East meets West on meditation
The connection between Eastern thought and Western science is bringing more attention to the benefits of meditation.
According to the ancient Yogi’s, our life force, or breath, is prana (or Chi from a TCM perspective). Prana travels through the body by way of breathing, and so impacts lung and heart function. However, prana also regulates our emotional wellbeing and physicality through the energy we carry. Sometimes our energy is frantic and airy, and this can be regulated through slow exhales. Other times it’s dull and heavy, which can be adjusted with deeper inhales. In meditation, our prana is regulated and balanced, which is why we feel energised yet calm, centered and balanced. In fact the reason we have asana (poses) is to stretch and strengthen the body so we are able to sit comfortably for longer periods of meditation. Both yoga philosophy and our first knowledge of yoga itself points to meditation, with the discovery 6,000 years ago of stone seals depicting people seated in meditation.
The connection between Eastern thought and Western science is bringing more and more attention to the benefits of meditation. Among others, meditation has been linked to reducing stress by increasing melatonin and serotonin and reducing cortisol, to alleviate insomnia and decrease chronic pain. In a 2012 study published by the American Heart Association, transcendental meditation was shown to decrease heart attack and stroke by 48 per cent for those diagnosed with heart disease; ‘We hypothesised that reducing stress by managing the mind-body connection would help improve rates of this epidemic disease’, said Robert Schneider, M.D., lead researcher; ‘It appears that Transcendental Meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy – to repair and maintain itself.’
The easiest way to start a meditation practice is to just do it. What about now? Sit up in your chair, close your eyes and take five deep breaths in and out. Notice the shifts you feel mentally, energetically, physically. Imagine how you would feel after five or even 20 minutes?
Your mind will wander! Don’t stress about it. When you notice thoughts crowding your mind, simply come back to your breath or another point of concentration. Sometimes listening to a piece of music, or even repeating an intention or mantra such as the word ‘peace’ or ‘I am love’ will help you stay focused. With steady practice you will notice that you’re able to stay in your meditation longer, with fewer distractions. The best reasons to practice meditation are those that resonate with you, as they will call you back again and again.
Lisa Greenbaum holds her E-RYT 500 in yoga and is the Program Development Manager for YogaFit Australia and Director of YogaFit Canada.