I just returned from a meditation retreat, and my energy is more expanded, more spacious and up-lifted. You may be thinking, sure you just had time off and of course you’d be more relaxed. Yet the retreats I go to have a very vigorous schedule, along with experiencing moments of intense emotion, not to mention close quarters with people I usually don’t know. Also, there are chores to help with, whether in the kitchen, cleaning toilets or cleaning rooms. So not exactly a trip to the beaches of Hawaii sipping on mango juice and having room service.
Yes, yes, I teach, write, and speak a lot about meditation and here’s why:
· Research shows that meditation can increase alpha and theta brainwave activity, which these brainwave patterns are associated with deep relaxation. Theta waves occur during REM sleep.
· It helps with regulating moods by growing neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, which is our executive center in the brain. This center is necessary to access in controlling emotions and developing compassion and empathy.
· Accessing the rest and digest part of the nervous system (Parasympathetic Nervous System), breath becomes more expansive, rhythmic, and slower which in turn slows heart rates and relaxes blood vessels. This may have significant consequences to patients with hypertension.
· The adrenal glands that secret Cortisol, the stress hormone, get to take a big break during meditation. While accessing the Parasympathetic Nervous System, this feedback helps to down regulate Cortisol.
· There is some suggestion that meditation may lower glucose levels and reduce food cravings. I think it might be that through mindfulness practice we become aware of our behaviors, which includes what we put in our mouth. A good thing considering about 70% of our population is overweight.
· Immune function appears to improve and ward off infection better. Also pain management has been effective with use of mindfulness meditation. See John Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: http://www.mindfullivingprograms.com/whatMBSR.php
My wish for my patients is that they will begin a practice even if for only 5 minutes each day. And for those doing a practice, here’s to your expanded well-being! From the teachings of Christina Feldman: Mindfulness of breathing is a practice of learning to harmonize your attention with what is, in this moment. Short, long, deep, shallow are all fine breaths. Trust your body; it knows what is needed.
Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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