What is Meditation?
Meditations are techniques to quiet ones mind and change ones state of consciousness. Written and taught knowledge on meditations is mostly known from Eastern religious or spiritual traditions. These techniques have been used by many different cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. Today, many people use meditation outside of its traditional religious or cultural settings, for health and wellness purposes.
There are many types of meditations. In some forms of meditations one consciously focuses on a specific word or mantra, a specific breathing pattern, or on an object. Mostly one maintains a specific posture.
As each person is different, the best is to try out different forms of meditation and practice what feels good to you. Some people meditate well to music or guided meditations; others learn a specific techniques from a teacher or a book; some just find out naturally how to go “inside”, be calm and yet responsive to their inner world. Meditation combined with Yoga, becomes fairly easy, as the physical movements and the conscious breathing automatically quiets down body and mind.
“Meditation is a skill of paying attention in a restful way to the flow of life in your body. This triggers a natural response, a built-in instinct of the human body. That means you can do it, and it can feel natural to you once you have found a way you love to do” (Lorin Roche). This practice results in a state of greater physical relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance.
What are the benefits of meditating?
Over the past 40 years, dozens of universities in the United States, Europe and India have conducted hundreds of studies on the effects of meditation on human physiology and behavior. The research shows that meditating regularly produces benefits on many levels of life simultaneously – body, emotions, mental functioning, and relationships.
- Orderliness of Brain Functioning
- Improved Ability to Focus
- Increased Creativity
- Deeper Level of Relaxation
- Improved Perception and Memory
- Development of Intelligence
- Natural Change in Breathing
- Decrease in Stress Hormone
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Reversal of Aging Process
- Reduced Need for Medical Care
- Reduction in Cholesterol
- Increased Self-Actualization
- Increased Strength of Self-Concept
- Decreased Cigarette, Alcohol, and Drug Abuse
- Increased Productivity
- Improved Relations at Work
- Increased Relaxation and Decreased Stress
- Improved Health and More Positive Health Habits
How does Meditation work?
Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body, such as changes in the body’s “fight or flight” response. The system responsible for this response is the autonomic nervous system (sometimes called the involuntary nervous system). It regulates many organs and muscles, including functions such as the heartbeat, sweating, breathing, and digestion, and does so automatically.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two major parts:
The sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize the body for action. When a person is under stress, it produces the fight-or-flight response: the heart rate and breathing rate go up, for example, the blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood), and muscles tighten.
The parasympathetic nervous system creates what some call the “rest and digest” response. This system’s responses oppose those of the sympathetic nervous system. For example, it causes the heart rate and breathing rate to slow down, the blood vessels to dilate (improving blood flow), and activity to increase in many parts of the digestive tract.
Research suggests that meditation is reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.