Meditation is really just a way of systematically tuning out mental chatter. We all meditate from time to time,
but the term itself is usually used to describe an exercise in sustained concentration that you can use to calm
your body and quiet your mind--in short, to reduce stress. Historically, meditation has roots in both Eastern and
Western spiritual traditions, but you don't have to be Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or religious at all to practice
Researchers say that meditation works at least in part by lowering your body's responsiveness to the stress
hormone norepinephrine. Normally, stress triggers the release of these hormones, which in turn causes your heart
rate and blood pressure to rise (the "fight or flight" response). But meditation interrupts that flood of stress
chemicals, so you don't feel on guard or tense. In short, when you meditate regularly, you're able to control your
body's reaction to stress instead of it controlling you.
Choose a quiet place where you won't be distracted or disturbed. Sit on the floor, or if that's not comfortable,
use a chair or lie down. Close your eyes, and gently begin taking slow deep breaths, in and out. To guide yourself
into the meditative state, let your mind begin to say a simple word or phrase (meditation experts refer to this
word as a "mantra"). You can achieve the same thing by focusing your "mind's eye" on your breathing, on a symbol,
or even an image. When thoughts come to mind, ignore them without judging them and return to your mantra. It can
be a little tricky at first, but with a little practice, you should feel yourself slipping into a pleasant,
relaxed state. Some people start with short, five-minute sessions and gradually build up to 20 minutes or longer.
Most regular mediators make it a point to meditate for 20 to 30 minutes every day, but consistency is more
important than duration. If you don't have 30 minutes, try to give it five or ten.
Research shows that meditation can help ease a host of stress-related problems, including chronic pain,
headaches, anxiety, PMS, sleep disorders, even infertility (the stresses of infertility can interfere with
the release of hormones that regulate ovulation).
Other Psychological Benefits
Health Conditions, Benefited By Meditation
- Increased brain wave coherence. Harmony of brain wave activity in different parts of the brain is associated
with greater creativity, improved moral reasoning, and higher IQ.
- Decreased anxiety.
- Decreased depression.
- Decreased irritability and moodiness.
- Improved learning ability and memory.
- Increased self-actualization.
- Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation.
- Increased happiness.
- Increased emotional stability.
The Transcendental Meditation technique has proven to be a successful coping strategy in helping to deal
with drug addiction," a useful tool in psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) by helping to control the immune system, and
an effective manager of stress and pain.
Prolonging Life Expectancy
A strong link has also been established between the practice of meditation and longevity. Only two factors have been
scientifically determined to actually extend life: caloric restriction and lowering of the body's core
temperature. Meditation has been shown to lower core body temperature.
Most of the people who get on meditation do so because of its beneficial effects on stress. Stress refers to
any or all the various pressures experienced in life. These can stem from work, family, illness, or environment
and can contribute to such conditions as anxiety, hypertension, and heart disease. How an individual sees things
and how he or she handles them makes a big difference in terms of how much stress he or she experiences.
Research has shown that hormones and other biochemical compounds in the blood indicative of stress tend to
decrease during meditation practice. These changes also stabilize over time, so that a person is actually less
stressed biochemically during daily activity.
This reduction of stress translates directly into a reduction of anxiety and tension. Literally dozens of
studies have shown this.
Chronic pain can systematically erode the quality of life. Although great strides are being made in traditional
medicine to treat recurring pain, treatment is rarely as simple as prescribing medication or surgery.
Anxiety decreases the threshold for pain and pain causes anxiety. The result is a vicious cycle. Compared with
people who feel relaxed, those under stress experience pain more intensely and become even more stressed, which
aggravates their pain. Meditation breaks this cycle.
Childbirth preparation classes routinely teach pregnant women deep breathing exercises to minimize the pain and
anxiety of labor. Few call it breath meditation, but that's what it is.
Meditative techniques are also a key element in the Arthritis.
72 percent of the patients with chronic pain conditions achieved at
least a 33 percent reduction after participating in an eight-week period of mindful meditation, while 61 -percent
of the pain patients achieved at least a 50 percent reduction. Additionally, these people perceived their bodies
as being 30 percent less problematic, suggesting an overall improvement in self-esteem and positive views
regarding their bodies.
