What is meditation?
It is a mind-body practice that increases mental and physical relaxation. In doing so, it can enhance our overall well-being; creative thinking; perspective; and ability to cope with stressful situations.
Specifically, the goal is to refocus our attention away from everything else. There is a saying that: “Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”
Are there different types of meditation?
Yes. In fact, meditation has been described as “an umbrella term” for the many ways to achieve a relaxed state of being, inner peace and balance. While there are many types, most share these elements: a quiet location with minimal distractions; a comfortable position (e.g. sitting with legs crossed, lying down, or within our home or garden or favorite chair); concentrating in order to cut out all distractions (e.g. focusing on a word, a key teaching or saying, an object, our breathing).
Can meditation help me decrease the stress I deal with?
Yes! We all know that when stress becomes chronic and is not properly managed, it can wreak havoc on our minds, body and spirit. We also know that relaxation is the opposite of stress. As a result, meditation decreases the release of stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) and changes the frequency and amplitude of our brain waves.
Meditation helps to provide perspective, calm — and aids against those storms of life on the outside from coming inside. In doing so, it can have a number of health benefits.
What are some of the health benefits of meditation? While we need to understand that it may not replace many proven treatment modalities, meditation can be used as part of a multi-faceted approach for a number of ailments with compelling benefits.
—Decreased blood pressure. The American Heart Association has released statement that meditation may be considered by clinicians as a form of treatment for high blood pressure.
—Better sleep. When our minds are racing, it makes it difficult to drift off to sleep and stay asleep. By quieting our thoughts we are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed.
—Decreased depression and anxiety. Meditation has been shown to change not only our brain waves, but also the way our brain cells make connections, its actual structures (thickening some areas while making others less dense), and even molecules that send signals.
—Dealing with chronic pain. While it is not clear how meditation decreases the suffering of people who experience chronic pain, studies have shown some surprising results: relief can be achieved by beginners and much quicker than expected.
—Improved immune function. When our bodies relax, our immune system has the opportunity to prepare for battle against germs, foreign invaders, and cancer.
When is a good time to meditate? One of the beauties of mediation is that we can make it as formal or informal as we like, and thereby adapt it to our needs. There are centers, groups, and classes that are led by trained instructors to teach us advanced techniques. And because meditation does not require equipment or formal training, it can be done on our own, at any time.
So, whether we are at work, sitting on an airplane or train, ready to go to sleep, or just feeling anxious or stressed, all we need is a few minutes to achieve our inner peace.
How can I meditate in just a few minutes? If we are seated, sit up straight, plant our feet on the ground, close our eyes, and repeat a mantra. A mantra can be a word or phrase that is religious or secular, such as “Om,” “I am at peace,” or “I love myself.” It helps to tune into our breathing as well. Take a deep and slow breath in from our nostrils and exhale gently either through our nostrils or mouth.
If we are on the go, slow down the pace and focus on each movement of our legs or feet, forget about our destination, and repeat a mantra.
If we have a faith we follow, consider engaging in prayer, praise or a spiritual precept, the most widely practiced example of meditation. It can be saying or reading our own words or verses, or listening to sacred music.
Meditation is a rich moment or collection of moments in which we escape the noise and demands of our world to focus fully on the wonder of stillness and a knowing. There are healthy benefits in “being still” and meditating that will have a positive effect on our body, our thoughts, our feelings, and our behavior.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.