Meditation Balances the Mind & Body

So what stops you from trying it?

by Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, M.D., F.A.C.P., A.B.H.M.
posted on November 11th 2010

Most Americans aren’t raised to sit and say "Om." But meditation has gained millions of converts, helping them ease chronic pain, anxiety, stress, improve heart health, boost mood and immunity, and even resolve problems during pregnancy. Interestingly enough, meditation wasn’t specifically “created” to do any of those things. But in our goal oriented society, meditation has proven to be quite useful. 

To begin with, any condition that is exacerbated by stress can be alleviated through meditation, says cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, well known for his three decades of research into the health effects of meditation. He is the founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the author of many books and articles on the subject. 

"The relaxation response [from meditation] helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves," Benson says. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as the body receives a quiet message to relax. 

There is scientific evidence showing how meditation works. In people who are meditating, brain scans called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, fMRI, have shown an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate. Another studies with Buddhist monks showed that meditation produces long−lasting changes in the brain activity in areas involved in attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception. 

The soothing power of repetition is at the heart of meditation. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase − a mantra − creates the biological response of relaxation, says Stan Chapman, PhD, a psychologist in the Center for Pain Medicine at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. 

So what stops you from trying it?

If you are like most of us, sitting still may be hard to do. We are so programmed to be active, busy, and productive that idling in one position is “foreign” to us. But there could be nothing further from the truth and perhaps nothing more “unhealthy” than losing our ability to still our minds. 

In order to achieve a state of balance for all that activity and output, we need a way to restore and reconnect to a vital source of energy. While some might be turned off by the often cited spiritual nature of a meditation practice, it is important to see beyond the labels. Call it what you will, but I would strongly suggest you sit still more regularly and find a practice that helps you still your mind as well. I think you will find that the immediate impact on how you feel and how you function will be so impressive that you will continue....who wants to drag around all day? The health benefits mentioned at the top of this article are merely byproducts of this practice. So give it a try. You have nothing to lose. I would venture to say that nothing you can buy will offer greater potential toward improving your overall health and well−being.

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