Science Shows How Meditation Works

In the 'East' it has been known for thousands of years that meditation benefits the body and the mind. In the 'West' there remained skepticism since it was difficult to untangle the various religious and cultural rituals associated with the practice.

Here are some snippets from the NewScientist article issue 2794 (pg 32-35) 2011 by Michael Bond which throws light on the matter.

"In the past decade, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of experienced meditators as well as beginners, and tested the effects of different meditative practices on cognition, behaviour, physical and emotional health and brain plasticity. A real scientific picture of meditation is now coming together. It suggests that meditation can indeed change aspects of your psychology, temperament and physical health in dramatic ways.

The positive effect of meditation on psychological well-being could also explain recent findings from the Shamatha project that regular meditation practice can lead to a significant increase in the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects against cellular ageing and which is suppressed in response to psychological stress."

How to meditate

"There are numerous meditation styles, but the two most commonly studied by researchers are focused attention meditation, in which the aim is to stay focused on a chosen thing such as an icon, a mantra or the breath, and mindfulness or open monitoring meditation, where practitioners try to become aware of everything that comes into their moment-by-moment experience without reacting to it."

"For focused attention meditation, start by sitting on a cushion or chair with your back straight and your hands in your lap and eyes closed. Then concentrate your mind on your chosen object - say your breathing, or more particularly the sensation of your breath leaving your mouth or nostrils. Try to keep it there. Probably your mind will quickly wander away, to an itch on your leg, perhaps, or to thoughts of what you will be doing later. Keep bringing it back to the breath. In time this will train the mind in three essential skills: to watch out for distractions, to "let go" of them once the mind has wandered, and to re-engage with the object of meditation. With practice, you should find it becomes increasingly easy to stay focused."

"In mindfulness meditation the aim is to monitor all the various experiences of your mind - thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations - and simply observe them, rather than trying to focus on any one of them. Instead of grasping at whatever comes to mind, which is what most of us do most of the time, the idea is to maintain a detached awareness. Those who develop this skill find it easier to manage emotions in day-to-day life."

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