Meditation is a practice of thought control where the individual induces a mental state of deep concentration and spiritual awareness. Breathing, relaxation, imagination, visualization and mindfulness are all very important mechanisms to induce a deep meditative status.
Meditation can have different purposes and expectations in concordance to the kind of practice. It can be of a religious nature, to get closer to the object of our spiritual belief and in this manner achieve universal fellowship. Or it can be done as a general health activator to bring peace of mind, happiness and compassion, which in return will activate the right brain pathways.
The Spanimax Method uses meditation mainly for this last reason, as a channel for the achievement of general health.
Meditation then may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.
In meditation, a person learns to focus attention. Some forms of meditation instruct the practitioner to become mindful of thoughts, feelings, and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way. This practice is believed to result in a state of greater calmness and physical relaxation, and psychological balance. Practicing meditation can change how a person relates to the flow of emotions and thoughts.
- A quiet location. Meditation is usually practiced in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. This can be particularly helpful for beginners.
- A specific, comfortable posture. Depending on the type being practiced, meditation can be done while sitting, lying down, standing, walking, or in other positions.
- A focus of attention. Focusing one's attention is usually a part of meditation. For example, the meditator may focus on a mantra (a specially chosen word or set of words), an object, or the sensations of the breath. Some forms of meditation involve paying attention to whatever is the dominant content of consciousness.
- An open attitude. Having an open attitude during meditation means letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them. When the attention goes to distracting or wandering thoughts, they are not suppressed; instead, the meditator gently brings attention back to the focus. In some types of meditation, the meditator learns to "observe" thoughts and emotions while meditating.
How Meditation Works
Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body. By learning more about what goes on in the body during meditation, researchers hope to be able to identify diseases or conditions for which meditation might be useful.
Some types of meditation might work by affecting the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. This system regulates many organs and muscles, controlling functions such as heartbeat, sweating, breathing, and digestion. It has two major parts:
- The sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize the body for action. When a person is under stress, it produces the "fight-or-flight response": the heart rate and breathing rate go up and blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood).
- The parasympathetic nervous system causes the heart rate and breathing rate to slow down, the blood vessels to dilate (improving blood flow), and the flow of digestive juices increases.
It is thought that some types of meditation might work by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.
In one area of research, scientists are using sophisticated tools to determine whether meditation is associated with significant changes in brain function. A number of researchers believe that these changes account for many of meditation's effects.
It is also possible that practicing meditation may work by improving the mind's ability to pay attention. Since attention is involved in performing everyday tasks and regulating mood, meditation might lead to other benefits.
Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter.
"It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life." says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. "Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change."
A video about meditation for beginners:
- Meditation: An Introduction; NCCAM.
- Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure; ScienceDaily.
- Meditation's impact on chronic illness. Holistic Nursing Practice; Bonadonna R.
- Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine; Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, et al.
- Meditation as medicine: benefits go beyond relaxation. Edwards L.
- The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations; Newberg AB, Iversen J.
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