Meditation may not eliminate pain, but it helps people cope more effectively.
Cancer and Other Chronic Illness
Meditation and other approaches to deep relaxation help center people so they can figure out how they'd like to
handle the illness and proceed with life.
Meditation is a key component of Ornish therapy, the only treatment scientifically proven to reverse heart
High blood pressure.
meditation reliably reduced blood pressure in meditators. After several weeks of practice,
the average blood pressure declined significantly, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Couples dealing with infertility may become depressed, anxious and angry. With meditation they can
experience less distress-and were more likely to get pregnant.
This disease causes scaly red patches on the skin. A pilot study suggests that
compared with the skin patches of people with psoriasis who receive only standard medical therapy, the skin
patches of those who also meditate clear up more quickly.
Asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) all restrict breathing and raise
fears of suffocation, which in turn makes breathing even more difficult. Studies
show that when people with these respiratory conditions learn breath meditation, they have fewer respiratory
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Tension Headaches
Meditation can ease physical complaints such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), tension headaches and other
common health problems.
Meditation gives people a psychological buffer so that life's hectic pace doesn't knock them out. Practicing
meditation is like taking a vacation once or twice a day. When you nurture yourself, you accrue tremendous
For example, when you are under high stress, it can worsen symptoms of PMS because stress can cause the muscle
tension associated with PMS complaints such as fatigue, soreness and aching. On the other hand, when you meditate
regularly, you dramatically reduce your body's response to stress, and that can ease the discomfort associated
with PMS. The results may not be apparent for several months. You will probably need to meditate regularly for
several months before your body responds positively.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcers, and Insomnia
Meditation can also improve irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and insomnia, among other stress-related
conditions. Eighty percent of the people who use meditation to relieve insomnia are successful.
Meditation can help prevent or treat stress-related complaints such as anxiety, headaches and bone,
muscle and joint problems. Meditation also provides an inner sense of clarity and calm, and that, in itself,
may help ward off certain illnesses.
According to one study, meditation may relieve the discomfort of fibromyalgia, a condition that
causes fatigue and intensely painful "trigger points." When 77 men and women with fibromyalgia followed
a ten-week stress-reduction program using meditation, all reported that their symptoms improved. And half
described their improvements as "moderate to marked."
There are many meditation techniques. Some of the techniques are quite simple and can be picked up with a
little practice. Others require training by an experienced instructor. We will cover some of the simple
techniques to get started. Please note that because of the effects of meditation on repressed memories and the
psychological impact, you may go through some discomfort initially; hence it is always a good idea to be under
the care of a qualified practitioner as you start your meditation.
In Christian spiritual training, meditation means thinking with concentration about some topic. In the Eastern
sense, meditation may be viewed as the opposite of thinking about a topic. Here the objective is to become
detached from thoughts and images and opening up silent gaps between them. The result is a quietening of our
mind and is sometimes called relaxation response. In Christian mystical practice, this practice is]
When we look at the basic psychological procedure at the heart of Eastern meditation and Christian
contemplation, we can understand why the following activities are relaxing:
Four Elements Basic To Traditional Meditation
- Lying back and listening to music on radio or record player
- Focusing attention, while sitting still, on a fishing rod float; rapt gazing at a loved person,
object, or scene
- Fireside contemplation.
There are four elements basic to most traditional meditation. These elements are:
A quiet place
- A quiet place to meditate,
- A comfortable or poised posture,
- An object for attention-awareness to dwell upon,
- A passive attitude.
The best environment for the practice of meditation is similar to that most conducive to lying down or sitting
to progressively relax the body muscles. Sit in a quiet place with minimum distractions. Later, you may be able
to meditate well in places where more is going on: launderettes, railway stations, doctors' or dentists' waiting
rooms, on trains and buses, and so on.
A comfortable or poised posture
Assuming a certain posture has been central to many meditation techniques. Classic postures, integral to
Hatha Yoga, are given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which codify ancient yogic healing practices. Other
postures appear in the Kum Nye holistic healing system of Tibet, in Islamic prayer, and in Gurdjieff movements.
