We are constantly taking information in through our corporeal senses. Technology and social media are constantly streaming noise, beliefs, news and chatter into our hearts and minds. When we stop to meditate, all the noise dissipates. In this moment, we can now take a deep breath and listen.
In the stillness, in the quiet, everything changes. We are no longer dependent on information from our material world. When we stop, listen and breathe, we can begin to connect with ourselves on a much deeper level.
As we focus our attention inward, into imagination and visualization, relaxation ensues. The heart and the mind are put at ease. As breathing slows, as tension is released, blood pressure can normalize. In this state, our greatest fears and anxieties can be addressed.
Meditation benefits mind, body and spirit
In the January 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers published a comprehensive review on the benefits of meditation. Not only is meditation observed and documented as a way to relieve anxiety, but it can also be used as a means to reduce pain and manage depression. These benefits are all possible because the sympathetic nervous system is engaged and regulated more effectively for important functions such as oxygen intake through deep breathing, a steadier heart rate and lowered blood pressure.
Burke Lennihan, a registered nurse who teaches meditation at the Harvard University Center for Wellness, says the benefits of meditation extend beyond just the physical. “True, it will help you lower your blood pressure, but so much more: it can help your creativity, your intuition, your connection with your inner self,” she says.
Various forms of meditation help people heal in different ways
Many people, not recognizing it, have engaged in forms of meditation throughout their lives to cope with big decisions and life changes. Walking meditation or prayerful meditation are two common examples where one tunes out of the material world and focuses the mind, heart or breath. The benefits of meditation are even more powerful when practiced regularly as a discipline.
Concentration mediation teaches one how to direct and focus the mind to achieve desired results. Mindfulness meditation helps one address the negative thoughts that enter the mind so they can be dealt with in a healthy manner. Heart-centered mediation helps one bring awareness to the powerful energy center in the chest, helping one manage emotions and relationship difficulties. In Tai chi and qigong, mediation is combined with physical exercise to enhance breathing and focus. In transcendental meditation, one repeats a mantra, whether it’s a word, phrase or sound, to quiet thoughts and to achieve greater awareness of oneself and the connection to all living things.
Burke Lennihan says that the most powerful experience is when two or more people gather to meditate. When a teacher is present, a verbal guided visualization can be initiated to stimulate the meditative experience of individuals and the group as a whole. Giving feedback after a group meditation, whether to the group as a whole or to a friend, is a powerful experience as well, as illusions and judgments of one another are shattered.
Lennihan says meditation doesn’t have to be complex. It can as simple as doing deep breathing exercises. Meditation can be a launching pad to connect with oneself, filter out negativity, deprogram from social conditioning, or connect with others on a deeper level.
Lennihan says that it’s great to start with 10 minutes of quiet time each day, and to set aside a safe, quiet place. “You’ll build up a special feeling there, making it easier to get into a meditative state more quickly,” she says. Symbols, photos, candles, herbs, crystals, essential oils and articles of nature are often used to surround a meditation practice to make the experience more personal, centered and meaningful for the individual.
The practice of meditation is an important healing art that can be a useful vehicle for finding inner calm and inner strength in the most stressful situations in life. These self-control techniques can help one manage stress more effectively, slow the aging process and create more positive interactions with others.