Meditation is the conscious control of breathing. It has been touted for its many health benefits, both physical and mental. With origins in the civilizations of ancient Africa, Japan and India, it has long been used as a tool through which to calm the mind and to connect mind and body in harmony. The spiritual cornerstone of Buddhism, meditation was also used in ancient Egypt as a practice of rejuvenation and relaxation.
In our hectic Western schedules, however, many women may feel they don’t have the time or energy to meditate. Indeed, according to a recent study, only about eight percent of Americans currently practice meditation. But studies show that just a few minutes of meditation a day can have a vast impact on an individual’s health. But what are the health benefits that can be derived from meditation? And how does meditation help alleviate pain and stress?
The Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is accredited with many health benefits. It decreases respiratory rate and increases blood flow. It lowers the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, making it an excellent practice for women with cardiovascular problems.
The practice of meditation also decreases virus activity and emotional stress, helping to ward off colds and the flu and boost the overall immune system.
For women with mental health problems, meditation can reduce anxiety attacks because it lowers blood lactate levels that cause stress. Meditation boosts serotonin levels in the brain; a hormone that helps produce a positive mood in the individual. Lower serotonin levels on the other hand, are linked to depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches.
Meditation also increases mental sharpness, which is critical in combating the stress caused by our everyday lives.
Stress is a reaction in our bodies to an event our mind perceives as harmful or dangerous. This response triggers a "flight or fight" mode in which our body constantly adjusts in order to try and maintain an equilibrium (homeostasis). This response occurs in many events, from sitting in a traffic jam to being physically threatened.
Meditation helps counteract the effects of stress on our minds and bodies by maintaining a healthy equilibrium. Stress is associated with physical, emotional and behavioral changes in the body, including fatigue, weight loss, confusion, anger, violence, depression and frustration, all of which can take a dangerous toll on our health. Meditation also minimizes the negative effects of traumatic events, such as surviving a rape or a car crash.
It also helps the body to heal after surgery, boosts self-confidence and diminishes symptoms of PMS like cramping, fatigue and headaches.
The practice of meditation also helps with the symptoms of fibromyalgia, like pain and fatigue. In a recent study, all women surveyed reported a moderate to marked improvement of their fibromyalgia symptoms.
Meditation is also helpful in treating physical and emotional symptoms associated with chronic illnesses and with the treatment of such illnesses as heart disease, cancer, HIV and AIDS.
Pregnant Women and New Moms: The Special Effects of Meditating
Pregnant women can also benefit from the practice of meditation. Because it helps alleviate stress, it helps establish a positive frame of mind, reducing fears such as giving birth for the first time or worrying about pregnancy complications. There are also many physical health benefits, such as boosting the mother’s immune system and making her uterus a happy home for baby-to-be.
New moms can use meditation to enhance their emotional health, which can suffer during the post-pregnancy period. By focusing on the positive elements in her life, mom can ward off common post-partum symptoms, including feelings of sadness, depression and isolation.
How to Meditate: Simple Steps to a Healthy Mind and Body
Meditation techniques are simple. All you need is a quiet place, good posture and a positive attitude. Buddhist meditation attempts to train the mind through meditative thought, called mindfulness. Sitting in a comfortable position (the legs can be crossed, but this is optional), the individual sits with half-closed eyes. The focus of Buddhist meditation is consciously controlling the breath.
Movement meditation incorporates mindfulness with motion. In a squatting position, let your limbs loose and swing them in snake-like movements to release tension. Dancing is also encouraged.
Meditation often accompanies other mind-relaxing activities like yoga and tai chi. You only need from about five to fifteen minutes a day of meditation several days a week in order for it to have a positive impact on your well-being.
Risks and Suggestions
While meditation is a safe practice, some reports have suggested that intense meditation in people with certain psychological problems increased the severity of their problems. However, these findings were not conclusive and not enough research has been conducted to verify these claims.
Nonetheless, meditation should never replace prescribed medicine without the advice of your doctor. Medical visits should be maintained on a regular basis.
Finally, meditation is most effective when the beginner has the instruction of a qualified teacher; so go out and find the yoga or meditation centre nearest you!
Also consider creating a relaxing retreat within your own home inwhich to meditate. Check out our great ideas for relaxing home decor.