Posture is considered very important in Zen Buddhist practice.
A major characteristic of prescribed meditation postures in many traditions is that the spine is kept straight.
This is true in Hindu and Buddhist yogas, in the Christian attitude of kneeling prayer, in the Egyptian sitting
position, and in the Taoist standing meditation, "embracing the pillar." People with misalignments may feel
uncomfortable in the beginning when assuming these postures. The spine is put back into a structurally sound
line, and the weight of the body distributed around it in a balanced pattern in which gravity, not muscular
tension, is the primary influence. It is possible, although it has not been conclusively proven, that this
postural realignment affects the state of mind.
A sitting posture is better for meditation than lying down. This is because lying down is the normal sleep
position and meditation lying down could easily lead to sleep. If you are not a person who easily goes to sleep
during the day, you may like to meditate in a semi-reclining position on a sofa or large armchair with the back
of your head supported. In traditional meditation postures, however, the back is normally kept erect, though not
rigidly upright. This is called poised posture. The right attitude for meditation may itself be described as
poised: alert yet also relaxed. Poised posture promotes the right state of attention-awareness for successful
In the East, the cross-legged postures, with head and back in vertical line, are considered ideal for
meditation. In classic Lotus posture, the legs are crossed with feet on thighs, and imparts the right feeling
of poised sitting for meditation. These postures are difficult and even painful at first for those who are not
familiar with them. We will describe two traditional oriental postures, viz., half lotus and lotus posture and
an easier posture called Burmese posture. For those who prefer to do the meditation sitting on a chair, we will
describe a posture called Egyptian posture.
Half Lotus Posture
- Relaxes the entire nervous system,
- Lessens the tension and stiffness in the ankles, knees and thighs and
- Provides a comfortable sitting position for resting the mind for meditation.
Half Lotus sitting position had been used for meditation from time immemorial.
How To Do It?
1. In a sitting position, stretch your legs straight out before you.
2. Bend your left leg at the knee and bring it toward you so that you can take hold of your left foot with
3. Place your left foot so that the sole rests against the inside of the right thigh. The heel of your
left foot should be drawn in as far as possible.
4. Bend your right leg at the knee so that you can take hold of your right foot with both hands.
5. Place your right foot in the fold of your left leg. Drop the right knee as far as possible toward the floor. Rest your hands on your knees. Sit in this position as long as needed.
6. When your legs grow tired, stretch them straight out before you and gently massage your knees. Then
repeat the position by reversing the legs so that the right leg is drawn in first and the left leg is on top.
Full Lotus Posture
Provides the classical sitting position for meditation during longer periods of time without bodily movement
Promotes very great elasticity of the ankles, knees, and legs because of the position which is required.
How To Do Full Lotus?
1. In a sitting position, stretch your legs straight out before you.
2. Bend your right leg at the knee and bring it toward you so that you can take hold of your right foot with
3. Place your right foot on top of your left thigh. The right foot should be brought toward you as far as
is possible so that eventually the right foot is touching the groin. In order to now complete the posture
successfully, the right knee will have to rest on the floor.
4. Bend your left leg at the knee and bring it toward you so that you can take hold of your left foot with
5. Place your left foot on top of your right thigh. The left foot should be brought in as far as possible so
that eventually the left heel will also touch the groin. Both knees should eventually rest on the floor.
Sit in this position as long as you want.
6. When your legs grow tired, stretch them straight out before you and gently massage your knees. Then repeat
the position by reversing the legs so that the left leg is drawn in first and the right leg is on top.
This is a simpler posture to master. Here, the legs are not crossed but the knees are spread and stay down, and
the legs are folded and the feet pulled back in front of the pelvis with one foot in front of the other. The
'cupped' hands rest at the tops of the thighs or on the heels. It is essential to have a firm cushion to sit on
and a folded rug or blanket below that to prevent pain in the feet and ankles. The buttocks should be pushed out
a little to bring the back into easy uprightness.
