Archive for November 14, 2014

The Benefits Of Meditation

Meditation is a spiritual art that has been practiced for thousands of years by those who are aware of the positive effect it has on the body, mind, and spirit. Originating in eastern civilizations, this method of stress-reduction and relaxation is now very popular in the western hemisphere as well as people become educated on the benefits of meditation. Simple to learn, one does not require any special equipment to meditate and it can be done pretty much anywhere quiet and peaceful.

benefits of meditation

There are different ways to meditate, but the most effective method is the traditional approach known as mindfulness or focused attention meditation. The key is to keep the mind focused on one single thought for as long as possible, whether it be the sound of one’s own inhalation and exhalation or a chosen word, known as a “mantra”. This takes discipline and practice, and it is essential to prevent the mind from wandering if one is to reap the many benefits that meditating can produce.

Buddhist monks spend several hours every day meditating and they possess a deep understanding of the inner strength and insight it yields. This is how the monks effectively “recharge” their minds and keep their thinking on the right track. Scientists who have conducted studies in recent years have examined the MRIs of people who meditate regularly, which has revealed that there is greater folding of the cerebral cortex in these individuals, which is believed to increase the efficacy of the brain and its ability to form memories, make decisions, stay focused, and process information.

Other beneficial changes to the brain have also been associated with meditation. Another study has uncovered a connection between the density of gray matter in the brain stem and the act of meditating, those who follow this practice on a long-term basis have been found demonstrate evidence of having thicker brain stems which has been linked to improved cognition, emotional state, and immunity, and also a healthier respiratory and heart rate. Increase in the size of the frontal lobe and hippocampus has been noted as well which is believed to positively influence one’s emotional stability. Learning to meditate is also understood to help people have some natural protection from age-related cognitive decline, depression, and anxiety.

The activity of the brain also appears to be positively affected when someone meditates. Researchers have found there to be a correlation between meditating and a decrease in default mode network connectivity and activity which can be the cause of such conditions as ADHD, anxiety, and the development of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. It also boosts electrical brain activity that is responsible for improved attention span and the ability to remain focused for longer periods of time. If people spend just twenty minutes every day, that should be sufficient to hone the focusing ability of the mind and reduce stress.

One type of meditation, known as Zen, the preferred method practiced by Buddhist monks, has been linked to a thickening of the areas of the brain which regulate pain, thus producing a higher tolerance or pain threshold. Many people who meditate find that they no longer need to rely on painkillers as much as they did before. The reduction in stress is generally attributed to lowered levels of the hormone cortisol. One can also increase empathy felt towards others by regularly practicing a particular type of focused attention meditation with feelings of compassion and love being the focus thoughts.

Making meditation a part of one’s daily routine can help make him or her a more productive person overall. It boosts the effectiveness of their working memory which is responsible for such important processes as decision-making, complex thought, and keeping emotions in check. A general feeling of happiness has also been reported by many subjects who meditate regularly. People struggling with depression, chronic illnesses with pain, and even the hormonal mood swings of the teen years can all benefit from this activity as it elevates the electrical activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is its “feel-good” center.

Women who are going through the unpleasant physical sensations associated with the hormonal changes of menopause can benefit from meditation too. It will help draw the focus away from the body, and has been proven to reduce the number of hot flashes and night sweats experienced. This presents a safe, non-drug approach to making this stage in life more comfortable for many women. There are also notable benefits for the cardiovascular system obtained through meditating. Blood pressure is lowered, respiration and circulation improved, and one type of meditation in particular, transcendental, has been found to actually lower the incidence of stroke and heart attack by fifty percent.

Contemplation – The Lost Art Of Self-Reflection

It has been said by many great minds, over the course of a great many years, that no life is worth living without the examination of self. Awareness of self can be seen as a solution to a great many stressors and distractions that often make life uncomfortable, if not actually tragic. Consider then, Contemplation – The Lost Art Of Self-Reflection .


What is meant by such practice? Many call it meditation, others call it prayer, and still others refer to mindfulness. At the root of all of these definitions will be discovered the same sort of intense work. This is the work of understanding one’s own mind and thought processes. Yes, it can often be as difficult as it sounds, but the rewards to be gained thereby can truly be stunning, awe inspiring, and life affirming. The same great minds that recommend such practices have all most certainly attested to that idea!

Considering contemplation as a lost art has validity as well. In our so called modern world it seems that what are most common are distractions. The duties related to family, for example, or other relationships, the work world, and every day sorts of transactions can be seen as things that take us away from the ability to think deeply. Even more so are the constant streams of information that assault our every sense. Media input is ubiquitous and taking greater and greater importance in many lives by the ease of use due the electronic revolution.

