Meditation is becoming a popular way to relax our overworked minds. It involves focusing continuously on one thought, word (mantra), object, or mental image for a period of time. It can also involve focusing on your breathing or on sensations in your body. The goal of meditation is to quiet your mind, which may reduce stress and the connection it has to long-term diseases like heart disease.
Meditation is thought to suppress the part of the nervous system that increases heart rate, breathing rate, or blood pressure while enhancing the relaxing side of the nervous system.
There are many types of meditation, but here is some basic information that to help you get started.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is believed to help you achieve calmness, relaxation and psychological balance. These changes accompany deep relaxation and may include:
- Reducing heart rate and blood pressure by opening blood vessels
- Reducing respiratory rate and oxygen consumption
- Reducing blood flow to skeletal muscles
- Reducing muscle tension
- Increasing immunity (resistance to or recovery from illness)
- Increasing energy, awareness, and mental focus
Researchers have studied relaxation therapies, including meditation, as a way to treat a number of conditions, such as:
There are many different types of meditation and no right technique for everybody. You need to find out what works best for you. Most types of meditation include the following basic elements:
Before engaging your mind, follow these guidelines to make your body comfortable:
- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair.
- Make sure the cushion you sit on is slightly higher in the back than in front, tipping you forward slightly.
- If you choose a chair, keep your knees comfortably apart and rest your hands in your lap.
- Keep shoulders level and your elbows away from your side to promote air circulation.
- Keep your spine straight and vertical, but not rigid.
- Sitting in a cross-legged position is not necessary, but try to get as close to this position as possible as it promotes relaxation and detachment.
In order to direct your thoughts, do the following:
- Find a quiet location.
- Focus your attention by repeating a mantra, or staring at an object.
- Keep an open mind.
- Minimize distraction and keep your mind from wandering.
- Breathe through your nose, if possible.
- Be attentive to your breathing, but stay relaxed and breathe naturally.
At first, you may find it difficult to focus but like most things, meditation should become easier with regular practice. Experiment to find out what technique works best for you. Consider taking a meditation class where many different techniques are taught. Some have a spiritual focus and others are more focused on stress reduction. Talk to the instructor about your goals and preferences to understand if the class may be right for you. With a little practice you'll be on your way to a more peaceful existence.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
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