A Powerful (Yet Simple) Way to Improve Your Health!
Today more we are busier than ever. Our 24/7 rapid paced culture, makes it challenging to find time for quiet moments. Unfortunately, solitude is often dismissed as a waste of time. Unfortunately, we are also sicker today. An important culprit is unmanaged stress. Daily meditation is one of the best ways to protect and enhance your health.
Chronic stress causes the continuous overstimulation of our body’s natural protective reaction, the 'fight or flight response.’ Over time this weakens our natural defenses and promotes inflammation, a leading contributor to the development of chronic diseases-preventable conditions such as hypertension, headaches, insomnia, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and more, all of which are created or worsened by stress.
"Forty-three percent of all adults suffer from adverse health effects from stress" and "seventy-five to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints," according to WebMD. Americans spend more than $300 billion annually on stress.
Modern medicine and ancient Eastern wisdom agree a simple daily meditation practice - 10 to 20 minutes of sitting quietly to take some deep breaths - offers a powerful way to protect and heal our bodies.
Here are three powerful ways meditation can improve your health:
- Reduce and manage stress
When we encounter stress, whether it's a bad day at work, the kids fighting in the car or a bear chasing us down a hiking trail, our bodies respond by releasing certain hormones. Designed to protect us from danger, cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle energy output.
It is critical when facing true danger, great damage occurs when we continually activate 'fight or flight' with a high-stress lifestyle.
Over 50 years ago, Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, was one of the first researchers to study meditation. He coined the term 'relaxation response,' essentially the opposite of 'fight or flight.' This response in the body, activated by deep breathing, relaxes muscles, slows heart rate, decreases blood pressure and releases healing hormones, such as DHEA, melatonin, serotonin and human growth hormone.
One deep breath activates the response, with full benefits after as few as 20 breaths.
- Improve immunity
A daily meditation practice improves the function of the immune system. As mentioned above, activating the 'relaxation response' releases healing hormones, which in turn support immunity. The body is better prepared to fight infection, inflammation, aging and even protect against damaging conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer's.
- Increase emotional well-being
"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone," said Blasie Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist and inventor.
Meditation relaxes our bodies, but it also calms our minds. With a calm mind, we are better equipped to see things clearly, make correct choices and choose appropriate responses to stress. Meditation also offers time for reflection and introspection, so we better know who we are and why we do what we do.
It also improves key brain functions and structures. Three important physiological changes in the brain occur from regular meditation. First, the cerebral cortex thickens in in areas associated with emotional functioning and attention. Second, an increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus helps increase self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Third, the amygdala, a key processing center in the brain, that monitors danger, shrinks, leading to reduced anxiety and stress.
"By practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.
How to meditate
Integrate meditation into your daily routine. Practice first thing in the morning, on your lunch break or just before bed - or anytime you can. Meditation is not complicated and requires no fancy equipment, clothing or specialized training. Follow these easy steps, and you'll reap all the physical, mental and emotional benefits of meditation.
- Find a quiet place, such as your bedroom, back porch or even your car.
- Sit comfortably, with a tall spine and shoulders relaxed, hands resting however you like.
- Close your eyes, and relax your jaw and face muscles.
- Take slow, long breaths in and out the nose.
- Keep breathing and relaxing for 10 to 20 minutes. When short on time, relax for a count of 20 breaths.
- Allow your mind to calm as you focus on breathing. When thoughts come, briefly acknowledge them, and then come back to your breath.