The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation has been practised by people for many thousands of years; but it is only over the last 40 years or so that it has started to be properly understood and studied by scientists and doctors.

meditation

What is meditation?

Meditation is, to put it extremely simplistically, the art of mind over matter, training the brain to actively take control of the body and enhance one’s moods by the process of sitting peacefully and focussing one’s concentration.

It is very difficult to define meditation precisely, but what is most important is the fact that it works, meditation offers significant benefits to those who practise it; from greater mental acuity to physical relief from stress injuries or tension headaches. Meditation can also help a determined person overcome an addiction, such as that to nicotine, by reinforcing their desire to be free of the habit and enabling them to resist cravings.

“Measuring” meditation

Modern brain scanning technology has enabled doctors and researchers to study in detail the effect of meditation on the brain and have come up with some very impressive results. Not only do the study’s participants say that they feel calmer and more in control, and therefore happier than they were before they began to practise meditation, but the scientists can see why this is so: changes in a meditators brain demonstrate a shift in activity from the stress-prone right-hand frontal cortex to the left frontal cortex; the side associated with calmness and relaxation.

At the same time there tends to be less activity in the amygdala; the section of the brain which houses the fear centre and is responsible for feelings of anxiety which can build in sufferers into full-fledged panic attacks. These studies on the grey matter of the brain are not the only ones to have been undertaken; a 2007 study found that practisers of meditation have an improved attention span, research in 2009 found meditators could reduce high blood pressure and yet another group was found to have increased empathy and compassion after meditating for a period of some six weeks or so.

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How to meditate

With all these marvellous benefits surely meditating must be difficult then? Well, no, not at all; certainly it is a learned skill, and like any other sport, hobby or art-form must be practised before proficiency can be achieved, but meditating is a very simple exercise.

First of all set aside a certain time for meditation, put it into the diary and plan for it. When starting out do not expect too much from yourself, set the time at only 5 to 15 minutes initially. Where you meditate is not important, but it does need to be quiet and tranquil. A quiet room in the home, your office (with the door locked against interruptions!) or even a peaceful spot outdoors: all of these can be ideal places to meditate as long as they are away from distractions. Sit comfortably, or even lie down, making sure your back is straight and that you can breathe easily. Consciously relax each part of your body until all the tension is relieved and your limbs are completely loose. Your mouth should be closed, but your lower and upper teeth slightly apart – you may be surprised at how tightly clenched your jaw can become without you consciously realising it!

Finally fully relaxed physically, you are now able to focus on your breathing; listen to it and count the breaths, but try not to analyse it in anyway – no worrying if you can hear a slight wheeze, or if you are breathing too quickly. Count only up to ten, then go back to one and start again. Once you feel that you are completely unwound mentally begin to clear your mind, letting go of distractions and nuisances and all intrusive thoughts. Some thoughts will not want to go, do not worry about these, simply allow them to linger a moment before trying again to clear them; prime importance here, especially for the first few sessions, is staying calm and peaceful. With practise will come greater mental discipline and those wayward thoughts will be banished soon enough.

Once you have achieved a state of ‘emptiness’ there are several ways to proceed; the most common is to simply stay in that moment for a few minutes, not thinking, not trying to achieve anything, simply being at rest. Some people use this state to tackle problems they are facing, to try and come up with a workable solution, still others use the state to tackle physical problems, or even overcome addictions and religious people use this time to pray.

However you choose to meditate and wherever you are, set a timer to let you know when your time is up. Make sure, though, that the chime is a gentle one – to be jarred out of your meditative state can undo all the good work of the session.

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You can do it!

Believer or sceptic, anyone can gain benefit from a meditation session, and the upside is that there is no negative side-effects from what is essentially a way to think yourself to health and success – give it a go!

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