The Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditators live longer. At one time meditation was thought to be reserved for monks and hippies. Now, meditation is mainstream. Modern imaging techniques have enabled neurologists to delve inside the brain and discover that healthful things go on in the mind and body during meditation.
New studies show that meditation:
- lowers blood pressure
- boosts the immune system
- lowers heart rate
- reduces stress
- improves healing from heart disease and cancer
- slows the progression of cancer
- improves sleep
- relieves anxiety and depression
- accelerates weight loss
- lowers cortisol levels
How Meditation Mellows the Mind
Fascinating PET scans show that during meditation, the blood flow to the areas of the brain that influence tranquility and emotions increases. PET scans and functional MRIs give a snapshot of the inner workings of the brain. During meditation, the left brain literally lights up. Simply put, meditation shifts the focus of thought from the right brain, where the stress centers are, to the left brain, which contains the peaceful centers. Meditation seems to protect the brain from disturbing environmental stimuli and thoughts. It turns down the SNS (the rev-up system) and turns up the PNS (the relaxing system).
While meditation is an ancient healing tool, it seems especially relevant in modern times. It can help us unplug from our iPods and Wiis and tune into the wiring of our own minds. To get the most out of meditation, don’t think you are wasting time or doing nothing.
Just as you don’t waste time going to the gym for physical fitness, neither do you waste time meditation for mental fitness.
– Dr. Sears
5 Tips for Powerful Meditation
- Choose a place. Meditate anytime and anywhere that works for you. You may have a favorite meditation space in your home, with or without your favorite background music. Some prefer quietness without background music; others find that music mellows the mind to help them center. (Centering means tapping into the calm center of your mind, freeing you to focus on peaceful thoughts while blocking out disturbing ones.) You can meditate anywhere, including in a busy office building and even the bathroom!
- Choose a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that prevents your mind from getting sidetracked with anxious or disturbing negative thoughts. It’s a centering device that helps quiet the clutter of competing self-talk. A mantra helps you switch to the happy center of your brain. Meditators describe it as being similar to purging your computer of junk mail, or as being silent so you can hear yourself speaking. Anytime your mind wanders from your mantra, bring it back into focus. Above all, master meditators recommend suspending all judgments of whether you are doing it correctly and forget about your expectations of what is supposed to happen.
- Breathe with your mantra. Taking a deep breath while thinking your mantra turns down your excited nervous system and helps you relax. You may find it helpful to use a two-word mantra – one on breathing in and the other on breathing out: “Thank” (breath in), “God” (breathe out). Many meditators find it helpful to hum as they exhale. Choosing words that have no “o” in them helps you prolong your mantra as you breathe in and out: “Soo” (breathe in), “gooood” (breath out). This helps the mantra match the rhythm of breathing.
- Choose a posture. Sitting is usually better for meditation than lying down since it is the position associated with sleep. Sit on the floor or use a chair. Relaxing most of the muscles in your body reduces tension traffic going to your brain. Meditation is a state of mind that is somewhere between being awake and being asleep.
- Close your eyes. Your goal is to get in touch with what’s inside your mind, not what’s outside.