If you are reading this as a person who regularly meditates then you will not be surprised how amazing the therapeutic benefits of meditation can be. If by contrast you do not currently meditate, I hope this article will help you to consider learning how to begin.
What is meditation?
To newcomers, meditation sounds like something that only ‘enlightened souls’ practice, that is not really for the ordinary person! However this could not be further from the truth. If I had my way I would have it on the primary school curriculum in all countries as it is a skill that once learnt can have undeniable benefits to your health and sense of well-being.
In essence it is an opportunity to actively concentrate on your own thoughts and your sense of your self. Meditation is a sustained effort of concentration in which you can calm both your body and your mind.
What are the main known physiological benefits?
- Slows heart rate
- Decreases respiratory rate
- Lowers blood pressure
- Decreases blood levels of stress hormones
- Increases the feel-good substance seratonin, low levels of which are associated with depression, obesity and insomnia
- Helps post operative healing
- Decreases muscle tension
- Reduces pre menstrual tension
- Reduces headaches
- Reduces chronic and acute pain
- Improves insomnia
How might meditation achieve this?
Certain hypotheses have arisen from the scientific research about how these amazing benefits might be achieved. Just to get technical for a moment I want to explain a bit about our nervous system.
There is a part of our nervous system called the autonomic system, that governs the involuntary processes in the body such as respiration and heart rate. This autonomic system is divided into the Sympathetic nervous system that helps the body prepare for fight or flight; and the Parasympathetic nervous system that causes the blood vessels to dilate, the blood pressure to go down and the heart rate and respiration rates to decrease.
Stress triggers the release of certain hormones that are part of our ‘fight and flight’ response. These hormones push up our blood pressure and cause the heart rate to rise, which is all well and good if we need to run from danger. However, it is common to release stress hormones when there is no sudden danger and this means our bodies are in a constant flight mode. Regular meditation disrupts the production of these unnecessary hormones and their effects, and this can result in you not only feeling calmer but being physiologically calmer.
As always I like to share any good science behind claims for health benefits.
The first studies into meditation were done in the late 1930’s and showed remarkable changes in heart rate during meditation. More recently the University of Massachusetts did a study with 22 anxiety prone volunteers, 20 of which showed a marked improvement after an 8 week meditation class. All these studies clearly rely on each participant not only complying with the meditation practice in the study but it also assumes that every individual’s meditation is equally effective (which is unlikely!). There was also a recent study on the effect of meditation in reducing headaches in which 72% of participants reported a moderate-great improvement after learning and practising meditation regularly.
If you want to learn more about the scientific studies behind meditation, I suggest you dip into Michael Murphy’s well referenced research summary.
When should I meditate?
Like anything that is new, it helps when you are learning, to do it very regularly.
When I learnt to meditate I did it for 20 minutes daily at the same time and in the same place. There is something very habitual about our brains and utilising the familiarity of the same time, place and same position really helps to cue your system that you are about to meditate.
The usual excuse for not meditating, is that we don’t have time. If this sounds like you then get up 30 minutes earlier and do it while the rest of your house is asleep. The benefits you will gain from the meditation far out-weigh the potential tiredness you think you will feel from losing that extra 30 minutes of sleep. Trust me……it’s true.
My Meditation Guidelines
Find a Quiet Location: Being in a quiet spot helps when you are learning to meditate but once you are up and running you will find that you are able to meditate anywhere. It also means that you will be able to enjoy meditation outdoors such as at the beach or in the park, and this has great overall benefits.
Use a Comfortable Posture: If you are trying to relax in a position that is uncomfortable you will end up getting frustrated. I lie down to meditate when at home and sit when doing it outdoors. If you have trouble falling asleep when you meditate I would advise sitting but ensure that your body feels relaxed and supported with cushions. You can sit on a cushion and up against something or just sit in a comfortable chair with your bottom well back to allow your spine some space to extend.
Focus Your Attention: Meditation is not about emptying your mind of thoughts so much as it is about bringing your awareness to how actively engaged your mind is. Taking your attention to the breath and observing how it goes in and out all of its own accord is an easy way to bring focus to your meditation. When you find your mind is wandering away into your day ahead or your worries, notice that this has happended and bring your inward attention back to your breath. Some people find it useful to have a mantra (a phrase that you repeat) that they say inwardly over and over; others use a visualisation to create a sense of peace.This can be as simple as imagining yourself in a peaceful place such as a beautiful white sandy beach and listen to the waves breaking on the shoreline as you walk gently along the sand.
Be Passive: Mediaition is not rocket science and it certainly does not need to be either difficult or complicated. If you have to try you are doing too much. Think about meditation as a non-judgmental space where you can be just who you are and everything is OK. It is a moment of allowing and acceptance rather than anything more active.
Have an Open heart: When you begin to meditate reglularly you will slowly begin to be more conscious of the interaction of yourself and others around you. Just as being kind to yourself is important when you start to meditate, you may also find that the open heartedness that you begin to show yourself will also grace the others in your life.
As Eckhart Tolle says in his book “Practicing The Power Of Now”
” As you go about your life don’t give 100% of your attention to the outside world and to your mind. Keep some within.” Happy Homeopathic prescribing 🙂 If you want regular homeopathic inspiration from The Homeopathic Coach, visit her new blog and join as a member to be the first in line for new tips and offers as they are released!
© Sam Adkins 2009
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This article was brought to you by Sam Adkins The Homeopathic Coach who teaches families about healthy living and natural remedies using homeopathic medicine. An internationally renowned expert, her helpful articles are regularly syndicated online. She publishes the ezine Homeopathy@Home to provide free Homeopathic tips, tools and resources to educate and inspire you to use Homeopathy at home.www.thehomeopathiccoach.com