While all of these are important to life in general, when they overtake the ability to sit still for a short while in order to actually think about our place in the world, and our relationship to that world, problems often arise. Again, awareness of self can be a practical and applicable approach to many of the mysteries of life itself. It is a fine way to assess situations in order to make the wisest decisions. In loftier terms, to know yourself is to know the divine.

So how does one go about rediscovering such a vital lost art? The good news is that it is actually much simpler than it may seem at the outset. The first recommendation is to simply decide on the pursuit itself. Do not anguish over how it is done, or fret over what tools it may take. Simply allow yourself the knowledge that this is a pursuit worth working for. In time, and usually a very short period of time, your mind will begin looking for ways in which to do so.

When this occurs, simply begin by making a date with yourself. Pick a time and a place that you can sit still and be silent for fifteen minutes or so. That is all that is needed at first! Perhaps you could wake up fifteen minutes earlier, or go to bed fifteen minutes later. You may be able to find time while doing other things, like sitting in the car before going in to a store. When the children are napping is often an ideal window of opportunity. Finding a quiet spot during break times at work works well for many.

The important factor is that this time is to be set apart and actively sought. When you have the time and the place figured out, all that is required now is to sit still for the duration of the special period. That is all that is necessary to begin! Just sit still, making sure to turn off any and all electronic devices, and allow yourself the freedom to think about anything or nothing at all. By beginning in such a simple way, you may well find yourself amazed at what begins to happen over the course of the next few days and weeks. You may well discover that this little bit of alone time becomes essential to your well-being! And this is the beginning of a renewed sense of awareness.

Over time, this period may be lengthened. It may be strengthened with the addition of practices in a similar vein. The aforementioned prayer is an active sort of silence, as is yoga, meditation, writing a journal, and walking. These are but a few of the many ways in which self-knowledge can be discovered and/or enhanced. The most important factor is the search itself, and never the destination.

The art of self-reflection is a profound one, and should be sought with due diligence. There are many paths thereby, and one must remain steadfast in the pursuit of the most applicable path for one’s own needs and desires. Yes, there will be a minimal amount of work involved, but the rewards will far outweigh any toil. By discovering contemplation you may well rediscover yourself.

The Positive Power Of Prayer

People have believed for thousands of years that appealing to a higher power in times of illness, despair, or trouble of any sort through prayer, has a certain power in it that can ultimately lead to healing and deliverance. This practice is common to basically all faiths but differs in the approach taken.


The word “prayer” is derived from the Latin word “precarius” which means to obtain through begging or to entreat. Regardless of which higher power one believes in, the positive power of prayer is one element shared by all religions which is what leads people to look beyond themselves and turn matters that are out of their control over to a higher power.

Prayers come in many different forms, depending on the particular religion and personal preference of the believer. Some people prefer to pray aloud, while others are more comfortable praying quietly to themselves. One may pray for a specific outcome, or just in general. People may pray for themselves, or for others, which is called intercessory prayer.

Other types include petition, contemplative, distant healing, and centering prayers, as well as meditations. The purpose of each of these is to connect with a higher power in mind and spirit to receive guidance and assistance.

When people are faced with an illness and are experiencing pain in their bodies, they will often turn to prayer in hopes of experiencing recovery and relief of suffering. In surveys conducted on patients afflicted with a serious illness, it has been indicated that approximately 90 percent of them will pray to their higher power for healing and wellness. In fact it is the most common form of non-drug, complementary medicine people use for pain management.

There are specific health benefits that have been associated with the act of praying as well as various forms of meditation, which is closely related to it. Psychological and biological changes which have been noted include; lowered blood pressure levels both when moving and still, lowered heart rate, improved cardio-respiratory synchronization, boosted immune response, decreased levels of reactive oxygen in the bloodstream, less anxiety and an overall improved disposition. Studies have also indicated that faith-based prayer tends to produce better results than secular meditation.

The empirical nature of science dictates that it cannot readily acknowledge the possibility that the fate of human beings may in fact be out of their control and instead determined by a higher power which is why this discipline attempts to justify the positive physical response that praying has on the body. Science purports that perhaps the state of relaxation, peace, and expectation produced when one prays and turns his or her concerns over to a higher power, in turn lowers blood pressure and the production of the stress hormone cortisol, improving immunity against illness, and the body’s ability to heal itself.

People who have a religious affiliation and active spiritual life normally pray, amongst other expressions of their faith. Some research indicates a correlation between a person’s mental, physical, and spiritual health in that those with religious beliefs and most likely involvement with a place of worship of one kind or another, generally enjoy better mental and physical health. This is believed to be a result of the attitudes of belief, hope, and faith which these individuals mostly live by.

