Sunday, March 25, 2018

Health and Wellness: Meditation



Blog 4.2: Meditation















Continuing with our theme of mindfulness for the month of March, we will look at Meditation as an essential part of holistic wellness. Mindful practice of yoga improves not only our physical health but also our emotional health. Similarly, practice of meditation, in addition to improving our emotional health also improves our physical health. And both of these practices improve our spiritual health by allowing us to see the connections(to each other and the universe) that are routinely hidden from our conscious thought in our busy and distracted modern lives.

Scientific studies have now shown many health benefits of meditation. Increased immunity, lower blood pressure, increased attention span, reduced symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, pain, insomnia, and decreased age related memory loss are few of the many ways meditation can improve our health.

New scientific research is shedding light on how meditation is able to accomplish these benefits. A mechanism by which meditation improves physical health may be explained by epigenetics. Harvard study, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, showed that deep relaxation changes our bodies at a genetic level. The experiment showed that long term practitioners of meditation had more “disease fighting genes” active than control group. However, the good news is that when control group started practicing relaxation methods every day, their “disease fighting genes” switched on. ''After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.'' A mechanism by which meditation improves emotional health may be explained by neuroplasticity. Harvard Study, conducted by Dr. Sara Lazar, revealed that meditation literally rebuilds brain’s gray matter in 8 weeks.  Attached below is the link to her 8 minute ted talk so you can learn further about this study further. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8rRzTtP7Tc


Now that you have become aware of the importance of meditation in achieving optimal health and wellness, question arises which one to practice. There are many different types of meditation and there are overlapping and at times unique benefits to each of the different types of meditation. Perhaps, one way to divide this vast topic is to separate the types of meditation into 3 broad categories. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171985/


-Open monitoring meditations: these include Vipassana, mindfulness meditation, insight meditation etc. Common thread of these types of meditation is that they keep the practitioner in the present moment.
-Focused attention meditations: these include Pranayama, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, and chakra meditation etc. Common thread is that, they all focus on an object, breath, or sound(mantra).
-Loving Kindness meditation: Attention is withdrawn inward in the first 2 types, but in this type, attention is directed outward. But it incorporates elements of both of the above types of meditation in its practice.

Try a few kinds and see which one you like. All forms of meditation will bring positive changes, as long as you do them regularly. So find whatever style suits you at this time. Perhaps choose one that has a local center where you can deepen your practice. If no close by centers are available, there is a lot of support and information online. The key is to get started and to continue your practice everyday. As S.N. Goenka said, “Continuity of practice is the secret to success.

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