Benefits of Meditation

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I recently went to a seminar where we discussed the methods of meditation and how to meditate.  I’ve always wanted to meditate and have wondered on the how often. We stepped through some techniques that I will share with you at the end of this blog.

This idea of meditation in my daily life lead me to investigate further on the benefits of meditation.  Often within the media we are now being told that meditation is beneficial to mind and body. As I believe in the power of the body to ‘unmake what it has already made’, and I also believe in the power of ‘nature to promote self healing’ I wanted to be able to provide evidence of this beneficial technique as it supports the body helping itself.

I have found many studies that are emerging which highlight the benefits of meditation and I wish to share two of them with you as well as guide you in some understanding of how to meditate.

In 2011 a study was published that showed meditation reducing the unpleasantness of pain by 57% and pain intensity by 40% (compared to morphine that reduces pain intensity by 25%), Zeidan et al (2011).  In this study the participants were trained in the art of mindfulness meditation (Shamatha or focused attention) over a period of 4 days.  I enjoyed reading in the study that one volunteer was dismissed from the study for falling asleep during meditation – this happens!! By the way, don’t think you are alone if you’re meditating and fall asleep, meditation is indeed a skill and one that needs to be practiced regularly.  The study went on to discover that through meditation areas of the brain that self-regulated pain were activated. This supports my motto that it’s your body that does the healing, not an artificial medium.  Interestingly, for this study, the volunteers were only trained for 20 minutes per day, over 4 days, and the training was specific to the clinical setting (i.e., they were required to listen to the noise of a MRI scanner during their training). This indicates that you don’t have to have been practicing meditation for a long period of time before you can benefit from the skill. Obviously, the more you practice, the more you develop the skill, and probably the more effectively you can utilize meditation in your self-healing regime.

What I’ve also found is an explanation for why meditation works so well in assisting our body in self-healing. The example I’ll tell you about highlights the benefits of utilizing meditation in conjunction with attempting to lower blood pressure and how well this can occur when utilized regularly.  Essentially, when the relaxation response occurs within meditation, the body produces a substance called nitric oxide, the basic outcome of this is the dilation, or relaxation, of the blood vessel walls, allowing more space for the blood to flow, result = lower blood pressure!  To find out more about the relaxation response, ABC (2008), and it’s multitude of benefits due to the release of nitric oxide, read the article by Kantor (2005)

If you are going to venture into the realm of daily meditation, I would suggest the following as skills and techniques to develop:

  1. Focus – can use a candle, an aroma, or a thought to bring in focus
  2. Breathing – control your breathing, take 7 deep breaths, in and out, focus on the breath going inspiring and expiring, it’s coming from your spirit, follow your breath through your body, keeping still
  3. Bliss – keeping perfectly still for 20 minutes (no, don’t have a timer on!), close your eyes, feel your senses withdraw from yourself, keep in silence, keeping so still you may feel numb, with the numbness you will be withdrawn from your senses enabling you to hold this position
  4. Light – the state you arrive at after this time
  5. Breathing – focus on your breathing again to come back to the current time

For your position, initially you can lie on the floor, or sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your palms on your thighs. Find a position that will be comfortable for you and that you feel you can sustain perfectly still for 20 minutes.

So many people appear to believe that meditation can be achieved in a 5 minute power down time. That’s not my aim, I’m looking at 20 minutes a day to enhance my wellbeing.

Enjoy your meditation routines.

ABC News, (2008), Easy Ways to Take the Edge Off, http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=7392433 viewed 26 March 2013

Kantor, M, (2005), Nitric Oxide: The New Hero of Human Biology, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200502/nitric-oxide-the-new-hero-human-biology, viewed 26 March 2013

Zeidan, F, Martucci, K, Kraft, R, Gordon, N, et al, (2011), Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation, Journal of Neuroscience, 31:14, 5540-5548, http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/14/5540.short, viewed 26 March 2013

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