When someone prays, it has been found to stimulate a “relaxation response” in the body, as opposed to a stress response. The body’s cardiovascular system responds with a lower heart and respiratory rate, reduced blood pressure and need for oxygen resulting in lower production of carbon dioxide. Patients suffering from clinical depression have also demonstrated better response to treatment when they have faith. It is also believed that the stronger support network of those who are spiritually or religiously influenced, besides praying itself, may also contribute to these beneficial effects on body and mind.

Less evidence exists pertaining to intercession, or the act of praying for another person, with most findings being limited to prayer for oneself. As one may expect, there are some obstacles encountered when it comes to studying the effects of prayer from a scientific point of view; there is the problem of having too small a sample size, determining the most effective way to select subjects, control group uncertainty, the fact that there is no standard form of methodology for this purpose, and finally that there really is no way of knowing for certain that a higher power is actually intervening to produce results, or if it is just due to other physical or psychological phenomena.

Where Does Meditation Come From?

When most people hear about meditative traditions and practices, Buddhism or Hinduism spring to mind. Though Asian cultures are conventionally associated with these traditions, they are in fact universal.

Various cultures from around the world, including major religions, adopted different forms of such practices for purposes of spiritual development, including a host of acts having to dealing with healing, or praying for rain from the heavens.


Below is information on the origins of meditative practices, and why people engage in them. The question about where does meditation come from?, is likely to reveal surprising insights, even to individuals that have been engaging in it for a while.

Meditative traditions have been part of human culture for centuries, pre-dating written records of when it where it began originally. Nevertheless, in Judaism, for example, the Kabala is in essence a form of meditative inquiry. Islam contains two such practices, while Buddhism has various strands including, for instance, Zen or Tibetan Buddhism.

Scholars on the subject generally agree that these practices evolved out of the earliest spiritual or religious questions concerning the origins of the universe, and the meanings behind why life, including human beings, exist.

Though a number of very old and different religious texts – including Christian, Judaic and Taoist records – contain evidence of meditative practices, Hindu scriptures that go back about 5,000 years are some of the earliest recorded ones. Such records also show that by then, these methods for developing spirituality and gaining insights into existential issues, had already become formal rituals with specific objectives.

However, it is fair to say that even before written records were kept on the matter, the earliest human beings – puzzled by life and its myriad challenges and wonders, must have engaged in similar rituals to gauge answers that were not readily available.

Although there are many records of religious contemplative traditions and rituals in Asian societies, history shows that Aboriginal tribes in Australia, and early American Indian populations, for example, had varieties of similar practices. Meditative trance-like states were induced in shaman to help divine the future, ask the gods for rain and plentiful harvests, or to effect healing among the ailing and injured. In short, contemplative practices are much older than what current written records show.

As a conventional Buddhist practice, meditative contemplation became a formal ritual about 2,500 years ago in India. Inspired by the Buddha – who achieved enlightenment through quiet contemplation, and developing mental detachment from the material world as a consequence – it became an important avenue in the pursuit of personal spiritual truths. The idea was, and still remains, that spiritual development and insights can be had through regular acts of silent introspection that stills the usual thinking noises of the egoic mind in the head.

By the time Buddhism arrived in China via Tibet around the first century, it had already attracted considerable attention and power as a philosophy and way of life. It made profound inroads into local Chinese customs, so much so that it even replaced the then prevalent teachings of Taoism and Confucianism. When it eventually reached and flourished in Japan, various forms of Buddhist meditative traditions had already been in place, though they all the same ultimate goal as a means for spiritual development and achieving enlightenment.

Aside from it religious and spiritual connotations, today millions of people all over the world perform regular meditative practices because of its numerous advantages.

One does not have to adhere or subscribe to a religious or spiritual ethic to derive benefit from engaging in it. It leaves people feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually balanced, contribute to an inner sense of harmony and meaning, and has various positive effects on physical and mental health. Most practitioners find it helps to reduce and manage stress, stills anxiety, and is great for boosting self-esteem, while keeping depression away.

It also contributes to clear, calm thinking, which is ideal for making decisions on a daily basis. Moreover, it helps individuals overcome addictions of all kinds, while it does wonders for blood pressure levels, among other things.

Mindfulness meditative practices have become especially popular as these increase awareness of, and encourages living in, the present moment. When performed on a daily basis, it helps to cultivate a sense of inner quiet and distance from all experience, similar to the one the Buddha had when the great one achieved sudden enlightenment.

One of the most remarkable aspects about meditative practice is that it still delivers the desired outcomes today as it has been doing for centuries wherever human beings engaged with it.