Physical and mental benefits of meditation

Meditation is gaining mainstream acceptance as a beneficial preventative health program. It is one of the better studied alternative therapies and has been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits.

More and more doctors are recommending meditation as an effective stress buster and useful support for patients with many types of chronic and acute conditions.

The effectiveness of meditation comes from the fact that you can achieve a state of deep relaxation in just a few minutes. When you settle down into a state of deep relaxation, the body and mind are refreshed and revitalized. This gives you many good effects that are both immediate and long lasting.

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Meditation and stress

QuoteResearchers have shown that meditation lowers levels of stress hormones.In particular, while meditating, your cortisol level drops and stays low for hours afterward. . Cortisol is one of the most important stress hormones. It is present in your blood in small amounts all the time, but when you experience stress, your body produces much more of it. High quantities of cortisol produces unhealthy and unpleasant effects. Getting it out of your blood stream, in contrast, has beneficial and positive effects.

This reduction in stress hormones may be explained by the relaxed state that comes about through meditation. Electroencephalograph (EEG) studies of the brain in those who are meditating show that meditation boosts the intensity of alpha waves – associated with quiet, receptive states -- to levels not seen even during sleep (>Learn more about brain waves). This relaxed state combats anxiety, and this is confirmed by research which has found lowered levels of lactic acid in the blood. (High levels of lactic acid are associated with anxiety.) Another effect of meditation is that breathing slows, so the body uses less oxygen.

An interesting side note: A high level of cortisol makes your body store extra fat in your abdomen and makes you crave fattening foods with extra intensity. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that stress in general is a "primary predictor of relapse and overeating." And they concluded that meditation is an effective method for managing the kind of stress that causes weight gain.

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Meditation and psychological benefits

When you meditate, you allow mental activity to slow down in a natural way while your alertness is maintained and indeed enhanced. After meditating, you will feel mentally refreshed. You will feel calmer, more relaxed and have a greater sense of well-being. Benefits increase with regular practice.

Meditation leads to a feeling of being at ease with the world. Like many people who meditate, you may find that you have greater self-esteem, self-confidence and inner peace. You're able to concentrate more easily and and your ability to learn and remember improves.

Meditation helps you to feel less anxious about issues that previously caused you stress, and many benefits arise out of a calm state of mind. You become a better listener and exhibit greater empathy, which in turn leads to closer and more fulfilling relationships. Calmness brings with it the capacity for more accurate judgement and enhances problem-solving skills. Being calm results in having greater patience and tolerance and gives you the composure to act in considered and constructive ways.

A large body of research has demonstrated that meditation produces comprehensive improvements in mental health, enhancing positive features and reducing various forms of psychological distress. Some of this research is mentioned below.

A systematic review of 144 studies found that meditation was markedly more effective in reducing anxiety than other techniques (Journal of Clinical Psychology) Meditation has also consistently been found to reduce depression, hostility, and emotional instability, indicating the growth of a more stable, balanced, and resilient personality.

In another statistical review of 42 independent research results, meditation was found to be effective in increasing self-actualization-an overall measure of positive mental health and personal development. Further analysis revealed that the technique is exceptionally effective in developing three independent components of this dimension: emotional maturity, a resilient sense of self, and a positive, integrated perspective on ourselves and the world (Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality)

An exhaustive survey conducted by the Swedish National Health Board found evidence that psychiatric hospital admissions may be much less common among people practising meditation than in the general population.

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Meditation and a healthy heart

Meditation has been found to be particularly helpful for the heart. Meditators have been found to have improved blood circulation, as well as a lowered heart rate, which places less demands on the heart.

These results have been demonstrated in many rigorous scientific studies, a few of which are mentioned below.

A 1998 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that people who practiced meditation had lower levels of lipid peroxide than those who didn't. Lipid peroxide can contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other chronic diseases associated with aging. A 1999 study published in the same journal showed that people who practiced meditation had lower blood pressure immediately after meditating than did the control group.

An article published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke in 2000 demonstrated the effects of teaching meditation to people suffering from atherosclerosis . Over a period of time, the meditators showed a marked decrease in the thickness of their artery walls. The improvement could potentially bring about an 11 percent decrease in the risk of heart attack and an 8 percent to 15 percent decrease in the risk of stroke.

In 2004, the American Journal of Hypertension featured the results of a study showing significant lowering of blood pressure in a group of meditators compared to a control group who didn't meditate. The study also reported a 23% reduction in usage of antihypertensive drugs between the group of meditators and the othergroup.

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Meditation and women's health

Meditation can ease physical complaints such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), tension headaches and other common health problems affecting women.

"Women's hectic role-switching can wreak havoc with their lives and with their health," says Patricia Carrington, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

"Meditation gives women a psychological buffer so that life's hectic pace doesn't knock them out," she explains. "It allows you to turn inward and be kind to yourself for a change. Practicing meditation is like taking a vacation once or twice a day. When you nurture yourself, you accrue a tremendous spin-off of benefits."

Take PMS, for example. Your body's response to high stress levels can worsen symptoms of PMS because stress can cause the muscle tension associated with PMS complaints such as fatigue, soreness and aching.

"When you meditate regularly, you dramatically reduce your body's response to stress, and that can ease the discomfort associated with PMS," Dr. Carrington explains.

Meditation can also improve irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, high blood pressure and insomnia, among other stress-related conditions, says Dr. Carrington. "Eighty percent of the people who use meditation to relieve insomnia are successful," she adds.

Other physicians concur with Dr. Carrington. "Meditation can help prevent or treat stress-related complaints such as anxiety, headaches and bone, muscle and joint problems," says Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., former head of field investigations for the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "Meditation also provides women with an inner sense of clarity and calm, and that in itself may help ward off certain illnesses."

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Meditation and the immune system

In 2003, a University of Wisconsin-Madison research team found that a short program in meditation produced lasting positive changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system.

People who underwent eight weeks of meditation training produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine and showed signs of increased activity in areas of the brain related to positive emotion than individuals who did not meditate.

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Meditation and sleeping problems

Intrusive thoughts and increased muscle tension can interfere with your sleep. It's not surprising, therefore, that practicing meditation, with its effects of quieting your mind and relaxing your body, has been found to be an effective treatment for insomnia. Several studies have shown that regular meditation results in higher blood levels of melatonin, a hormone that plays a critical role in the regulation of sleep.

Recent research by Dr Gregg Jacobs at Harvard Medical School on the effects of meditation-based relaxation techniques has demonstrated the link between meditation and brain wave activity.

These findings suggest that insomniacs will find it easier to get to sleep if they practice meditation at bedtime or after awakening during the night. Dr. Greggs has said that "75% of long-term insomniacs who have been trained in relaxation and meditation can fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed.

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What stops people from meditating ?

You would think that with all these benefits, you would be crazy not to meditate. But why is it that you haven't meditated in the past ?

One reason is that you may simply have been unaware of the improvements in health that meditation brings. Hopefully, after reading this page, you can now see the many physical and psychological benefits that regular meditation will give you.

Another reason may be that meditation often conjures up an image of a bearded guru sitting cross-legged at the entrance to a cave or at the top of a mountain. But meditation is fast becoming mainstream, and people from all walks of life practice it - businessmen and women, housewives, lawyers, doctors, students, teachers and so on. Also, modern technology has given us easier ways of both monitoring and performing meditation.

Finally, in the past, meditation has been difficult to master. Using older techniques , it can take you many months or years of practice to control your mind and attain states of meditation. WIth our Meditation Machines, however, you can meditate easily and automatically and start to receive the physical and psychological benefits immediately


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