Want to live longer and healthy? Good genes, plenty of exercise, and eating right should help, but you might also want to sit down, close your eyes, and breathe properly to meditate. People are discovering that meditation practice can take you inside for an out-of-the-world experience.
Can meditation improve your health? While the debate rages in journals and medical schools, millions of Americans practice meditation every day and it is becoming mainstream. Meditation is an ancient discipline, but scientists have only recently discovered tools to see what goes on in your brain when you meditate. Meditation is increasingly being embraced within traditional medical circles as a powerful healing tool, and now new research may help explain why it works. The scientific studies show that meditation not only has clear effects in areas of the brain focused on emotion, but it also may strengthen the ability of a person to ward off illness.
Meditation is simply quieting of the mind and inner spirit. It is the ability to sit still and block out all thoughts, while listening to your inner spirit and speaking directly to God. Meditation can be used to restrain the wandering of the mind and bring you back to full awareness. Meditation can improve your concentration, and combat stress in your everyday life by helping you to relax. Research on the relaxation response proves that even 15 minutes a day can strengthen your immune system, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, prevent irregular heartbeat, lower levels of the stress hormone, decrease anxiety, and increase joy and peace. That's a big return for a few minutes of your time.
Meditation is now studded with glamour. It is getting immense free publicity and endorsements by movie stars and celebrities. Meditation is practiced by well-known individuals and celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Richard Gere and Al Gore. Goldie Hawn says she has been practicing for over 31 years. You don't have to be religious or rich or have huge amount of time to meditate. You can meditate no matter how old or busy you are. So, if you want to learn how to beat the stress, achieve the inner peace, understand more about yourself and increase your sense of well-being then meditation is for you.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is one of the most natural and yet profoundly rewarding of all human activities. Meditation is simple relaxation of mind. It is a method for cleansing the mind limitations, and finding peace for calming and controlling the mind to experience relaxation and inner happiness by releasing inner energy. When done deeply, it also connects you with God and His infinite joy.
During relaxation the mind wanders everywhere, whereas during meditation the mind stays alert and focused. Focusing the mind isn't easy. It takes practice. Bringing the mind to a single focus is called concentration meditation. Meditation begins with the practice of stilling one's thoughts and emotions. Meditation is the most powerful way to calm the mind and emotions so that you can experience a state of peace and harmony with the universe. There are many methods to meditate and even a few minutes can make a big difference to the way you feel and think.
How to Meditate
You can teach yourself meditation in a matter of minutes by following a few simple steps:
If you're a beginner, start slowly. Five minutes is enough. If you like it, you can increase the length as you see fit. To learn meditation, find a peaceful quiet place for meditation, where you will not be interrupted. Wear loose or comfortable clothes. To create a good environment, add tranquil sounds or classical music in the background. Don't meditate in bed, it is easy to fall sleep. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight, you can begin to relax by closing your eyes. Pick any word or a mantra or affirmation that means something to you and is soothing when repeated. Take a deep breath through the nose and say your word or mantras to yourself with every exhalation (exhale slowly and contract your abdominal muscles tightly). Finally, say this word or mantra again and again. The monotony will help you focus your mind. Make no attempt to control your breathing, just let its flow be completely natural. Initially try to feel the breath at the point where it enters the nostrils. Practice of chanting the mantra will produce an altered state of consciousness. The goal is to train the mind so that gradually you will feel more peace and awareness at all times.
Correct posture and breathing are essential for good meditation practice but you don't have to torture yourself. Meditation should be enjoyable, comfortable, and totally relaxing. There are many different postures to choose from but you must find the right posture where you feel comfortable. Some of the postures include sit on the chair; sit on the floor with your legs crossed and feet tucked under your legs; kneeling posture; and lying down posture (corpse posture also known as Savasana). All these postures require back or spine straight and in alignment.