Sitting On A Chair, Egyptian Posture
You can also practice meditation sitting on a chair. Find a chair that will allow you to sit upright and have the
back of your head supported. Placing a cushion against your back can ensure poised posture in sitting upright in
some chairs in which otherwise poised sitting would be difficult. You can meditate, however, on a simple
straight-backed chair by sitting in poised posture. With hands on thighs, this may be called Egyptian posture. A
good placing of the hands for meditation is to 'cup' them limply in your lap, with thumbs touching, with your
wrists at the tops of your thighs.
An object to dwell upon
In Hindu Yoga the object the attention dwells on is often a mantra, usually a Sanskrit word or syllable. In
Buddhism the focus for bare attention is often the meditator's own breathing. Both mantra meditation and
awareness of breathing fulfill all the elements required for meditating for relaxation.
Some meditation methods involve looking at objects with open eyes, but in others, the subjects close their eyes
which makes relaxation easier to induce.
Instructors in transcendental meditation make much of each person being given a mantra that suits his or her
nervous system, but there does not appear to be any scientific support for this. Any technique used with any
sound or phrase or prayer or mantra has been found to bring forth the same physiologic changes noted during
There is much to be said for choosing either a neutral word or a meaningless sound for mantra meditation. Some
people, however, like to use a word like 'peace' which has relaxing associations. This is all right provided
the word does not set off trains of associative thought. In this type of meditation the single thought-sound has
the effect of quietening the mind; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that the thought-sound takes the meditator to the
source of thought. Studies of the brain wave patterns of meditators indicate that the deepest relaxation results
when thoughts are absent, or few and of no importance.
If you make awareness of breathing your single meditation method, let your attention dwell on the gentle rise
of your abdomen in diaphragmatic-abdominal breathing. Your breathing becomes very quiet and even after several
minutes of meditation and the gentle movement and rhythm of abdominal breathing promotes relaxation.
A passive attitude or poised awareness
This last element of meditation for relaxation is said to be the most essential. It is sometimes called poised
awareness or attention-awareness because in it relaxation and alertness are in perfect balance. There is nothing
exotic about it: you were passively aware when you let go from tension in the muscles of your arms, legs, trunk,
A passive attitude means that distractions from environmental sounds, skin tingles etc., and the inevitable
intrusion into the mind of thoughts and images are viewed casually and detachedly. Let them come and go, of no
more consequence than small clouds passing across an expanse of sky. But each time you become aware that your
attention has slipped away from the mantra or the sensation of abdominal breathing, and you are engaging in a
chain of logical thinking or developing interest in some sounds or other sensations, bring your attention and
awareness back to the meditation object.
It is really very simple, as long as you keep a relaxed attitude going. Don't force, and don't cling. With
practice, moments of great calm and deep restfulness during meditation will become more frequent.
This meditation process is good to induce relaxation response. Plan to make meditation a regular part
of your daily routine. Set aside 10 to 20 minutes each day at the same time, if possible. Before breakfast is
a good time.
- Choose a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed by other people or by the telephone.
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Refer to the section on postures for recommendations on sitting positions.
- Eliminate distractions and interruptions during the period you'll be meditating.
- Commit yourself to a specific length of time and try to stick to it.
- Pick a focus word or short phrase that's firmly rooted in your personal belief system. A non-religious person might choose a neutral word like one, peace, or love. Others might use the opening words of a favorite prayer from their religion such as 'Hail Mary full of Grace', "I surrender all to you", "Hallelujah", "Om", etc.
- Close your eyes. This makes it easy to concentrate.
- Relax your muscles sequentially from head to feet. This helps to break the connection between stressful thoughts and a tense body. Starting with your forehead, become aware of tension as you breathe in. Let go of any obvious tension as you breathe out. Go through the rest of your body in this way, proceeding down through your eyes, jaws, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, upper back, middle back and midriff, lower back, belly, pelvis, buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet.
- Breathe slowly and naturally, repeating your focus word or phrase silently as you exhale.
- Assume a passive attitude. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say, "Oh, well," and gently return to the repetition.
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. After you finish: Sit quietly for a minute or so, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand for one or two minutes.
- Plan for a session once or twice a day.
Also called sounding meditation, this technique uses the repetition of a word or sound as its focal point.
