The Healing Powers of Meditation
Meditation is the practice of mental focus, coupled with deep breathing and positive imagery to find physical and mental relaxation. With regular practice, it can be used to manage pain, lower anxiety and achieve feelings of wellness.
Meditation is a complementary and alternative medicine that refers to a form of mind-body practice. While meditation has historical roots in many religions and spiritual movements, it can also be used in outside these contexts. Very simply, meditation is about developing mental focus to bring about a specific goal.
Mindfulness and focus
If you've ever done a yoga class or deep breathing exercises - you've probably already done some meditation. The aim of meditation is to clear the mind of distracting thoughts and to focus on more positive aspects. This can be from just thinking about the rhythm of your breath to happy and calm imagery. This attitude of quiet contemplation, deep breathing and mental focus is believed to bring about a deep state of physical and mental relaxation, contentment, calm as well as psychological balance.
Some benefits of finding mental focus and calm include:
- Alleviating anxiety
- Pain relief
- Combating depression
- Stress management
- Treating insomnia
- Reducing the symptoms of menopause
- Improving attention
- Asthma symptom relief
Studies are underway to discover why meditation works and how. While overall scientific evidence has been inconclusive, researchers have found some indications that may explain why meditation works for some. One theory is that meditation affects both the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
- The sympathetic nervous system is where the 'fight-or-flight' stress response comes from. It triggers increased heart rate, breathing and blood pressure
- The parasympathetic nervous system controls heart rate and breathing as well, but in the opposite manner, causing these to slow down.
It is believed that the act of meditation reduces the activity in the sympathetic nervous system (lowering the stress response) and increases the activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.
Meditation is also believed to affect the way the brain works, improving attention span and regulating mood hormones to improve mental clarity and emotional health.
How to meditate
- Find a quiet location where you will not be distracted
- Find a comfortable position to sit or lie down. If you prefer, you may also stand, kneel or even walk
- Clear your mind of distractions and mental clutter. One way of doing this is to acknowledge one by one, the things that are on your mind and putting these aside.
- If you have a mantra or a chosen phrase or prayer, focus on these words. Otherwise, focus on deep breathing, a single positive thought or an image that brings you peace.
- If during your meditation your thoughts wander, let these distractions come and go naturally. Gently bring your attention back into focus. Over time and regular meditation, you will find it easier to focus your attention.