Meditation is the continued or extended thought, reflection, and/or contemplation or a devout contemplation or spiritual introspection. Meditation is, most importantly, a basic practice for self-realization. It is also described a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness.
It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself. Intentional relaxation, as in meditation, adds order, which means no destructive interference—and mindfulness to the field of our emotions. Intentional relaxation causes acoustic coherence, cross-hemispheric coherence, in the brain. The long waves of EEG (electroencephalogram)/emotion make a net, or home, for the short waves (light, matter). This nests mind/emotion between frequencies, thus between worlds.
Benefits of Meditation
- Meditation helps us physically, putting us into a relaxed state. While fully concentrated in meditation, we lose awareness of any pains and discomforts in our body. We come out of meditation with renewed strength and vitality. Many doctors and specialists prescribe meditation in the treatment of stress-related illnesses such as heart and lung diseases, breathing difficulties, migraine headaches, and stomach problems.
- Meditation creates a more loving, kind, and compassionate human being. The results of an scientific study suggest that people can train themselves to be more compassionate just as they’d train themselves to play a musical instrument. Activity was also seen to become increased in the part of the brain that helps process empathy and the ability to gauge the mental and emotional state of others.
- Meditation helps us cope effectively with a variety of mental and emotional problems as well as anxiety, fear, loneliness, lack of self-esteem and depression. When we meditate, we come in contact with the divine power within that manifests itself as a loving light. By contacting it we realize we are not alone. We experience happiness, peace and bliss not found in the activities of this world. As we enter the inner regions, our problems begin to disappear. The divine intoxication that we experience in meditations remains with us even after we resume our daily activities. Rather than using alcohol and drugs in an attempt to alleviate emotional and mental pain, meditation provides a safe and permanent solution. It is a medicine we carry within us which we can use whenever needed.
- Meditation gives us a new angle of vision. There is a story from the life of Akbar. One day he posed a problem to his courtiers to gauge who could come up with a solution. Drawing a line in the sand with a stick, he asked who could shorten the line without touching any part of it. They could not figure it out and just stared blankly at each other. But the bright Birbal picked up a stick and drew a line parallel to the first, which was longer than the first, thus making the first one look shorter. Similarly, meditation does not eliminate all of life’s problem, but it allows us to view them from a the right perspective, not get overwhelmed by them.
- Meditation helps to increase our powers of concentration and our efficiency. Developing concentration can help us excel in many areas of life: careers, studies, sports, creative art, problem solving etc. Meditation gives us access to an infinite source of wisdom. It is like gaining access to a master computer network in which all knowledge is stored.
- Meditation can increase our brain’s size. Brain scans have been conducted that reveal that experienced meditators have an increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.
- Meditation helps us overcome the fear of death. We learn to separate our soul from the body and enter the inner regions. Then we know that spiritual realms await us after death, and we realize that this world is only our temporary home.
- Meditation helps us develop spiritually. Its practice creates a gradual expansion of our consciousness and fills us with love and peace. We experience ourselves as souls and realize that others like us are also soul and a part of the Source of our Self. We start to see we are all members of one family and begin to develop love for all. This love awakens a desire to help others and we begin to care for all living things and our environment. We become nonviolent for we do not want to see another in pain, we become peaceful and seek to live in harmony with all creation.
- Meditation contributes to outer peace in the world. When we develop inner peace, it radiates to all who come in contact with us. The fragrance of love and peace spreads to our families and friends, our communities, our countries, and the world. Our personal transformation contributes to a golden age of peace and happiness on earth.
- Advanced meditation has the power to give a person the ability to raise their body temperature, at will. This has been demonstrated in the research of Dr. Herbert Benson, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
Over the past few decades, there has been an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence put together that supports the reality of meditation having a significantly beneficial role in the personal development of the human being, be it physical or mental. These scientific reassurances simply provide the evidence asked for by the left-hemisphere rational and proof-demanding mind. This can also demonstrate the reassurance that meditation is an age-old practice that has as much relevance today and benefit as it did thousands upon thousands of years ago.
