Tuesday, 17 March 2015

How meditation can improve our health and happiness

Barry Kerzin  - Photo: Jonathan Wong
From The South China Morning Post
by Kate Whitehead

A visiting medical doctor and Buddhist monk explains the benefits of meditation
"....The practice of meditation enables us to focus our minds and bring about more stability, allowing for a clarity and crispness of thought. It puts us squarely in the present moment, where we are able to nourish and invigorate ourselves. The health benefits of meditation are impressive, he says.

"People have fewer heart attacks, blood pressure goes down and sugar levels from people with diabetes go down when we drop into the moment. It makes you feel whole and so helps reduce the tendency for depression, anxiety, stress and fear," Kerzin claims.

Kerzin points to new research into diseases such as arthritis that show meditation has positive benefits. Researchers suggest it's because arthritis is linked to the immune system, which meditation has been seen to support.

"Research published in respected peer review journals shows that IL 6 - or interleukin 6, a natural chemical in the blood - is related to our immune system. Meditation and positive mental states over time help strengthen our immune system," he says.

In cases where an illness can't be cured, meditation has been shown to help improve a patient's relationship with their illness. There is a tendency for the chronically ill to get depressed, angry or upset, but regular meditation improves their sense of well-being and ability to manage pain.

Meditation sounds easy. After all, it's just a matter of sitting still, your hands in your lap, and breathing. But those who have tried will know it takes some self-discipline to crack.

Kerzin recommends two types of meditation for the beginner. The first involves concentrating on the breath. It isn't necessary to sit in the lotus position. If your knees ache or you find it uncomfortable sitting on the floor, sit in a chair.

The main thing is that your back must be straight. Put your hands in your lap, drop your gaze, close your mouth and breathe through your nose slowly, concentrating on the tip of your nose.

He also suggests beginning with a five- to 10-minute meditation. Don't watch the clock, just meditate for as long as feels comfortable, and finish while you still feel fresh. Over time, you can extend your meditation. But the main thing is to do it every day.

Walking meditation is also a good one to begin with. This is ideally done barefoot, walking on sand or grass. As you take very slow steps, arms by your sides, concentrate on your feet.

This walk isn't about getting anywhere. Your movement is very slow and deliberate, and if you succeed in placing your focus on your feet, it will immediately relax you.

There's a lot more going on in meditation than simply chilling out. Long-term meditators have been shown to fundamentally change the shape of their brain. It sounds far-fetched, but Kerzin was part of the study that looked into this.

The findings went against everything he'd been taught at medical school, where he was told that the brain of a fetus changed significantly in the womb and continued developing in the first few years of life, but stopped in very early childhood.

"Now we are finding that actually that isn't true. There is a tremendous amount of change that happens and much of it is under the influence of our emotions, our thoughts and our experiences in life," says Kerzin.
It makes you feel so whole, and so reduces the tendency for depression
Dr Barry Kerzin

His brain was studied as part of research on long-term meditators at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Princeton University..."  more

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