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IRC Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2016
By: IRC Blog

Meditation has benefits for minds and bodies

People have meditated for thousands of years. Regular meditators say it’s a pleasurable experience that reduces stress, frees up creativity and helps them make decisions and reach goals. We’re now finding that meditation not only leads to a better mental state but can also produce measurable improvements in health.

There are many forms of meditation. Two of the most well-known and popular are Transcendental Meditation® and mindfulness meditation. Transcendental Meditation® helps you achieve a relaxed state through silently repeating a mantra—a simple sound, word or phrase. Mindfulness meditation focuses your awareness on your breathing as you tune in to what’s going on in your body, mind and surroundings without judging or reacting to them. What they have in common is a focus on the present, letting go of the past and thoughts of the future. The result is stillness and calmness of body and mind. That frame of mind can be carried into daily life, helping you to better handle stressful situations.

Recently, scientific research has yielded proof of meditation’s physical and mental benefits. Studies have found that meditation can yield significant social and emotional benefits, such as lessening feelings of isolation and loneliness. Meditation also helped practitioners decrease unhealthy habits such as tobacco, alcohol and non-prescription drug use. It also resulted in lowered levels of cortisol, a stress hormone; slowed heart and respiratory rates and decreased the symptoms of angina pectoris, a condition that causes chest pain due to inadequate blood supply to the heart.

Research that focused on Transcendental Meditation® found that the practice reduced participants’ health care expenses by 70 percent, reduced health care utilization by 55 percent and was more cost-effective than drugs in lowering blood pressure.

One study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, even found that meditators were more likely to live longer than those who did not meditate. In that study, 73 people with a mean age of 81 were divided into four groups. Two of the groups practiced forms of meditation, one group learned relaxation techniques, and one group did neither of these. The researchers found that those who meditated improved on measures of learning, cognitive flexibility, mental health, systolic blood pressure and word fluency, while those in the other two groups showed smaller or no gains. After three years, the meditators had higher survival rates than those in the control groups.

Combining meditation with walking seems to boost the benefits of both activities. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine followed 45 people 60 to 90 years old who had mild to moderate depression and observed the effects of an aerobic walking program that incorporated Buddhist meditations. After 12 weeks, the meditating walkers gained muscle strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic endurance, as well as reduced depression.

A recent study showed that mindfulness meditation can help older people sleep better. Researchers at the University of Southern California studied 49 people with a mean age of 66 who had moderate sleep disturbances. Half of them practiced mindfulness meditation, while the other half took a sleep hygiene class. The meditators’ sleep quality improved significantly more than those who took the class, and also showed improvements in depression, anxiety, stress and daytime fatigue.

The classic way to meditate is to sit on the floor in a cross-legged or lotus position. It may be easier to sit up straight in a chair with your ankles crossed, and it’s just as effective. The key is to find a comfortable position in which your spine is erect.

If you’d like to try meditation, a good place to start is the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Center. On this Web page, you can play audio podcasts with guided meditation instructions with various objectives, from working with difficulties to body awareness. They range from 3 to 12 minutes long. A basic breathing meditation podcast takes only 5 minutes.



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