Meditation and its health benefits-
The term meditation is derived from a Latin verb meditari, which means to think, contemplate or ponder. Meditation is a method to retrain the mind to induce a mode of consciousness to realize some special benefits. Meditation can be defined as a mental technique which is practiced regularly for purpose of attaining a subjective experience that is frequently described as very restful with heightened awareness often characterized as blissful.
There are many types of meditative practices according to different religions and faiths but the end result of all of them is to give some special benefits, which are felt by the individual, who practices them regularly and consistently.
Many scientific studies conducted on the health benefits of meditation have validated time and time again that it is beneficial for health. A recent study highlights that transcendental meditation (TM) helped American Africans with heart disease reduce risk of death, heart attack and stroke. It helped patients lower the high blood pressure, stress and anger compared with patients who attended a health education class. TM may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with heart condition.
It has been conclusively found that apart from relaxation, there are other benefits of the practice of meditation.
- Increased immunity- Meditation has been found to boost immunity in normal persons as well as in cancer patients. It also boosts natural killer cells in elderly giving them greater resistance to tumors and viruses. The regular practice of meditation switches on the genes that fight inflammation and protect the body from cancer.
- Emotional balance- The meditation is certainly a way to cure unhealthy emotional states. By meditation one is able to cleanse one’s consciousness of its old painful memories which give one greater freedom and balance. One’s responses and reactions are not colored by the burden of old memories. Therefore, the responses and reactions are true, direct and appropriate.
- Increased fertility- It has been found that women have greater fertility when they are relaxed and free of stress. It has also been found that stress reduces the quantity and quality of sperms. So meditation also improves male fertility by reducing stress in them.
- Lowers blood pressure- It has been found that individuals who practice meditation regularly have their systolic blood pressure 6 mm of Hg and diastolic blood pressure 4 mm of Hg lower than those who don’t practice it. As a result of meditation, there is a reduction in the level of hormone cortisol, which is responsible for lowering the blood pressure in its practitioners.
- Anti-inflammatory- Stress is responsible to inflammation which gives rise to many chronic inflammatory diseases like heart disease, arthritis, asthma and psoriasis. Meditation helps the symptoms of the inflammatory diseases by switching off the stress response.
- Calmness- By a regular practice of meditation one can become the boss of one’s mind. The meditative mind is not affected by the day to day storms in the thoughts which go on and on. The MRI brain scans taken before and after a regimen of meditative practice show increased grey matter in the hippocampus - an area important for memory and learning. The images also showed a reduction in amygdala – an area connected to stress and anxiety.
- Relieves irritable bowls- The meditation is very effective in reducing the symptoms of irritable bowls such as bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
- Improves attention span, focus and memory- When a person is meditating, the brain waves show specific alpha waves of frequency around 7 to 14 Hz. It has been found that during mindful meditation and continuous attention concentration, a person develops improved control over their alpha waves. The persons doing meditation showed a definite improvement in their middle band (9 to10 Hz), which was linked to concentration and attention. Therefore, the meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory.
One doesn’t have to become a monk to get the benefits of meditation. One can get them by meditating at home in a secluded and peaceful ambience for 20 to 30 minutes daily. In the beginning, it will be difficult to meditate this long. The beginners can start with 10 minute daily and then gradually increase the duration of meditation. One can do meditation twice daily in the morning and evening depending on the availability of time. With regular practice, the duration and mindfulness of the meditation will increase and so will the benefits.
While meditation is beneficial at any time, early morning is the best time to meditate. Many people meditate either before dinner or later in the evening. Others also meditate at noon. By having a time of the day set aside for meditation will help in maintaining the regularity. Many recommend that one should do meditation for shorter periods of time many times a day. But, as a matter of fact, whatever regimen of meditation is followed, it is beneficial provided it is performed regularly and consistently.