Meditation: The Panacea for Today’s Problems

10 Oct

By Natalia Rodríguez Domínguez.

There are some days when everything seems to go wrong. Stress piles up uncontrollably and leaves us feeling drained of energy and prone to negative emotions. When this happens, who hasn’t wished for some sort of method that could solve (or at least soothe) our problems, and help us get back our joie de vivre? Fortunately, this appears to be more of a reality than you might have thought.

Used for thousands of years, especially by Eastern civilizations, meditation has become increasingly popular as a method of general stress relief in Western societies. Contrary to many perceptions, meditation is much more than simple relaxation, and is suitable for a wide variety of people.

Meditation is a very broad concept, combining diverse techniques that are found in many cultures whilst aiming to balance the physical, emotional and mental states of being.

Some of the most popular practices include Japa meditation, in which you focus on a repetitive mantra—a specially chosen word or set of words—to chant. Other methods include Mindfullness, which involves being aware of your own thoughts and surroundings, and Pranayama, in which you concentrate on your own breathing.

“There is no specific technique which is superior to any other. They all offer an opportunity to clarify the mind, expand awareness and harmonize ourselves with the forces of nature in order to achieve deep inner balance,” explains Dr. Vinod Kumar, an Edinburgh-based Ayurvedic doctor, yoga practitioner and instructor. “In this society, we don’t know what silence is any more. We need to train our mind systematically, learn to empty it and develop a new sense of consciousness.”

Kumar, who has wide range of medical qualifications, decided to leave the NHS last year because he wished to spend more time treating his patients.

“The system of traditional medicine is one that forces you to work against time. Instead of communicating with the patient, we only concentrate on the physical signs of his affections. But in Ayurveda, all the aspects of life are considered. It is a mind-body integrative medicine that promotes meditation as one of its main therapies.”

Based on everlasting principles, meditation is not linked to any specific religion, and is open to anyone wanting to give it a go. It is a discipline of body and mind.

Before starting, we ideally need to take care of a few things. The location where one meditates should be quiet and well-ventilated, with as few distractions as possible. A comfortable posture should be adopted, whether sitting, standing or lying down. The stomach should be relatively empty and the spine held straight. Objects, like candles or flowers, can also be used to help focus attention.

Kumar, who teaches Kundalini Yoga at The Healthy Life Centre in Edinburgh, recommends beginners concentrate on their own breathing. “Breathing plays a great role in both yoga and meditation. Unless we know how to consciously control our breath, we will never be in a position where we can reach a meditative level.”

A good exercise to develop breath awareness is the six-step-deep-breathing technique. Inhale, starting at the base of the lungs and fill them progressively to the top. Hold the breath at each level for a few seconds, first the base, then the middle and finally the top part of the lungs. Exhale, following the same procedure. Repeating this exercise for three-to-five minutes should place the mind in the correct mood for meditation.

Successful meditation should allow the participant to control their mind, so that it becomes peaceful and focused. We become more aware of everything by simply being, without judging or thinking. As Kumar says: “While meditating, we should be proactive—being aware of what’s there—not reactive.  [We mustn’t] react to our thoughts. We notice them, and as they come we should let them go away.”

For many people, meditation can be a useful tool for overcoming daily difficulties and coping with a hectic routine in a balanced manner. Maria, a 24-year-old postgraduate student of Dance Movement Psychotherapy, started practising it two and a half years ago, as she felt it could help her see life from a different perspective.

“Meditation is healing. Thanks to it, my life has been transformed into a more satisfying experience where stress seems to dissolve or look irrelevant, or even silly. There is less weight from responsibilities, there’s a feeling of warmth even when the sun isn’t out; but, above all, there’s a certainty that everything is and will be all right.”

Others, like Anup, have also found a great source of daily energy through meditation. “Doing my routine every morning keeps me quite positive throughout the day and I also feel more energetic,” says the 26-year-old Ph.D. student, who is convinced that meditation has played a vital role in boosting his immune system.

“I used to get allergic colds very often, which have been greatly reduced since I got started [doing] meditation breathing exercises. Doing them, especially early in the morning, allows you to get large doses of oxygen into the body, and so you feel very fresh and energized. In my case, the day seems to wear me down more slowly.”

The theory that meditation can be of medical benefit in a number of ways, including lowering blood pressure, stress levels and even chronic pain, is one that has been gaining momentum in recent years.

Over time, independent researchers across Europe and the United States have tried to verify the broad range of benefits largely attributed to meditation by its promoters. Unlike early studies, which contained multiple flaws and thus produced less conclusive data, more recent ones have benefited from several technical advances, in order to compile objective evidence about the potential implications of meditation on our health.

A new generation of brain-imaging studies and robust clinical trials has shown that meditation has both short and long-term effects on various perceptual faculties.

In 2007, Richard Davidson, professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and one of the world’s top brain scientists, proved that meditation can actually induce long-lasting changes in the brain, and enhance its attention-related capacities. Results revealed that expert meditators presented higher detection rates of fast-changing stimuli, like emotional facial expressions, than other people.

That same year, a group of researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, USA, developed a simple, non-sectarian meditative training programme for stress reduction. The study concluded that even novices experienced significant stress and bad mood reduction after just one brief session.

More recently, innovative research carried out by an extensive team of scientists at University of California Davis has shown that meditation may also have positive effects on a cellular level. In 2011, the initial results derived from The Samantha Project showed that meditation may also play a key role in slowing down the aging process.

The monitored group of meditators presented higher levels of telomerase activity than those who did not meditate. Telomerase is an enzyme that exerts not just an anti-aging effect, but a rejuvenating one on a genetic levels.

Apart from its medical implications, Dr. Kumar is convinced that meditation is an excellent tool that could help us learn the inner secret of continuous happiness. “Meditation is both straightforward and mysterious. It is immediately available, and [yet] is cultivated over a lifetime. It is [a] point between negative and positive, the razor margin between the known and the unknown. It starts as a technique and becomes a state of being. Meditation is both a path and a goal, and can transform your life into pure magic.”

Contact Dr. Vinod Kumar on vinnikumar@hotmail.co.uk or visit his website www.ayurvedicquest.com

Image Sources: Howard Elwyn-Jones (only first image) and Natalia Rodríguez Domínguez (the rest of them).

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Article first published on 13th March 2012 (Buzz Magazine). Link

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