(NaturalNews) Recent scientific research has revealed an ever increasing amount of evidence of the wonderfully beneficial effects of meditation. Research has shown that meditation reduces stress, blood pressure and pain, improves attention span and the ability to focus and may even stimulate new brain cell growth. Mainstream medicine is finally opening their minds to this healthful practice and even embracing it in some cases, with hospitals opening integrative medicine programs that use meditation techniques alongside traditional treatments.
A 2012 study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes showed that African Americans with heart disease who practiced transcendental meditation twice a day had a 48 percent lower risk of dying or having a heart attack or stroke compared to African Americans who attended a health education class over more than five years. The researchers found that the more regularly the patients engaged in meditation, the greater their chance of survival. In addition to this, those who meditated also lowered their blood pressure and reduced their levels of stress and anger.
"We hypothesized that reducing stress by managing the mind-body connection would help improve rates of this epidemic disease," said Robert Schneider, M.D., lead researcher of the study and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa. "It appears that Transcendental Meditation is a technique that turns on the body's own pharmacy - to repair and maintain itself."
A 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research found that novice meditators who participated in an an eight-week workshop had an increase in the density of their brain's left hippocampus, which controls learning and memory processes, stress response and one's sense of self.
In 2012, a UCLA study found that long-time meditators had more folds in the cortex, which allows information to be processed, and more connections between neural pathways than people who did not meditate. According to the authors of the study, the more folds, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions and forming memories.
Other benefits of meditation include calmed nerves and better sleep, productivity and creativity.
Researchers are still unsure by what mechanism meditation relieves stress; however, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE in May 2013 suggests that meditating activates a relaxation response on the cellular level that counteracts the fight-or-flight response. In the study, a group of 26 adults underwent eight weeks of meditation training, after which, researchers analyzed their blood. The blood analyses revealed that genes associated with cellular efficiency, insulin production and chromosomal repair became more active, while genes associated with stress and inflammation were deactivated.
Meditation can relieve pain as well. Studies have shown that meditating reduces activity in parts of the brain associated with processing pain.
With all these wonderful benefits and ABSOLUTELY NO DOWNSIDES to meditation, you may be wondering how you can take advantage of this ancient practice. Well, you will be pleased to know that it is very simple; though, like maintaining proper diet and exercise, it will take focus and perseverance.
First of all, you should know that there is not one single correct way to meditate. Everyone is different, and those wishing to meditate should try different techniques to see how they are most comfortable and what works best for them.
For beginners, it is recommended that you set aside at least 20 minutes of time to meditate. Sit comfortably somewhere and close your eyes. Breath in slowly but do not take too big of breaths; your breathing should be relaxed. Many instructors advise their students or patients to focus on breathing and develop it into a rhythmic cycle. Stretching before beginning your meditation session may help you relax. Know that meditation takes more than just sitting still; distracting thoughts WILL enter your mind. The point is not to focus on ignoring them but to focus on something else, a single point or subject, such as breathing while maintaining mindfulness. Mindfulness is active awareness of the present and the ability to observe one's thoughts from a distance without judging them.
As mentioned earlier, meditation practitioners will find other ways to meditate more comfortably and effectively. It is encouraged for people to try different techniques or positions to see what works best for them. Meditation can help control and prevent diseases, as people have known for thousands of years, and as the medical industry is now starting to realize. There are no down sides or side effects and everyone has every reason to try it. However, meditation can not cure all diseases and should not be used to replace medication without first talking to your doctor.
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