Vibrational meditation has appeal to those who find that making noise is a path to inner quiet.
We're taught to be nice and quiet as little children. Releasing sound and noise helps us release stress.
Get on your feet. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent and your hips centered, as
though you're about to squat. Or, if you wish, sit or lie down. Keep your body loose and comfortable with your
arms at your sides or on your hips. Begin by taking a few cleansing breaths.
Pick a word, any word. Choose a word that alternates vowels and consonants-like "serenity." The word that you
select doesn't necessarily have to be a spiritual one. It just has to feel good when you say it.
Repeat after yourself. Repeat the word, chant the word, focus on nothing but saying the word over and over again.
Let the sound of the word vibrate through your body. Let the word resonate up from your abdomen and let it go to
your hands, your feet. Let your muscles move as you chant the word.
Some people have a tendency to clench their muscles when they're tense. It's important to roll the sound through
your body so that you can clear out the tightness in your muscles. Doing so promotes the meditative state of
relaxation that feels like a natural high.
The Instant Calming Sequence
Meditation and mindfulness are great when you have enough control over your time to enjoy them.
Practice uninterrupted breathing. When stress strikes, immediately focus on your breath and continue
breathing smoothly, deeply and evenly.
Put on a positive face. Smile a grin that you can feel in the corners of your eyes. "The conventional
wisdom is that happiness triggers smiling," Dr. Cooper explains. "But recent studies suggest that this process
is a two-way street. Smiling can contribute to feelings of happiness, and in a stressful situation, it can help
keep you calm." Try this simple test: Smile a broad grin right now. Don't you feel better?
Balance your posture. People under stress often look hunched-over, hence the oft-repeated phrase
"They have the weight of the world on their shoulders."
"Maintaining good posture works like smiling," Dr. Cooper says. "Physical balance contributes to emotional
balance." Keep your head up, chin in, chest high, pelvis and hips level, back comfortably straight and abdomen
free of tension. Imagine a skyhook lifting your body from a point at the center of the top of your head.
Bathe in a wave of relaxation. Consciously sweep a wave of relaxation through your body. "Imagine
you're standing under a waterfall that washes away all your tension," Dr. Cooper says.
Acknowledge reality. Face your causes of stresses head-on. Don't try to deny it or wish that it hadn't
happened. Think: "This is real. I can handle it. I'm finding the best possible way to cope right now."
Reassert control. Instead of fretting about how the stressor has robbed you of control, focus on
what you can control and take appropriate action. Also, think clear-headed, honest thoughts instead of distorted
Breath and Navel Meditation
Breath and Navel Meditation is the oldest meditation method on record in China as well as India, and it is
the method usually taught to beginners. Breath and Navel Meditation works directly with the natural flow of
breath in the nostrils and the expansion and contraction of the abdomen. This Taoist meditation is a good way
to develop focused attention and one-pointed awareness.
1. Sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or upright on a low stool and adjust the body's posture until
well balanced and comfortable. Press tongue to palate, close your mouth without clenching the teeth, and
lower the eyelids until almost closed.
2. Breathe naturally through the nose, drawing the inhalation deep down into the abdomen and making the
exhalation long and smooth. Focus your attention on two sensations, one above and the other below. Above,
focus on the gentle breeze of air flowing in and out of the nostrils like a bellows, and on exhalation
try to 'follow' the breath out as far as possible, from 3 to 18 inches. Below, focus on the navel rising
and falling and the entire abdomen expanding and contracting like a balloon with each inhalation and
exhalation. You may focus attention on the nostrils or the abdomen, or on both, or on one and then the
other, whichever suits you best.
From time to time, mentally check your posture and adjust it if necessary. Whenever you catch your mind wandering
off or getting cluttered with thoughts, consciously shift your attention back to your breath. Sometimes it helps
to count either inhalations or exhalations, until your mind is stably focused. If you manage to achieve
stability in this method after ten to twenty minutes of practice, you may wish to switch over to one of the
other two methods given below. All three of these methods may be practiced in a single sitting in the order that
they are presented here, or in separate sittings.
Twenty to thirty minutes, once or twice a day.