Stress | February 22, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Meditation is a way of focusing attention to bring about calm, heightened energy and awareness. It forms an important part of many different religions but is gaining popularity as a means for spiritual awareness, without a religious basis. Meditation brings about many different health benefits which include improved mood, increased efficiency and better memory. In this article we will give you easy to use practical tips to ensure your meditation sessions are a success.
Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu scriptures and it was around the 6th to 5th centuries that we began to see other forms of meditation developed in Confucian, Taoist China, and Buddhist India. However, the structured practice of meditation that is more familiar to the modern method of meditation is believed to go back 5,000 years ago in India.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism had their own forms of meditation. Jewish meditation comprised of meditative approaches to prayer and study, such as Kabbalistic practices. Islamic meditation included the repetition of God’s 99 names as well as breathing controls. Eastern Christian meditation involved the repetition of certain physical postures and repetition of prayers.
In a randomized, controlled trial of 201 African-American men and women with coronary heart disease, the effects of meditation versus health education were investigated. After 5 years, there was a 48% risk reduction in deaths, heart attacks, and strokes in the meditation group. There was also a significant drop in blood pressure and significant reduction in psychosocial stress factors.
Meditation increases blood flow to the frontal and anterior cingulate regions of the brain and increases efficiency in the brain's executive attentional network. A study on the effect of meditation on the executive attentional network found that meditators were faster on all tasks. With aging, the brain cortical thickness (grey matter, which contains neurons) decreases, whereas meditation experience is associated with an increase in grey matter in the brain.
Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for protecting and maintaining the length of telomeres, the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that promote chromosomal stability. Shorter telomeres are associated with accelerated aging and related diseases. Chronic stress reduces telomerase activity and accelerates telomere shortening and premature aging.
Researchers have discovered that meditation practices improve telomerase activity and telomere length.
One study investigating the effect of meditation on the aging process showed that long-term meditators have a significantly younger biological age compared to short-term meditators and controls.
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There are various meditative techniques to choose from. The best choice for a beginner is to concentrate on breathing. Here are some popular forms of meditation:
Concentration meditation—involves focusing on a single point such as repeating a single word mantra (chant), staring at an object, listening to a repetitive gong or following the breath. Each time you notice your mind wandering you simply shift your attention back to the focal point. With more practice concentration is improved but a beginner may only be able to meditate for a few minutes at first.
Mindfulness meditation—this form of meditation encourages you to observe wandering thoughts as they drift into the mind. This may bring about feelings, thoughts and memories but the aim is to not get involved or judge them.
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Movement meditation—coordinates a gentle physical technique with breath. Examples include yoga, walking meditation and qi gong.
Other meditation techniques involve emptying your mind, envisioning negative events and casting them in a positive light and Zen meditation. The aim of meditation is to train your mind to stay focused during times of stress or anxiousness.
Meditating at the same time every day helps to make it a regular habit and enables you to slip into a meditative state faster. Many people can meditate while moving around and doing an activity such as walking, swimming and housework. In this example the activity is slowed down and the meditation component is a means of focusing and holding attention to inner processes.
It is easy to meditate by yourself, but some people prefer to attend classes with an experienced teacher and learn in a group setting. There are also apps available such as smiling mind which help guide you though the process. This is especially helpful for beginners and has set programs for adults, children of different ages, the classroom, the workplace and athletes. Other helpful resources include you tube videos and books.
Sai Sun, et al. Calm and smart? A selective review of meditation effects on decision making. Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 1059