Do These 3 Things to Relax and Revitalize Your Body
In the 21st century, we’ve all become familiar with the term meditation. Meditation is a technique used for training the mind, just like fitness is a technique for training the body.
When we think about meditation, terms that come to mind are ‘Quiet, Still, Calm, and Inner Peace’. However, for those who have never tried meditation or haven’t mastered the art, ironically, the mere thought of trying to meditate can bring about stress and anxiety.
The reality is very few of us truly know what meditation is. Some think of it as a mental focus on one thing, others would describe it as imagining something that gives us peace.
The one thing all researchers agree upon is that meditation is the most effective form of stress reduction. Studies show that meditation is associated with improvement in stress reduction, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders and cognitive function, among others. Research, also, suggests that meditation can reduce pain response, blood pressure, stress hormone levels and even cellular health. So, how does it work on the body?
Meditation actually changes the structure of our brain. Brain cells and neurons (nerves) are designed to make ongoing new connections. Researchers call this ability ‘Neuroplasticity’. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to form and reorganize new and old connections in response to learning or even following a brain injury. It’s the brains amazing ability to change and adapt in response to our changing needs and environment.
MRI scans have shown that long-term meditation can alter the structure of your cerebral cortex, the outer layer of your brain responsible for processing information, thinking, perceiving and understanding language. With age, many areas of the brain begin to thin and shrink making rise for dementia. Research has revealed that meditation counteracts age-related loss of brain volume (shrinkage and thinning of brain matter). Brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing have been shown to be thicker in those who meditate.
In short, meditation can be viewed as a form of brain exercise that strengthens it and keeps it "younger" longer. Other studies reveal the benefits of meditation are not limited to your brain; it also has anti-inflammatory effects and affects gene expression—all of which can boost overall physical health and longevity.
In 2014, the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University released a report validating the numerous benefits of meditation proven in clinical studies and trials. Those benefits include:
- Pain reduction
- Relieves Stress
- Lowers risk for depression
- Lowers risk for obesity, binge/overeating and emotional eating
- Improves Quality of Sleep
- Improves recovery from Chronic Illnesses (cancer, heart disease)
- Improves memory, focus and mental performance
Meditation & Productivity
Commonly when we need a boost of energy and more brain power, we use coffee to achieve this state. Caffeine stimulates more neural (nerve) activity in the brain, which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone known as ‘Adrenaline’. A constant trigger and release of Adrenaline can lead to a whole host of stress related health disorders, such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Gastrointestinal distress (IBS, ulcers, Acid Reflux)
- Chronic Pain
Meditation, on the other hand, energizes you and increases your focus, productivity and overall brain power without triggering an adrenaline rush. Meditation also provides your body with rest that is 2-5x deeper than sleep. Meditating for 20 minutes is the equivalent of taking a 90-minute nap without the grogginess. Instead you’ll feel awake, alert and refreshed.
Meditation & Blood Pressure
Meditation has been shown to improve many health disorders, especially blood pressure. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood and also contributes to atherosclerosis (plaquing/narrowing of the arteries). This, in turn, can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
One study, consisting of 996 volunteers, found that when the participants meditated by concentrating on a "silent mantra" — a repeated, non-vocalized word or phrase— blood pressure was reduced on average by five points.
Meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, tension in blood vessels and the "fight-or-flight" response in adrenal glands that increases alertness in stressful situations.
Meditation & Pain
Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions. Researchers know that many cases of chronic pain are related to emotional stress, muscle tension in the body, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and poor sleep. Pain intensifies when negative emotions to the pain are added on, like: anger, frustration, hopelessness, and fear.
For example, one study used functional MRI techniques to observe brain activity as participants experienced a painful stimulus. Some participants had gone through four days of mindfulness meditation training, while others had not.
The meditating patients showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain. They also reported less sensitivity to pain.
One larger study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants. It found that meditation was associated with decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent pain.
An additional study of meditation in patients with terminal diseases found meditation may help mitigate chronic pain at the end of life.
In each of these scenarios, meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.
Researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine discovered that both short-term and long-term meditation suppresses inflammation. In one study, participants in an 8-week long meditation program saw increases in anti-oxidant production and a decrease in oxidative stress in the body.
Relax & Revitalize Your Body: Easy Steps to Practice Meditation
There are many different methods to meditate. Many people confuse guided imagery and visualization with meditation, when in fact they are very different.
- Visualization technique – this is the process of visualizing something for the purpose of relaxation or making positive changes in yourself. This often includes visualizing a relaxing scene, specific healing within the body or visualizing other mental images.
- Guided imagery – is the process of being guided with a description through a peaceful or calming place. This process can also include a guided description through a healing process, physical or emotional.
- Meditation – This technique involves focusing the mind on passive observations free of judgements. In meditation, you learn the habits of your mind, which lead to a positive cultivation of one’s self.
All 3 techniques can be used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, anxiety or depression, help you reach goals, manage pain and promote healing. Ultimately, the best method is the one that you will stick with. We will review 2 highly effective and easy methods for beginner meditation.
Here are some simple methods to get started with Visualization and Guided Imagery:
- Find a private space and get comfortable
- Take a few slow deep breaths to calm yourself
- With your eyes closed, imagine you’re in a beautiful location that brings you peace, calming and joy. It may be a green meadow with a babbling brook, a beach, the mountains, the forest or a favorite room.
- Imagine yourself smiling, feeling happy and being calm and relaxed
- Make your scene as vivid as possible and focus on all your senses (sight, sound, smell, etc.) For instance-if you’re at the beach, imagine the warm sun on your skin, the sound of the breaking waves against the shore, the feel of the soft sand under your toes and the smell of the salt water in the air. The more you invoke your senses…the more vivid the image will become
- For the next 5-10 minutes, remain in your scene and focus on feeling relaxed, happy and at peace. Remind yourself that you can return to this place whenever you desire
- Open your eyes and rejoin the world.
Here are some simple methods to get started with Mindfulness Meditation:
- Find a quiet and calm place with little distraction or clutter (it can even be outdoors)
- Set a timer (so you don’t stress about the time) and begin with short 5 minute sessions; then work your way up to longer sessions
- Sit comfortably on a straight backed chair with your spine straight (…but not rigid), and rest your hands on the tops of your legs; or sit cross legged on the floor/floor cushion with your forearms and hands resting on top of your thighs.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose for the count of 4; let the air move down and full expand your abdomen
- Exhale out through your mouth for the count of 8. (As you inhale, let your lungs fill and imagine your stress floating away). Repeat this 5 times.
- Focus on the sensations of your breathing as the air flows into your body, then back out.
- Next, become aware of sounds around you, sensations you are feeling and ideas as they flow in.
- Do not allow any judgements to creep into your thoughts
- If your mind begins to race, or if it enters into problem solving mode, simply bring your attention back to your breathing.
Records show that people have been meditating for over 3500 years. According to research published by Harvard Medical School meditation lowers chronic stress by turning down the ‘Fight or Flight’ response and reducing deep seated, disruptive thought patterns that raise anxiety. Regardless of the type of meditation you choose to practice, all forms share the same commonality. They help develop clarity of mind, emotional positivity and a calming state.
Considering the fact that we have entered into an era of the worst opioid epidemic ever known, meditation is a great way to help control your pain, whether it’s from peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia cancer or any other type of chronic pain.
The reality is your health is under siege from every direction: Environmental toxins, processed foods, GMO’s, EMF’s, unyielding stress and a host of many others. Meditation is the single best most economical thing you can do to improve your physical and mental health. Using body awareness and the breath, we can calm our bodies, sharpen our minds and minimize our reactions to stress. The effects of meditation are dose related – meaning…the more you do it…the better the effect.
In this day and age of smart phones, you’re no longer on your own to try to figure out if you’re doing it right. There are many apps you can download to get you started with either guided imagery, visualization or mindful meditation. I personally like using the ‘Muse’ system. It’s a great system that guides you through calming your mind, while measuring whether your mind reached the pinnacle of calmness or remained active. You can purchase the Muse meditation system (headband) at: www.choosemuse.com or on amazon.
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