In my last blog, I used two specific people--the Dalai Lama and Congressman Tim Ryan--to demonstrate the positive power of meditation. Today I describe two major studies that show how we can benefit from the use of meditative approaches. Researchers at Harvard Medical School report that long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation had many more disease-fighting genes than individuals who did not practice any form of relaxation. These genes protect us from pain, infertility, high blood pressure, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, the meditative state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin. According to the publication, Psychology Today, research also shows that when meditators shift their brain activity from the stress-prone right frontal portion of the brain to the calmer, left frontal portion of the brain, a decrease in the negative effects of stress, depression, and anxiety occur. Additionally, there is less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.
Numerous methods of meditation exist, allowing us to choose what is most appropriate for our situation and style. In addition to "sitting" styles of meditation, several involve physical exercise such as yoga, Tai chi, walking and swimming. Please note, though: before committing to any new physical exercise, consultation with your health provider is advised, especially if you take medications that make you light-headed or dizzy, or if you have musculoskeletal problems, back pain, a hernia, severe osteoporosis, or if you are pregnant. Both yoga and Tai chi are inexpensive and once the basics are learned, can be practiced alone or with others.
Among the many approaches to sitting meditation, some of the approaches are amazingly simple, including the following example:
1. Select a private spot where you won't be disturbed and where you feel safe.
2. Allot a time period for the meditation, a span where you can devote yourself fully to the exercise. If this is a new experience, you can begin with five or ten minutes.
3. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
4. Take a few deep slow breaths.
5. Be a passive observer--let your mind continue to think but don't engage with the thoughts. Your breath becomes like an anchor while the thoughts in your mind are like a ship at sea being observed.
6. As the allotted meditation time comes to a close, return awareness to your mind.
7.Slowly ease into the reality of the physical world around you and open your eyes.
Comments regarding meditation experiences you've had are most welcome!