Meditation Sharpens the Mind
Three months of intense training in a form of meditation known as “insight” in Sanskrit can sharpen a person’s brain enough to help them notice details they might otherwise miss. These new findings add to a growing body of research showing that millennia-old mental disciplines can help control and improve the mind, possibly to help treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
With the help of Richard Davidson and his colleagues, it was investigated was the impacts of Vipassana are, a roughly 2,500-year-old discipline that is the oldest form of Buddhist meditation and focuses on reducing mental distraction and improving sensory awareness. Davidson and his colleagues found the brains of volunteers who received the intense mental training apparently needed less time to spot details than before.
Positive Brain Changes from Meditation
Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative state on Buddhist monk’s brains have found that portions of the organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated. Using a brain imaging technique, A team of researchers studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour. Later, once the subjects had finished meditating, the regions were imaged and the meditation state compared with the normal waking state. There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task.
In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognized as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness. This occurs because during meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time.On an additional note, the complex interaction between different areas of the brain also resembles the pattern of activity that occurs during spiritual or mystical experiences.
Meditation Gives the Brain a Charge
Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness. Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendent terms, as something outside the world of physical measurement and objective evaluation. But over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination.
They have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense. What was found, was that the longtime practitioners of meditation showed brain activation on a scale that had never been seen before. The results from this study take the concept of neuroplasticity a step further by showing that mental training through meditation (and presumably other disciplines) can itself change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain.
Reduction in High Blood Pressure
The transcendental meditation technique produces a statistically significant reduction in high blood pressure that is not found with other forms of relaxation, meditation, biofeedback or stress management. Blood pressure changes associated with transcendental meditation practice are consistent with other controlled studies showing reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, improved markers of heart disease, and reduced mortality rates among participants in the Transcendental Meditation Program.
The magnitude of the changes in blood pressure with the transcendental meditation technique are at least as great as the changes found with major changes in diet or exercise that doctors often recommend. Furthermore, the transcendental meditation technique does not require changes in lifestyle. Thus many patients with mild hypertension or prehypertension may be able to avoid the need to take blood pressure medications, all of which have adverse side effects. Long-term changes in blood pressure of this magnitude are associated with at least a 15% reduction in rates of heart attack and stroke.
Meditation Increases Compassion
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, using functional magnetic resonance (MRI), found that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings suffered dramatic changes in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation. The results of the experiment suggest that people can train themselves to be more compassionate just as they’d train themselves to play a musical instrument. The subject had their brain scanned during the experiment. These scans showed significant increase in activity in the portion of the brain known as the insula (which plays a key role in emotion), when the subject were exposed to negative emotional sounds.
There was less increase in activity during exposure to neutral or positive sounds. The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion – such as heart rate and blood pressure – and making that information available to other parts of the brain. The study’s findings are the more important as they could be very useful to a wide range of people with behavioral or emotional problems. Therefore, compassion meditation may be a useful tool in preventing bullying, violence, aggression and depression by altering brain activity to make people more emphatic to other people’s emotions.
Treatment for Depression
A study has shown that treatment based on meditation is an effective alternative to prescription drugs, even for people suffering from serious, long-term depression. The research, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found that the group-based psychological treatment called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was as good or better as treatment with anti-depressants like Prozac in preventing a relapse of serious depression — and the non-drug therapy was more effective in enhancing quality of life.
What’s more, the study concluded MBCT is cost-effective in helping people with a history of depression stay well for the long term. MBCT focuses on targeting negative thinking and helps people who are at risk for recurring depression to stop their depressed moods from spiraling out of control into a full episode of depression.
Increase in Brain Size
People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input. In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people.
That’s intriguing because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age. The data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being. Meditators did Buddhist “insight meditation,” which focuses on whatever is there, like noise or body sensations. It doesn’t involve “om,” other mantras, or chanting.
If nothing is there, you pay attention to your breathing. The data suggest that one small bit of brain appears to have a slower rate of cortical thinning, so meditation may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging. The goal is to pay attention to sensory experience, rather than to your thoughts about the sensory experience.
