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Why you should try meditation

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Long the preserve of new agers and celebrities, meditation has been found to have real benefits for everyone.

Here are the facts you need to know, so just relax and read on.

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Long tradition

If history counts for anything then meditation has a lot going for it. The earliest written record of meditation comes from ancient Hindu texts, written around 3,500 years ago. The practice for religious reasons spread quickly from Hinduism to Taoism and Buddhism.

In each case this ‘contemplative concentration’ was seen as a step on the path to enlightenment and religious salvation. It has been widely practiced ever since.In modern times, a secular meditation has emerged, focusing on health and wellbeing benefits like stress relief and mental relaxation rather than religious goals. The good news is, it seems to work.

Meditation works

Remarkably, studies have shown that meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. Researchers from Harvard University found that just eight weeks of meditation was enough to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Meditation may actually help the brain process information in these areas, leading to reported improvements in stress levels, memory and psychological wellbeing.

Meanwhile, a Canadian study found that positive thinking, as achieved through mindfulness meditation and yoga, helped to preserve the length of telomeres, strands of DNA that cap chromosomes, in recovering cancer patients. The premature shortening of telomeres has been linked with many of the diseases of ageing but this study showed that meditation could slow that process.

These are not isolated examples. In the last decade or so studies have shown that meditation can improve immune function, decrease pain, increase positive emotions and reduce depression, among others.
“More and more doctors are recommending meditation as an effective stress buster and useful support for patients with many types of chronic and acute conditions,” says Ivor Murray of The Meditations Team.

“The effectiveness of meditation comes from the fact that you can achieve a state of deep relaxation in just a few minutes. When you settle down into a state of deep relaxation, the body and mind are refreshed and revitalised.”

Meditation appears to be very good for us indeed, which begs one important question. How on earth do you do it?

Tips for meditation

Some people are naturally good at meditating and others less so, but we can all do it. It might just take a bit of practice.

First off, prepare. Pick a quiet, calming spot where you won’t be disturbed.

Wear comfortable clothes. Stretch.

Sit in a comfortable position. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor if you don’t find it comfortable, but sit with your spine straight and supporting your weight.

Close your eyes.

Start with the easiest form of meditation, breathing meditation.

Breathe normally, and simply be aware of the rising and falling of your abdomen.

Visualise something relaxing, perhaps the bobbing of a boat on a calm ocean, rising and falling with each breath.

Later you might want to visualise a calm, relaxing place, somewhere you can feel totally at peace.

Repeating a mantra can also help drown out the mental chatter of your urgent, everyday thoughts.

A mantra can be anything, but for beginners simply repeating words like peace, calm and silence can work.

You don’t actually have to say the mantra out loud. Repeating it in your mind is enough.

Another technique is the body scan, which simply means focusing on each part of your body in turn and consciously relaxing the muscles in that place.

If you really struggle, you can now buy meditation machines that use light and sound to guide you gently into a state of deep relaxation. But remember, whatever method you choose, meditation takes practice.

“To get benefits you need to meditate for 15 – 30 minutes at least 4 times a week,” says Murray. “If you can meditate every day, then you will see more benefits more quickly.”
Yes, even deep relaxation takes work, but in meditation’s case it seems the rewards – physical and mental – are worth it.

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