By Liza Schrank
An ancient mind-body practice, meditation uses breathing to quiet the mind and help us become more present in what we do. It is rooted in Eastern religion, and while there is no consensus on the definition of meditation, it has been described as a defined technique, logical relaxation, and a self-induced state.
Other elements may include a state of psycho-physical relaxation, self-focus, mental silence (or an altered state of consciousness), a mystic experience, enlightenment or suspension of logical thought processes. One of the many beauties of meditation is that it allows us to become more mindful in our day-to-day lives by keeping us in the moment.
A large body of research has established the efficacy of meditation in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and chronic pain.
These benefits are shown to be effective beyond the time that a person is formally meditating. In addition, research has found:
- In three minutes, circulation and blood stability are affected.
- People who have meditated for four months have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- MRIs show that meditation activates the area in the brain that is responsible for the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the bodys ability to relax, an important aspect in todays fast-moving world.
- Significantly larger cerebral measurements occur in meditators compared to the non-meditating controls. More specifically, significantly increased gray matter was detected in several regions of the brain, including the hippocampus. Larger hippocampal volumes may account for meditators ability to develop positive emotions, express emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior.
We tend to make meditation much more complicated than it is, but the hardest part for average Americans is finding the time.
Meditation is not a demanding practice. Simply sit in a comfortable, quiet space, close your eyes and focus on the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose. As thoughts enter your mind, passively notice and acknowledge them, and then let them go by, bringing the attention back to the sensations of your breath. If you get distracted, return to your breath and focus on the inhalation and exhalation. By returning to the breath, you will gradually become less distracted and ease into a calm state.
Sit back, close your eyes and breathe.
Liza Schrank is an ACE certified personal trainer at the AnschutzHealth and Wellness Center and specializes in weight management, return
from injury and behavior change and motivation. She was a competitivegymnast for eight years and competed at the Olympic level for three.