Meditation: What It Is, What It Isn’t
The word “meditation” is probably derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Notably, the Sanskrit derivation of the word medha means wisdom. Meditation is the act of clearing your mind of random, scattered thoughts and focusing your brain inward and giving your full attention to one thing only. For most people new to meditation, that one thing is your breath. It could also be music or any other one thing. You train your brain to observe the random thoughts that bombard you without reacting or judging and let them disappear. With practice, you will be able to better control and prevent these random thoughts.
Meditation appears to have originated in Hindu philosophy and religion in ancient India. Archaeological evidence shows it was practiced thousands of years before Christ. Meditating sought spiritual liberation through acquiring knowledge one’s true identity. Most of the world’s major religions today incorporate meditation. Even in Christianity, repetitive prayer and a monastic way of life is a form of meditating.
Meditation is not prayer in the traditional sense. It is a relaxation technique that rests your body and mind, allowing you to achieve a deep stillness. You can reach a state of consciousness that is different from your normal state of consciousness. Your awareness is fully inward. You become unaware of the external world.
Much like training your body to achieve the fitness of an athlete, training your brain to achieve this level of relaxation and focus takes practice. Starting your meditation practice with a coach is often more effective than teaching yourself. Called “guided meditation,” you should consider finding a qualified teacher to guide you through your sessions.
Benefits of Regular Meditation
Scientific studies are showing that regular meditation has real health benefits. Here are just a few:
1. Stress reduction. One of the most important factors supporting good health is stress reduction. Stress plays a role in nearly every disease, and we all know how much stress we have in our own lives. Stress relief helps fight serious diseases, such as high blood pressure, and boosts your immune system. One study showed that after three months of regularly meditating, subjects’ bodies increased the production of nitric oxide, a gas which can expand blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
Science is not yet sure exactly how meditation helps reduce stress, but one study by the University of Wisconsin showed that after eight weeks of meditating, the subjects’ brains had increased the electrical activity in the left frontal lobe. This area of the brain is associated with positive thought and is more active in people who are optimistic. This study also showed a reduced concentration of the C-reactive protein, which is a marker associated with the onset of heart disease. Meditating can also help fight insomnia; this has been proven. Better sleep is good for your immune system and cognitive function.
2. Brain tissue generation. An eight-week study by Harvard at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that meditation can actually build grey matter in the brain. Subjects in this study meditated daily for 30 minutes. This improvement to brain structure would seem to explain why you feel better after you meditate regularly. Not only are you deeply relaxing, your brain is increasing grey matter density in your hippocampus. Stress causes an increase in cortisol, which has a negative effect on the hippocampus. Meditation seems to help reverse that effect. Detailed studies of the mechanisms underlying these brain changes are underway.
3. Better overall quality of life. Regularly meditating can improve your cognitive ability and academic performance. Additionally, you will eventually develop a more positive outlook on life. Why? Regular meditation develops more frontal EEG (recording of electrical activity on brain surface) coherence in your brain. Your frontal EEG coherence reflects structural and functional connection between brain areas. One study showed that meditating helps to prevent a thinning of the prefrontal cortex as you age. Long-term meditation can reverse this thinning process and mitigate the cognitive decline associated with aging.
4. Improved intelligence levels. One of several studies along these lines investigated for 2 years the effect of a twice-daily practice of transcendental meditation. The intelligence measures were based on Cattell’s Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) and Hick’s reaction time, correlating with general intelligence. The research results indicated a clear improvement on both scales for the 45 college students who participated in the study.
As indicated above, scientific research shows that regularly meditating actually changes your brain in good ways. In easy to understand terms, meditation changes the way the neurons and circuits in your brain communicate with each other.
Benefits of Combining Meditation and Massage: A Mindful Massage
To bring your mind into harmony with a relaxed and stress-free physical state, you can combine meditation and massage. You can listen to your favorite recording of guided imagery during a massage, or find a massage therapist who can provide guided imagery during a massage. It is a new trend in massage and meditation.
Imagery by itself is an effective relaxation technique used by psychologists. Imagery is also a great meditation technique and an excellent way to de-stress. Combined with massage, it will bring you into a deeper relaxed state. Meditation and massage together will enable your body to release neurochemicals that act as natural brain tranquilizers and lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety.
The combination of regular meditation and massage will take your relaxed state to an entirely new level of wellbeing.