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Meditation: a natural and spiritual way to health

Posted May 17 2009 10:37pm
Meditation has long been considered an esoteric practice, far removed from the realities of the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Meditation is a practice done to help ground us in the realities of the world.
According to Sri Auribindo, one of modern India’s most renowned yogis, spirituality is not the flight of consciousness away from matter, but the flight of consciousness into matter.

Meditation (or the meditative state) is the natural outcome of yoga and other spiritual techniques and the ultimate aim of these practices is to reach a state of complete conscious awareness, also known as bliss consciousness. The term bliss consciousness is a complex one and even enlightened masters have not attempted to describe that state to us. Nevertheless, meditation, once practiced on a regular basis will manifest obvious benefits both on a purely physical level and on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level.

The improved health that one inevitably notices upon sticking to a regular meditation practice is something one cannot ignore. Whether you start off a healthy meditator or come to it for health reasons, you will notice enhanced physical well being right from the beginning. Lustrous skin and sparkling eyes will be the first to appear, simultaneously embedding other permanent changes within the body.

Meditation makes it possible for cells to receive fresh oxygenated blood consciously and anything done consciously is bound to have profoundly positive effects. The regular and sustained practice of meditation makes one more efficient, proactive, confident and energetic. It boosts concentration and will power, making achievements in a chosen field more easily possible. Overall it makes for success, at whatever level one perceives and desires it.

Meditation has also, of late become a beacon of hope for the terminally ill, and those with diseases that could potentially hinder their normal functioning on a day-to-day basis. The scientific community as well has grown to accept it as a valid way (that is scientifically verifiable) to improved health and well-being. Yogis claim that it can go so far deep into the system of the practitioner as to even alter the genetic make up of the individual.

Some of the obvious benefits of practicing meditation include:

1.Decrease in the rate of respiration
2.Improved blood circulation and relaxed heart rate
3.Lowered blood pressure in cases of hypertension
4.Reduced muscular aches and pains
5.Increased rate of healing in convalescing patients
6.Reduced stress and reduced reactivity when confronted with stressful situations, at the mental, emotional and physical level

These are but a few general effects, however and there is scientific evidence to prove that meditation has physiological implications that originate in the brain and translate into healing, relaxation and overall wellness.

So how does meditation really work?
One of the first things that the practice of meditation (Yogis always differentiate between practicing meditation and being in meditation – the latter takes a lot of practice!) does is it creates alpha waves in the brain, which means we are inducing a state of dream-like relaxation, consciously.

Next the amygdala, a region in the brain responsible for triggering the flight or fight response, and thus creating a surge of biological reactions in the body, according to one study is more robust in its response to stressful situations, in people who meditate regularly. This means there is less reactivity to stressful situations, and therefore better health.

This study also attempted to find neural evidence of how mindfulness meditation, for examples, changes the structure of the brain. Mindfulness meditation, a technique taught in Buddhist traditions to remain in the present by observing sensations and thoughts as they arise is known to lessen the amygdala’s hyper startle response, and activate the ventro-lateral prefrontal cortex. This means delayed or significantly lessened activity in the amygdala when confronted with stressful situations and more versatile activity in prefrontal cortex and so more creative ways of dealing with the stress.

Again scientific research has found that the left frontal region of the brain (the part responsible for lowered states of anxiety and positive feelings) of meditators has 50 percent more electrical activity. Meditation gives such an overall feeling of wellbeing that its impact on enhanced immune functioning must be emphasized.

All that said, not all scientists agree that there is conclusive and hardcore scientific evidence to prove that meditation works to improve brain functioning and health. They do agree, however that meditation does work.

What are the different techniques of meditation?
Meditation techniques are a dime a dozen. There are those ones that are very commonly practiced (amongst those who take to meditation) and still others that are relatively underutilized.

Here are a few lesser-known practices, for those interested in exploring something new and different.

Mantra Meditation: The word mantra literally means “revealed sound”. It is a combination of sacred symbols which, when repeatedly pronounced (japa), bring the mind of the practitioner into a state of deep introspective quiet. Mantra is usually done under the guidance of a teacher or guru, especially if it is an initiation into mantra japa. Usually a bead mala with 108 beads is used as an aid to count the number of times the japa is repeated, preferably till the end of the mala. Mantra japa is a very powerful form of meditation, especially for the dynamic mind. The sound vibration created by the mantra can slice through thought and bring the mind to the present. Mantra according to certain yogic traditions, works the anahata chakra or the vortex of energy in the sternum and close to the heart.

Trataka: Trataka means “ steady and uninterrupted gaze”. The object upon which to fix the gaze can be chosen by the practitioner. A sacred symbol or an object that represents the sacred cosmic vibration to the individual can be used for this practice. The most commonly used “object” for trataka is the candle flame. The candle flame represents the constant impermanence, which in real life we seem to be un-accepting of. Trataka works the ajna chakra (the centre of intuition and knowledge), also known as the third eye, and situated between the two eyebrows.

Chakra meditation: Charkas are whirlpools of energy located along the spine (invisible to the eye), and also called psychic centers. They represent levels of energy and spiritual development and each chakra can be developed through meditation practices that involve chakra visualization and breathing. Chakras supposedly guide the optimal functioning of the organs in whose field of action they tend to be located. For example the anahata chakra is located close to the heart and is responsible for the proper working of the organs and glands in that region. Chakra meditation therefore, is a way to bring healing and wellness into the body and mind because of the way charkas can influence the organs in the body.

Here, then is something for us to meditate upon:

Meditation done regularly can bring with it happiness, self-love, acceptance and most importantly, freedom from sickness and pain. Paradoxically, though, the yogis say that if true freedom is to be experienced, then one must first practice self-discipline and then meditation will spontaneously occur.


Scientific studies discussing health benefits of meditation

Yogic studies discussing evidence of the health benefits of meditation

Meditation techniques
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