Scientists have studied meditation extensively and define it as a hypermetabolic physiological state, a condition in which the mind can exist outside of waking, sleeping or dreaming. It’s a verified fourth state of consciousness that is far removed from simple relaxation. When we sustain ourselves at this unique level of mind for even short periods of time, the body responds in amazing ways. In fact, the quality of rest achieved during meditation is more concentrated than anything that can be experienced during sleep, and it’s much better at reducing stress and cortisol levels.
Some studies show that meditation reduces cortisol by 30% more than standard stress relief exercises. This is significant not just to overall health, but to weight loss goals as well because elevated cortisol not only promotes weight gain, but also prevents the body from losing existing weight. To date, over 1,000 peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on the health benefits of meditation and published in virtually every major international medical journal.
Other exciting research includes:
A group of patients with coronary heart disease decreased the occurrence of heart attack and stroke by 48% after following a meditation practice for five years. A group that also followed regular doctors’ orders regarding diet, exercise and medication but didn’t meditate did not experience this dramatic reduction.
Those who practiced meditation for a five-year period showed biomarkers for health and aging that were comparable to someone 12 years younger.
Free radicals and the oxidative damage they produce decreased 27% in vital areas of the body for people that meditated regularly.
A regular meditation practice was found to decrease insomnia by 42%.
American veterans who spent between 10 months and two years in active combat in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced a 50% reduction in depression and symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after adopting a regular meditation routine.
These are just a few of the incredible benefits of a regular meditation practice. As you can see, meditation is far more profound than basic relaxation. When you’re in control of your mind and it doesn’t control you, the body’s healing intelligence gets to work in the way it was designed, and the results will amaze you.
Meditation has also been shown to dramatically improve creativity, memory and brain function, problems with ADHD, metabolic syndrome, academic performance and much more. While meditation isn’t a panacea for all problems, if you remain consistent, you’ll be very surprised at how it positively impacts your life in ways you never expected.
Meditation isn’t complicated. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then silently ask yourself, “What will my next thought be?” Do it now, then come back to this article. What were you thinking in the one or two seconds right after you asked yourself that question? Most likely, nothing. You sat in the stillness of the space where your thoughts used to be and waited. That’s what it means to meditate. Of course, it was probably only a matter of a second or two before an extraneous thought popped up. And that’s okay.
The goal is to deepen the stillness and lengthen the gap of mental silence without interruption for longer and longer periods of time to create more mental space, clarity of mind, stress reduction, and health improvement.
The good news is that to gain the biggest benefit from meditation you don’t have to meditate much. Most people start with 5 or 10 minutes twice a day and work their way up to 20 minutes twice a day, usually in the morning and again in the evening. Don’t get discouraged if at first extraneous thoughts make it difficult to quiet your mind. Progress will com quicker than you think and consistency is key. There are lots of good CDs, phone apps, and videos on meditation instruction. If you’re in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, check out the Vedic Network for links to teachers offering meditation instruction at very affordable prices and ways to connect to meditation groups.
For more health and inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behiveofhealing.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter or check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN. For daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Twitter at Behiveofhealing.