If your mind starts to wander, guide it back to the object of focus. To work creatively with your thoughts, you need to learn to control them. It may take a while to develop concentration, but continue the practice even if you can do it only few minutes a day. Gradually as you become calmer, you may notice that the pauses between the inhalation and exhalation are becoming longer. Enjoy these pauses, for they are a glimpse of the deep peace - state of advanced meditation.
In meditation, mantras are often used to control the mind. These sounds of mantras resonate through the body to bring about a transformation of consciousness. Some people believe mantras possess magical powers. The most famous mantra of all is "OM." It is pronounced "A-OO-M." It is believed that OM is the sound vibration that underlines the creation of the universe or "Oneness of the universe" and all of the creation. It is considered a very powerful mantra. You can create your own mantra. Just make sure the sound of mantra resonates and hums through your body. Here are some suggestions: "LOVE," "PEACE," "ALLELUIA," etc. If you can't think of a suitable mantra, try repeating this one: OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI - PEACE, PEACE, PEACE.
There are many different ways to meditate. Some of the methods include focus on particular object, chanting mantra, focusing on your breath. You can mix different methods and approaches that best meet your needs to control your mind. To make steady progress you should try to meditate regularly. It's best to meditate at the same time and in the same place each day. The most important thing is to find a time that works for you and be consistent about the practice.
Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time. You do not have to be sitting or lying down. Walking with mindfulness can help to develop concentration and increase awareness. It is also very enjoyable and relaxing.
Types of Meditation
There are so many forms of meditation. One simple form of meditation is "insight meditation". This method appreciates the value of becoming one with spirit. This form of meditation uses your breathing as the focal point to direct your attention away from any thoughts, thus, enabling you to clear your mind. The practitioners of this method experience a sense of clarity in their lives.
Another form of meditation is called visualization (or imagery). Visualization is an extremely powerful meditation technique that uses the imagination to create particular states of mind and being. It is becoming increasingly popular and can be used for improving the concentration and training the mind and enhancing self-confidence. You can use visualization skills to sharpen and focus your mind, unleash your creative potential and self-healing. This method is often used with a goal in mind.
Another popular form of meditation is "mantra meditation." In some variations of mantra meditation, the practitioners will make use of sounds. Often the sound of "OM" or "ah" may be used. Sound clears the mind from everyday thoughts. Sound meditation is often used with the same purposes as other forms of meditations to achieve a feeling of oneness or as in some methods to create a more fulfilling life.
Benefits of Meditation
People have used meditation for thousand of years in their quest for inner harmony. Meditation improves concentration, increases self-awareness, and enables us to control stress by helping us to relax. Many people who meditate improve their physical and mental wellbeing, and some have been able to conquer depression or addiction to drugs, caffeine, or alcohol. Meditation can bring relief from these anxieties by helping us to silence inner negative thoughts, and to create a feeling of peace and serenity.
In addition, meditation has numerous healing benefits. When you meditate, your body is still, relaxed and motionless. Your breathing slows down along with your heart rate, and you lose all consciousness of your surroundings. Once the mind has surrendered its will to the Divine Spirit, you're totally connected with God. Your spirit is then able to speak and you began to talk spirit to Spirit. You can speak to your body and it listens and responds to your requests. The power to heal comes from meditating, because your spirit becomes Divine and listens and recognizes the voice of God within you. It obeys like the rest of the universe does when God speaks, and orders the thunder and rain, or the stars to shine. Meditation is the only time in life when you're in complete harmony with the universe. It's the only aspect of life where you're totally awake, yet completely powerless, and at total peace.
Meditation is also finding use as a therapeutic tool in medicine. A growing number of corporate and top hospitals use it as a complementary therapy. It can help us to think more clearly, improve our energy levels, help us relax, reduce stress, improve physical health, increase the production of endorphins (feel good chemical in the body).
How Meditation Heals
Meditation can help you to learn the skill of total relaxation. Relaxation is vital to good health because it helps to combat stress, and gives the body time to replenish its energy. Research on the relaxation response proves that even ten minutes a day can strengthen your immune system, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, help to prevent irregular heartbeat, lower levels of the stress hormone, decrease anxiety, and increase joy and peace. Long-time mediators show an increased productivity at work. That's a big return for a few minutes of your time.