Clarity of the Mind
Brain scans reveal that the Zen practice of “thinking about not thinking” could help free the mind of distractions. This suggests Zen meditation could help treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (so-called ADD or ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, major depression and other disorders marked by distracting thoughts. Their scans revealed that Zen training led to different activity in a set of brain regions known as the “default network,” which is linked with spontaneous bursts of thought and wandering minds.
After volunteers experienced in Zen were distracted by the computer, their brains returned faster to how they were before the interruption than novice brains did. This effect was especially striking in the angular gyrus, a brain region important for processing language. A final conclusion that was made, was that the regular practice of meditation may enhance the capacity to limit the influence of distracting thoughts.
Improved Bladder Control
A Loyola University Health System (LUHS) study shows therapy based on natural and ancient meditation techniques can train the brain to control the bladder without medication or operations. The research findings, just published in the latest issue of the Journal of Urology conclude cognitive therapy which incorporates meditation-based deep breathing, relaxation and visualization is an effective management strategy for the strong and uncontrollable need to urinate frequently dubbed “urge incontinence”.
This effective and natural treatment could be literally life-changing for many people with bladder control problems. The FDA’s Office of Women’s Health points out incontinence is far more than simply an inconvenience. It can cause rashes, skin infections and sores, difficulty sleeping, depression, low self-esteem and reduced social and sexual activity.
Alleviating Chronic Pain
Meditation has been shown to reduce symptoms of FM and CFS. It is one of the most ancient systems for reducing stress, which is a key feature of these conditions. Stress exacerbates CFS and FM, as well as causing more of it, creating a vicious circle. Lowering stress in some way is important for sufferers, and meditation is free and doesn’t require leaving the house or depending on others (unless you want to take a class, which is helpful, especially in the beginning). It also doesn’t require special equipment or clothing, and there are no side effects.
Increased Cellular Health
According to researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, San Francisco, positive psychological changes that occur during meditation training are associated with greater telomerase activity. The study that found this is the first to link positive well-being to higher telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of cells in the body.
The participants of the study also showed increases in such beneficial psychological qualities as perceived control (over one’s life and surroundings), mindfulness (being able to observe one’s experience in a nonreactive manner) and purpose in life (viewing one’s life as meaningful, worthwhile and aligned with long-term goals and values). In addition, they experienced decreased neuroticism, or negative emotionality.
Increased Academic Achievement
The Transcendental Meditation technique may be an effective approach to improve math and English academic achievement in low-performing students, according to a new study published in the journal Education. The study was conducted at a California public middle school with 189 students who were below proficiency level in English and math. Change in academic achievement was evaluated using the California Standards Tests.
Students who practiced the Transcendental Meditation program showed significant increases in math and English scale scores and performance level scores over a one-year period. 41% of the meditating students showed a gain of at least one performance level in math compared to 15% of the non-meditating controls. Among the students with the lowest levels of academic performance, “below basic” and “far below basic,” the meditating students showed a significant improvement in overall academic achievement compared to controls, which showed a slight gain.
Enhanced Rational Thinking
A study has shown that people who regularly practice Buddhist meditation are more rational than those who do not. Test subjects played a game while lying inside a fMRI, enabling the researchers to see which areas of their brains became active as they responded to various monetary offers. The control subjects saw increased activity in a brain structure called the anterior insula when they were confronted with an unfair offer (an area linked to the emotion of disgust).
However, the meditators’ brains reacted quite differently, activating brain areas associated with interoception (the representation of the body’s internal state). The researchers found very little overlap in the two groups’ neural responses.A significant finding was that the perception of difference incites less reactivity in meditators.
Decreased Heart Attack & Stroke Risk
A new study has discovered that meditation has an effect on reducing heart attack, stroke and even early death from heart disease, at least among African-Americans. The study followed 201 African American men and women, who are at higher risk of heart disease than whites, but who also had addition reason to worry about heart attacks and strokes since they were also diagnosed with coronary heart disease.
The participants were randomly assigned to participate in either a health education class about heart-friendly diet and exercise, or to attend a transcendental meditation program. After roughly five years of follow-up, the researchers found a 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members of the meditation group compared to those from the health education group. The meditating group enjoyed an average drop of 4.9 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group and also reported less stress and less anger.
