Use meditation to put the ‘om' back in homework
Perhaps when you think of meditation, you conjure up images of mysterious monks chanting high on a mountain top, free from the daily grind of modern, hectic life. Most of us intuitively know that meditation would benefit us, but we may convince ourselves that this type of activity is unrealistic or too time-consuming.
We may think that, in order to gain any benefits from meditating, we must have at least 1 hour per day of uninterrupted time, a luxury that few of us can afford. The opposite may be true. According to an article in Psychology Today, recent research indicates that “meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as a 10-minute session.” (Barbor, Cary; The Science of Meditation in Psychology Today, May/June, 2001)
Meditation is not as mysterious as we think. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, University of Massachusetts Medical School found that stressed-out employees of a local-high tech firm reported feeling calmer and happier after completion of an 8-week meditation study, in which they were asked to learn meditative techniques.
Brain wave activity was measured during and after the eight weeks, and four months later. Unlike the people in the control group, who were left alone, those who learned meditation during the 8 weeks managed to shift their brain activity to different areas of their cortex. According to Colin Allen, (The Benefits of Meditation, Psychology Today, April 24, 2003), Kabat-Zinn's research indicated that brain wave activity of the randomly-assigned experimental group moved from the “stress-prone” right frontal cortex to the calmer, left frontal lobe. “This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear” (Allen, Colin; The Benefits of Meditation, Psychology Today, April 24, 2003)
What type of meditation is the best method for you? There are numerous ways and countless traditions of meditation. You may need to explore this further to find the right approach for you. Meditative practice usually involves quieting oneself, sitting still and focusing on one's breath, a phrase or a word. Some forms can also involve movement, such as T'ai Chi or Yoga. The main purpose is to quiet the internal chatter, allowing it to flow into and out of one's awareness, while also staying present in the moment, and continuing to return to the focus on breath, a phrase or a chosen word or mantra. Initially, this may cause some anxiety, especially if you are not used to any form of meditation. This anxiety is quite normal.
In addition to providing a profound mental effect, meditation has also been found to have a significant physiological effect on the body. Studies have shown that, meditation can: reverse heart disease, reduce pain and enhance the body's immune system. Cancer patients have successfully used “mindful meditation” to reduce depression, anxiety, anger and confusion, in addition to reducing the number of heart and gastrointestinal problems that they suffered prior to meditation. According to researchers at the Maharishi School of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, those who meditated regularly for 4 months were found to have a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. (Barbor, Cary, The Science of Meditation, Psychology Today, May/June, 2001)
According to an article on meditation at the website, www.abc-of-yoga.com/meditations/benefits.asp, meditation tends to bring the brainwave pattern into an “alpha state”, thought to be a level of consciousness that promotes healing.
Physiologically, meditation may also bring the person into a state of deep rest, as measured by a decreased metabolic rate, lowered heart rate, and a reduced work load of the heart. Further research has demonstrated that cholesterol levels may drop, as does blood pressure after a number of months of regular meditation.
Psychological benefits may include decreased anxiety and depression, improved learning ability and memory, increased emotional stability, and feelings of vitality and rejuvenation. A decrease in moodiness and irritability and a noticeable increase in brain wave coherence have also been noted.
Scientific, empirical research with its focus on observable, measurable change has proven what mystics have intuitively known all along; that meditation, “mindful awareness”, or quiet relaxation with attention to the “breath” is good for the mind, body and soul. In light of this overwhelming evidence, why aren't more people taking up the practice? Roger Thomson, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Chicago and a Zen meditator. He suggests that meditation “puts us in the middle of ourselves, which is not always where we want to be” ( as quoted by Barbor, Cary, The Science of Meditation, Psychology Today, May/June 2001)
Mark Epstein, M.D., a New York City psychiatrist in private practice, believes that meditation's effectiveness may be connected to the act of putting aside one's attachment to one's ego. “When you look directly at a star at night, it's difficult to see. But when you look away slightly, it comes into focus…..When one zeroes in on a sense of self through a practice of meditation; the self-important ego paradoxically becomes elusive. You become more aware that you are interconnected with other beings, and you can better put your own worries into their proper perspective” (as quoted by Barbor, Cary in The Science of Meditation, Psychology Today, May/June, 2001)
But don't just take the experts' word for it. The best way to discover the benefits of meditation is to find the right way for you, and try it out for a month or more. If you feel better after 10 minutes of meditation, then you are probably doing it right.