I began learning about meditation during yoga teacher training in early 2015 (one of the many benefits of studying to become a certified yoga instructor). I had never really given it much thought until we spent an entire weekend delving into the practice of meditation. Before sharing my experience and meditation practice, I’d like to relay some of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation.
The Verdict Is In – Meditation Works!
Due to vast amounts of scientific research, the medical community is finally beginning to acknowledge the physical and mental health benefits of yoga (more on that in a future blog) and meditation. It is believed that the human body goes through certain physiological changes during meditation, and every cell in the body is filled with prana, or energy. On a physical level, modern medicine is discovering that this results in lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety and stress (the source of over 80% of diseases, it has been discovered), while increasing the brain’s production of serotonin that improves mood and behavior, increasing overall energy levels, and improving the immune system.
On a mental level, meditation has the ability to bring the brainwave pattern into an relaxed state that promotes healing. Studies on meditation have shown that it can actually rewire your brain! According to a study published in the journal NeuroImage in 2009, UCLA School of Medicine researcher Eileen Luders and her colleagues compared the brains of 22 people who have practiced meditation regularly for five to 46 years, and 22 age-matched nonmeditators. Luders et. al. found that the meditators had more grey matter (which makes the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information) in regions of the brain that are important for attention, regulating emotions, and mental flexibility. “Luders believes that the increased gray [sic] matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.” This can lead to better emotional stability, mental clarity and creativity, greater levels of happiness, as well as an improved intuition.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the premier authority on meditation, is the author of the New York Times best-seller Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation (2011), and his newly-released follow-up, Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Life through Transcendental Meditation (2016). (Click on the links below to purchase.)
A professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, Dr. Rosenthal draws upon the experience of patients that he has treated over the years, as well as decades of clinical research on transcendental meditation (“TM” for short), and writes that, in addition to the aforementioned benefits, TM can be used to fight anxiety and depression, and provides new hope for people suffering from addiction, attention deficit disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Given such substantial amounts of conclusive evidence, it is no wonder that more doctors and healthcare professionals are prescribing meditation as part of a healthy lifestyle for their patients.
My Meditation Practice
Let me just say that everyone is different, and what works for me may not necessarily work for anyone else. That being said, here’s what my daily meditation practice entails:
I wake up every morning at 5:30am.
I sit either cross-legged or with my feet on the floor, back straight, with a cushion to support my lower back. I place the palms of my hands either on my knees or thighs or press my fingertips together.
Closing my eyes, I take between three to five slow, deep, relaxing breaths, as this helps me clear my mind as I begin to settle into deep meditation. I’ll either play soothing meditation music on my iPod or smart phone (there are tons of meditation apps you can download) with the volume nice and low, or prefer the peace and quite of the early morning before the sun rises.
Allowing random thoughts to rush in and out of my mind, holding no judgement to any one thought, I start to mentally feel my body from my toes all the way to the crown of my head, as I slowly sink into the deep recesses of my own mind.
And there I stay, anywhere from between five to as many as 25 minutes. During this time, I feel as though I am in a state of suspended animation. My heart rate slows down, my breathing becomes very easy and relaxed, and I feel as though I am floating through the ether. While in this state of transcendence, I am able to better take stock of what’s going on in my life, organize my thoughts, plan my day, or just sit still.
To finish my meditation, I say the words “Thank You” to the Universe three times, expressing gratitude for my life, my family, my friends, and my future. Then, I gently come out of my meditation by returning to my body, and slowly opening my eyes.
A brief meditation each morning enables me to start my day refreshed, energized and on a positive metaphysical wavelength. Plus, it just feels good. If there are those reading this blog who also meditate, I would love to read about your experiences with a meditation practice.