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Thu Apr 24 13:01:32 SAST 2014

Stop stressing, start living

Dawn Kennedy | 02 August, 2010 10:490 Comments

When was the last time you had the chance to stop and smell the roses?

Our lives are frenetic: a giddy round of ceaseless activity. In fact, we are in danger of becoming what medical pioneer and meditation expert Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn calls "human doings", instead of "human beings".

More and more people are finding that meditation is the perfect antidote. What is meditation?

Meditation is an ancient practice. Anthropological studies show that various forms of meditation have been used in nearly every culture and religion since the beginning of recorded human history. It seems that we are genetically programmed to spend time in silent contemplation.

Meditation is not about withdrawing from the world, but rather about engaging with it more fully so that you can awaken to the beauty of each and every moment. Every time we worry about the future or fret over the past, we are missing the moment right in front of us and, as Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “we only have moments to live”.

The benefits of being here now

1 Meditation calms the mind

The sages compare the mind to a monkey - constantly chattering, and never able to stay still. Meditation trains the monkey. A calm mind generates inner peace, which has a positive effect on our relationships and workplace. A clear mind is able to focus efficiently on one task at a time and the increase in concentration leads to better results in all areas of life. Television is the junk food of the mind. Meditation masters agree that the quick succession of passing visual images gives viewers mental indigestion and a short attention span. They claim that the mental discipline of meditation reverses this adverse effect and enables practitioners to master focus and singular attention.

2 Meditation boosts your immunity

Numerous studies have shown that meditation increases resistance to viruses. A study of male runners conducted in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that six months of meditation practice lessened the suppressive effect that strenuous exercise has on the immune system. Proponents of a popular form of meditation, transcendental meditation (TM), claim that it also reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that numerous studies have linked to high levels of systemic inflammation and chronic disease.

3 Meditation boosts your energy

Breathing oxygenates every cell of the body, from the brain to the vital organs. When we are stressed our breathing becomes shallow, and we deprive our body of sufficient oxygen, making it susceptible to health problems. Deep breathing raises levels of blood oxygen, which optimises health in many ways. It can go so far as to improve fitness and mental performance and stimulate digestion. Complementary health guru Dr Andrew Weil says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”

Meditation teaches you to breathe deeply. One way to do this is to breathe in deeply through the nose and hold it for a second before breathing out through the mouth. This makes your breathing much more defined and keeps it focussed, so that you do not forget and start breathing in a more shallow way.

4 Meditation eases anxiety and stops panic attacks

Jeffrey Brantley, author of Calming Your Anxious Mind (New Harbinger) says that with a little perseverance meditation can eradicate anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. The practice of meditation brings an accepting and calm view of yourself and your present situation. With meditation you become aware of the tension and stress you are holding throughout your body. This allows your mind to accept tension and not misinterpret it as a signal to start panicking or feeling anxious.

5 Meditation makes you happy

Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies (For Dummies), which has sold more than 150 000 copies worldwide, has been teaching meditation for 35 years. He swears that regular meditation sends your serotonin levels soaring. He says, “studies using brain-imaging technology show that meditation, even for a short time, will substantially and measurably increase your happiness (also known as subjective wellbeing) and your enjoyment of life”.

Brahma Kumaris is a Spiritual University teaching practical techniques of meditation, positive thinking and stress-free living and offers free courses in meditation. There are centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Visit www.bkwsu.org

www.first30days.com gives good advice on starting a meditation practice as well as useful expert interviews.

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