hz. The participants also showed increased gamma activity when not meditating but merely at rest. This means that this type of mental training can increase the possibility for experienced meditators to control certain neurological functions.
Meditation and the Brain
Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study examining the effects of meditation on Buddhist monks’ brains.
Newberg and his team used brain imaging to measure the changes in the monks’ brains after they had been meditation for one hour. Once the monks had reached a transcendental state, they were instructed to pull a string that released a radioactive tracer into their bloodstream. This enabled scientists to watch the dye move to the active parts of the brain. Once the subjects had finished meditating, the initial image was compared to one of their brain during normal waking state.
The study revealed that during meditation, in the brain there is an increase in activity towards the front of the brain, which is the area responsible for focus and concentration. There was also a marked decrease in activity towards the rear of the brain; the area responsible for orientation. This may indicate a reduction of spatial awareness during meditation
In a study designed by conducted by Maura Paul-Labrador, M.P.H, and colleagues from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, coronary heart disease (CHD) patients received a sixteen-week training course in transcendental meditation. As a comparison, a second group received only instructions on how to maintain their health. The study was designed to see what effects, if any, meditation would have on risk factors associated with CHD such as high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance.
Significant positive changes were noted in the blood samples of the group using transcendental meditation. These included; lower blood pressure, an improvement in fasting levels of insulin and glucose and an overall improvement in digestive functions. These results suggest that transcendental meditation helps reduce the symptoms of CHD by reducing stress levels.
Finding a Perfect Space
If you want to improve your health and quality of life by meditating, you need to find the best place to do it. Whether you opt to meditate indoors or outdoors, there are benefits to both. The key factor here is to find a comfortable space where you will not be disturbed. Do your best to steer clear of distractions, such as the television or phone; interruptions will definitely get in the way of your meditation session.
Let it All Go
The key to meditation is relaxing and letting all your concerns slip away. One option for getting started is to consider some progressive relaxation techniques, relaxing slowly, one body part at a time until the tension has melted away.
Focus on your Flow of Breath
Inhale and exhale consciously and deeply through your nose. At the same time, pay attention to the flow of your breathing. If you are having trouble concentrating, it may be easier to use a mantra such as “om.” Alternatively, you could try counting down from 10 to 1 as you breathe deeply.
Silence your Mind
This is the one part of meditation that people find most difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. The best way to start is not to try and empty your mind completely, but to slow down your thinking so that you can focus on just one thing at a time. After mastering this technique, you may find it quite easy to slip into a meditative state and reap the benefits of this mindful practice.