Good Thinking

The importance of meditation

Meditation benefits body, mind, and spirit by increasing peace, healing and rejuvenation. The benefits of meditation include reduced stress, improved physical health, relief from chronic pain, most restful sleep and increased feelings of happiness. It also helps with concentration, increasing one’s cognition and creativity, and productivity.

Research has found that people who regularly meditate develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety and depression. They find it easier to give up life-damaging addictions to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Prolonged stress can cause illness and accelerate aging. Over time, the stress response can lead to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, cancer, insomnia, depression and autoimmune diseases.

Studies indicate that meditation also helps to build up the left-prefrontal cortex in our brain, associated with optimism, self-observation and compassion, allowing ourselves to cease being dominated by the right-prefrontal cortex, which is associated with fear, depression, anxiety and pessimism. As a result, our self-awareness and mood stability increase as harsh judgment of ourselves and others decreases.

Many people think they have to flee to an ashram or spend hours a day in Lotus Pose to receive these benefits. If you feel overwhelmed with work, family or personal responsibilities, just a few minutes of stillness a day can positively influence your life and help provide the clarity and inspiration that you need.

When you sit with your eyes closed and focus on nostril breathing, you start to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. You become able to notice negative thought patterns and have the ability to replace them with more positive thinking.

Most of our days are spent going from one activity to the next. We’re caught up in our fast-paced lives, rarely stopping to rest and recharge the brain. Any lying on the couch watching television doesn’t count! The mind is still being filled with other distractions. Meditation exposes your brain to a quieter state where healing, mental detoxification and inspiration can occur.

I approach meditation as I do taking a bath. We wash our clothes and our bodies, so what about washing our minds of negative and toxic thoughts? After sitting I feel refreshed, more pure and more positive, with a new perspective on life. And that’s motivation to sit my butt down every day! You can change the direction of your life by changing your thoughts; but to change your thoughts you must first become aware of the patterns in your head. Meditation provides this awareness. It helps you to discover who you truly are, which in turn allows you to wake up to your life and take control of it!

There are many ways to meditate. It’s important to find one that suits you so that you’ll be motivated to do it regularly. The following are three common types of meditation:

YOGA MEDITATION
Yes, yoga is considered a moving meditation when you stay present and focused on your breathing combined with the movement. The intention is to promote control of both the body and mind to help relax.

MANTRA MEDITATION
Yes, yoga is considered a moving meditation when you stay present and focused on your breathing combined with the movement. The intention is to promote control of both the body and mind to help relax.

MINDFULNESS MEDIATION
Buddhists call this type of meditation “insightful or vipassana meditation.” It is insightful because you become acutely aware yet learn to not react to both what is physically around you and inside your mind. You become aware of all these things without any type of judgment. You just let them be. You usually start by concentrating on your breathing, and then progress to the thoughts and ideas bouncing around in your mind. Eventually the ideas and thoughts drift by like slow moving clouds and you pay no heed to them.

Here are some more tips to help you get the most of your daily meditation experience, according to Deepak Chopra, meditation master:

Whether you sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor, make sure that your spine is upright with head up. If you are slumped your mind will drift. Mind and body are intertwined. If your body is well-balanced, your mind will also be in balance. To straighten up, imagine that your head is touching the sky.

HAVE NO EXPECTATIONS
Sometimes the mind is too active to settle down. Sometimes it settles down immediately. Sometimes it goes quiet, but you may not notice. Anything can happen because the goal is not to control the process.

BE EASY WITH YOURSELF
Meditation isn’t about getting it right or wrong. Surrendering to whatever happens is also an indication that you are on the right track. It’s about letting your mind find its true nature.

REALLY BE THERE
If you attention is somewhere else, thinking about your next appointment, errand or meal, gently shift your attention back to the mantra or the positive affirmation. Focusing on your mantra or your daily intention will help lead you back to the gap between thoughts.

During the course of meditation, the mind-body dips into silence and comes in and out of thoughts many times. Deepak says, this cycling between the depth and the surface of the mind is a natural and necessary rhythm in which the body releases stress. The real way to start is to be open to experimenting or playing with the possibility of noticing what you’re experiencing in this moment and not to try to feel differently. Most people think that to meditate, they should feel a particular special something, and if they don’t then they must be doing something wrong. That is a common but incorrect view of meditation. Mindfulness and meditation is not about getting anywhere else—it’s about being where you are and being aware of it. Notice, observe and witness the thoughts. Then eventually you have the power to change and release them.

Silence and meditation is always healing and that your body takes exactly what it needs from your practice. In order to receive the most benefits from your meditation, you should practice it on a daily basis. The amount of time you spend meditating will be a personal choice. Some people feel benefits in 10 minutes, while it takes others at least 30 minutes. Start small, start with just 5 minutes a day for an entire month. Just getting into the practice of sitting still in silence will naturally develop into longer periods of time, and will become something you look forward to. Set an alarm for 5 min, find a quiet spot in your house or in nature, make sure your spine is straight, close your eyes and begin to breathe… in time outer and inner silence meet and you come to rest in the moment. You can practice breathing meditations even while waiting in line at the bank, sitting in traffic or waiting on hold on the phone.

Once you make the conscious decision to mediate, you’ll find peace, comfort and better health in your life as a result. You will feel more calm and less judgmental. Just like going to the gym and training your muscles, it takes time and consistent effort to learn how to clear your mind and become totally relaxed. So start training your meditation muscle!


Grace Van Berkum runs her own Gracious Living Yoga Adventure Retreats in Nicaragua, Bahamas, and around the world that incorporates yoga, meditation, nutrition, surfing and volcano trekking in beautiful tropical countries. www.gracevanberkum.com

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