The Mind/Body Connection: Meditation Reduces Stress to Improve Health
Scientists have finally discovered what monks and granola-eating hippies have known for years: meditation is good for you. Over 2,500 years after Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, declared that suffering is subjective and can be alleviated through self-awareness, doctors and healthcare workers are teaching people how to apply his healing epiphany to their lives to treat and prevent illnesses.
With an estimated ninety percent of disease caused or complicated by stress, it’s become apparent that our physical health is directly affected by our emotional well being.
"This new science is forcing the medical community to take more seriously the popular notions of the mind-body connection," says Esther M. Sternberg, M.D., director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program at the National Institute of Mental Health. In response to stressful events, our bodies pump out hormones. These hormones aren't necessarily harmful and can be very useful, says Dr. Sternberg, author of The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions. "The problem is when the stress response goes on for too long," she says. "That's when you get sick. Hormones weaken the immune system's ability to fight disease."
Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment. Benefits from a steady practice include better health, higher creativity and improved personal relationships. There is an array of methods to choose from.
Rooted in Buddhist teachings, Insight Meditation, also known as Mindfulness or Vipassana Meditation, is a practice that teaches moment to moment awareness that frees the mind from distress and irritation. Participants learn how to witness the patterns of body and mind with gentle awareness, curiosity and wisdom.
“Insight Meditation cultivates the capacity to be peaceful, no matter the outer circumstances, and supports relaxation, receptivity, compassion, joy, and well-being in our lives, our relationships, and our environment. One learns how to live in the present moment and to gently recognize and accept our experiences with clarity and wisdom,” says Ruth King, a Dharma Leader for the Insight Meditation Community of Charlotte.
For beginners, King suggests the 5/5/5 Plan: 5 minutes a day; 5 days a week; 5 weeks in a row. “This simple practice of paying attention to the breath, ideally at the same time each day, builds focus and confidence while also cultivating neurotransmitters in the brain that support more wholesome habit.”
Rev Bernadette Christi, a Mystical Priest at The Center of Light, a Christian spiritual community in Charlotte, offers a daily group meditation that strengthens the collective energy of those meditating.
“As Mystics, we rely heavily on developing a deep, inner relationship with God within us. To do this we must first become relaxed, quiet and open with our bodies, minds and emotions under control. The art of meditation has to do with how still we can be and how deeply we can connect with the God within us and then to allow God to guide, shape, lead, instruct and form us into the being of light and wholeness as we were all created to be. We were created in God's image - completely of love and light and to become that we must be instructed by that God within us which we can encounter by a real and truly deep meditation.”
The science of yoga has a variety of proven and time-tested meditation techniques. Founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living Foundation, a not-for-profit, educational and humanitarian Non-Governmental Organization, has helped millions of people around the world with its stress elimination programs
Shankar has noted that meditation can help people become aware of how their emotions affect physical health. “Every emotion has a definite sensation in the body. Many times, we get carried away by thoughts or feelings and we do not observe the sensations.”
The Art of Living Charlotte Center offers guided meditation, Sudarshan Kriya, a rhythmic breathing technique that induces a deep meditative state and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation that uses a simple sound that helps the mind to settle down.
Don Byer, owner of Freedom Absolute Yoga in Cornelius, has practiced meditation for 30 years and says it is a life long practice of un-doing.
“We are blissful in the womb and outside of a few rare souls, at birth our minds begin to be conditioned. Un-conditioning is the way of meditation. We don't learn, we un-learn. The mind needs to be disciplined. A daily regimen is needed but it does not have to be excessive. If you give yourself unrealistic goals, the process is defeated.
He recommends a consistent 5 minutes a day of "me" time. “When you begin to experience peace without guilt, the self wants more. Once you’re hooked, add these ingredients: Sit tall and comfortable, breathe deep, draw your awareness inside and wait patiently. The practice will evolve and the tools will evolve.”
For more info: InsightMeditationCharlotte.org, centersoflight.org/charlotte.html, US.ArtOfLiving.org/Charlotte or FreedomAbsolute.com.