In this fast-paced world, we are constantly on the go – rushing to and from work and trying to keep up with the busyness of our lives. With so many demands on our time, we’re often exhausted and stressed because we can’t seem to squeeze in a quiet moment to just breathe and relax. Meditation is a popular relaxation technique to calm the chatter of your mind and help you relax. At first it may sound like one more thing to add to your day, but recent research studies suggest that meditation may be good for the brain and the heart. So setting aside 30-minutes a day to meditate may be just what the doctor ordered to live a longer, healthier life.
According to a research study presented by Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging in January 2011, people who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measureable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Through another study conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa, researchers found that meditation is also good for the heart. Meditators tended to remain disease free longer and reduced their systolic blood pressure by five millimeters of mercury on average.
Participants in the second study practiced Transcendental Meditation. According to Dr. Robert Schneider, M.D., lead author, researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, participants found Transcendental Meditation easy to learn and practice. “Fortunately, it does not require any particular education and doesn’t conflict with lifestyle philosophy or beliefs; it’s a straightforward technique for getting deep rest to the mind and body,” he said. “It appears that Transcendental Meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy – to repair and maintain itself.” There are many Meditation techniques from which to choose. Here are a few brief overviews of some basic meditation techniques to help you decide which method would work best for you and your lifestyle:
The Transcendental Meditation technique is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India, knowledge that has been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. The Transcendental Meditation technique involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15-20 minutes twice per day. While it is considered a relatively easy technique to quickly settle the mind into a meditative state, today it is taught by certified teachers through a standard course of instruction.
Guided Meditation is a great option for starting out your meditation practice. It involves listening to someone guiding you through a visual meditation. As you listen to the words, either with a live person or a CD, the voice and the story leads your imagination on a journey. The words help you shut out your own chatter in your mind. Guided meditation CDs are available online or through music stores.
Breathing meditation quite simply involves focusing on the breath. It can be practiced for 20 minutes at a time in quiet place. Using Yoga-inspired breathing exercises, this technique helps calm the nervous system and focus the mind. Here is a simple exercise to start a breathing meditation practice.
Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Become aware of your breath and the subtle sensation of the air coming in through your nose and filling your lungs. Notice the exhale. Does the inhale match the exhale? Relax your body while staying alert and focus on each breath. If your mind begins to fill with chatter, try to push your thoughts away to focus on your breath filling your body. This helps you stay in the moment and let go of your worries of past or future.
A 20-minute walk outside can also be used for meditation. Simply focus on your breath and movements as you walk. It is a great way to clear your mind while filling your lungs with fresh air and moving your limbs. Repeating a mantra while walking may help keep the mind focused. Or you may wish to listen to the sounds of nature – birds, wind, trees moving – and fill the wind or sun on your face.
People who practice meditation daily will quickly notice many physical health benefits, such as an improved immune system and an overall sense of well-being. It’s important to practice regularly to fully experience the benefits of meditation. It can take as little as 5 minutes but the studies suggest that 30 minutes a day may inspire the best results for your health. Choose the type of meditation that suits your personality and lifestyle. Pick an optimal time of day that works for you to meditate. An early morning practice helps you start the day off fresh and energized or practicing before bedtime soothes the mind and body before sleep. Find a quiet space, free of distractions where you will be able to peacefully meditate. Get comfortable – sit cross-legged, stand, lie down, or take a nature walk. Keep a gentle, mindful attitude towards yourself. Allow thoughts to come and go. Some days the chatter in your mind will be busier than others. Calmly refocus and keep your mind in the present moment through your breathing. Quite simply, meditation is about clearing the clutter from your mind and your life to simply be with your breath in the present moment.
Tamara Zimonjic is currently a student at University of Toronto, studying Psychology with a minor in Italian. She works part time at a Visual Art Centre, where she enjoys the opportunity to help many of Toronto’s talented and up-and-coming artists.
She understands the importance of living a healthy lifestyle from her own life experiences. For Tamara, healthy living is about having a balanced diet, including regular exercise and reducing overall stress in life. She believes that these habits increase your energy levels and improve your overall mental health. She is excited to contribute to TQS Transformation and share her health tips and story with you.Website: www.tqstransformation.com