Meditation has become a popular topic in the last few years. With the increased prevalence of yoga, it just seems like meditation and yoga are the natural things to do. They have both been found to have a profound beneficial effect on the body such that people have noticed more peace and serenity within.
However, for many Americans, meditation is foreign, challenging, and sometimes conjures up old and repressed feelings. Meditation requires patience and a little time which can also be difficult to adjust to.
So why would anyone want to meditate?
It is very simple; meditation has so much to offer! Thousands of years ago, the sage Patanjali and the Buddha both promised that meditation could eliminate the suffering caused by the untamed mind. They taught their students to cultivate focused attention, compassion, and joy.
They believed that it was possible to change one’s mental powers and emotional patterns by regularly experiencing meditative states. These days you don’t have to take their word for it.
Researchers across the country are testing the wisdom of the masters, utilizing new technology that allows them to study how meditation influences the brain.
Over the past 10 years, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier.
If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. On the other hand, if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.
New research shows that meditation can help you improve your ability to concentrate in two ways. First, it can make you better at focusing on something specific while ignoring distractions.
Second, it can make you more capable of noticing what is happening around you, giving you a fuller perspective on the present moment.
Concentration meditation is when the meditator focuses their complete attention on one thing, such as counting the breath or gazing at an object which activates regions of the brain that are critical for controlling attention.
This is already true for a person that has just begun to meditate. Experienced meditators show even stronger activation in these regions. It is believed that meditation can eventually help reduce the effort it takes to focus your attention.
This fact suggests that people can immediately enhance concentration by learning a simple meditation technique and that by practicing this meditation, even more progress can be made.
Meditation has also been noted to help people with anxiety disorders and dramatically reduce stress. The department of Psychology at Stanford University conducted a study in which it trained people with anxiety disorders to use mindfulness meditation.
This practice is focused on becoming aware of the present moment by paying attention to sounds, your breath, sensations in your body, thoughts, or feelings; and to observe without judgment and without trying to change what you notice.
At the end of the eight-week study, it was noted that the incidences of extreme stress or anxiety had decreased significantly, and participants had a greater sense of peace and calmness. This was interpreted that mindfulness meditation teaches people with anxiety and stress how to handle distressing thoughts and stressful situations without becoming overpowered by them.
As the evidence for the benefits of meditation grows, it is important to note that regular practice leads to greater changes both in the brain and mental states. So, while a minimal investment in meditation can pay off for your well-being and mental clarity, committing to the practice is the best way to experience the full benefits. All you need to get started is the willingness to sit and be present with your mind, body, and breath and know that you are giving yourself a true gift of love by meditating.
Rochele M. Lawson
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