All religions incorporate some sort of prayer or chanting into their teachings. Specifically, meditation has captivated scientists who are studying its effects on everything from blood pressure to neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Using brain scans, researchers have discovered that meditation can change brain activity and improve immune response; some studies have shown it can lower heart rate and blood pressure both of which reduce the body's stress response. Doctors are prescribing the practice to patients to reduce stress and anxiety and to improve overall health.
Studies have also shown that meditation can slow the hardening of the arteries for the people with heart disease. Research results suggest that meditation programs could have a positive effect on chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. In addition, research also suggests that meditation combined with dietary changes may slow tumor progression in prostate-cancer patients.
Meanwhile, the evidence from meditation researchers continues to mount. One study, for example, shows that people who meditate and use guided imagery have higher levels of the immune cells known to combat cancer. Clinical studies into the effects of meditation are very encouraging: they have shown reductions in anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowl syndrome, panic attacks, lower stress hormone, improved circulation, lower pulse rate and increased job satisfaction and work performance. As a result, many doctors are now beginning to recognize the therapeutic benefits of meditation and some are already recommending meditation exercises and relaxation techniques to their patients to help treat stress related ailments.
A University of Wisconsin, Madison study reported in the February issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine shows that meditation not only has clear effects in areas of the brain focused on emotion, but it also may strengthen the ability of a person to ward off illness. Measurement of brain electrical activity showed the meditation group had increased activation in the left, frontal region of their brains - an area linked to reduced anxiety and a positive emotional state.
Cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, has spent the last 30 years studying the effects of meditation and is founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He tells WebMD that the study offers further evidence that meditation produces measurable benefits. The key is repetition, but the repetition can be a word, sound, mantra, prayer, breathing or movement.
Once the meditation is complete the mind and body returns to its normal state. Your spirit will be at peace and you're able to face each day with God's assurance. You'll feel compelled to live each day in the Spirit and able to listen and follow God's instructions daily.
Although most people take to meditation to cope with the pressures of modern life or as a self-improvement program, spiritual evolution comes inevitably. An increasing number of doctors are now recommending meditation and relaxation exercise to their patients in order to help them combat stress and stress related illnesses. There is growing belief that that meditation practice along with a well balanced diet and enough physical exercise can lead to better health and improvements in your overall lifestyle and well-being. In addition, it can combat insomnia, calm anxiety, lower stress hormones, improve circulation, regulate the pulse rate, lower blood pressure, reduce depression and improve memory.
Meditation is being recommended by more and more physicians as a way to prevent, slow or at least control the pain of chronic diseases like heart conditions, AIDS, cancer and infertility. It is also being used to restore balance in the face of such psychiatric disturbances as depression, hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder (ADD). Now doctors are embracing meditation not because they think it's cool but because scientific studies are beginning to show that it works, particularly for stress-related conditions.
I believe that the majority of methods are right. One method may be right for this time in your life and another method may be just what you need 10 years from now. I personally use a combination of methods, depending on my objectives. I encourage you to keep an open mind and experiment with several methods. Find out what works for you and enjoy one of life's most valued treasures - Meditation. Why? Because meditation works. Sometimes the best things in life are free. Enjoy your meditation journey.
This article is intended for the author's joy in the subject. Learning meditation needs the direct intervention of a teacher.
About the Author:
Darshan Goswami has over 40 years of experience in the energy field. He has worked for United States Department of Energy (DOE) as a Project Manager in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. He retired as Chief of Energy Forecasting and Renewable Energy from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC. He is a registered Professional Electrical Engineer with a passion and commitment to promote, develop and deploy Renewable/Green Energy Resources and the Hydrogen Economy. In dedication to his life serving humanity and poor people, the author supports: India Foundation for Children Education and Care, Inc. (www.ifcare.org)