Other Misc Benefits
Further benefits (some of which may have been addressed already) arising from meditation include the following:
- Fewer mood swings
- Releasing Depression
- Less anxiety
- Increased energy and vitality
- Improved memory and cognitive function
- A sense of peace and calm
- Less Stress
- Increases rational decision-making
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced heart rate
- More balanced nervous system
- Better Sleep
- May help balance the immune system to help the body resist disease and heal
- Less physical stress and a more balanced the autonomic nervous system
Just as in any new activity we are learning, it takes time to develop the habits and strength needed to grow in our new endeavor. The same is true with the art of meditation.
With meditation, we are learning to still our body, shut out the world, and still the mind. These are new exercises, and it takes time to develop new habits.
Here are some tips for your meditation practice.
- Try to meditate at the same time each day. Early in the morning after you have rested is best before you begin the day.
- Find a spot and sit in the same place every time you meditate. Make this a meaningful place that makes you think of meditation.
- Meditate when you are wide-awake and do not meditate on a full stomach as this may cause you to be sleepy.
- Set a spiritual atmosphere before meditation and slow down your mental thought processes.
- Start with shorter sittings and build to a half hour, an hour, and eventually two or more hours.
- Leading an ethical life creates the conditions conducive to meditation.
There are untold amounts of different styles of meditation. There is no single meditation style that is the ‘right one’. All meditation styles have their own type of usefulness. Here are just a few styles of meditation that exist.
This style focuses on using the seven primary energy centers in the human body to meditate upon. This meditation style may make use of the chakra colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violent or it may make use of affirmations such as “I am truly loved” for the heart chakra.
Starting in the 1960s, Western civilization has grown fond of eastern spiritual traditions and practices, such as meditation and yoga. One fundamental aspect of meditation in some eastern circles, is the Om meditation. This usually is the use of the tone produced by the verbal “Om” as a healing and trance-producing state of awareness. However, this verbal usage of the Om frequency has its faults.
The problem with toning out loud during a meditation session is that you often slow down your breathing as you are slowly exhaling. When you slow down the breathing, you tend to lower your vibration and become susceptible to picking up energy from the person you are working on, if you are doing the Om sound during a healing session. The solution to this is to do the Om meditation mentally.
This is fairly simple and you never run out of breath while doing the Om sound so it will go on as long as your mind wills it. Not only that, but it works just as good as if you were verbally doing the Om meditation with your vocal chords. You will feel the sensations in your energy centers all over your body very quick.
Zen meditation vigorously discourages mental withdrawal from the world and dreaminess, and instead asks one to keep fully aware with a vigilant attitude. It typically asks one to silently focus on breathing and one’s posture with eyes open in a quiet place and to calmly dismiss any thoughts as they pop up, essentially “thinking nothing.” One can over time learn how to keep one’s mind from wandering, become aware of otherwise unconscious behaviors and preconceived notions and hopefully gain insights into oneself, others and the world.
- Sit on the forward third of a chair or a cushion on the floor.
- Arrange your legs in a position you can maintain comfortably. In the half-lotus position, place your right leg on your left thigh.
- In the full lotus position, put your feet on opposite thighs. You may also sit simply with your legs tucked in close to your body, but be sure that your weight is distributed on three points: both of your knees on the ground and your buttocks on the round cushion. On a chair, keep your knees apart about the width of your shoulders, feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Take a deep breath, exhale fully, and take another deep breath, exhaling fully.
- With proper physical posture, your breathing will flow naturally into your lower abdomen. Breathe naturally, without judgement or trying to breathe a certain way.
- Keep your attention on your breath whilst practicing this zen meditation. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath again and again — as many times as necessary! Remain as still as possible, following your breath and returning to it whenever thoughts arise.
- Be fully, vitally present with yourself. Simply do your very best. At the end of your sitting period, gently swing your body from right to left in increasing arcs. Stretch out your legs, and be sure they have feeling before standing.
In order to achieve the full benefits, practice easy Zen meditation every day for at least ten to fifteen minutes (or longer).
Want to learn more about how to meditate?
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