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Learn to Meditate: Health Benefits of Meditation
By Roque L. Rodriguez III –
Anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, irritated bowel syndrome, erectile dysfunction, migraines, and fertility issues are just a few of the many stress-related illnesses that are becoming more prevalent in today’s society. Stressors suck away our life force like a parasite pilfering our sustenance, leaving us feeling depleted in ways we are often not fully aware of. Stressors are anything that throws your body out of balance. One of the most important health benefits of meditation is the profound effect it can have on your level of stress. Meditation can help you bring your body and mind to a relaxed state, which has a significant impact on the nervous system. By developing a daily meditation practice; be it 5 or 15 minutes; you can learn to identify the stressors in your life and start to neutralize their effect on you.
It is easier to understand the link between meditation, stress, and health problems once you familiarize yourself with the delicate balancing act being performed by your autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system consists of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Your sympathetic nervous system is often what is referred to as your fight or flight reflex. Human beings were built to survive in the wild before dinner could be whipped up with a phone call and danger was a subway door closing making us a perilous five minutes later to our destination. Nonetheless, be it tiger or tax time deadline, your body still responds to stressors in the same manner.
When you are stressed, your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension suddenly increase; blood flows away from your vital organs towards your extremities; brain wave activity becomes intense; digestion is inhibited; fertility is inhibited; adrenaline & cortisol are released; the immune system is weakened, and all because you are stuck in traffic that you are going to be stuck in whether you stress yourself out or not.
Relaxation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. This system has the opposite functions of the sympathetic nervous system. The functionality of the parasympathetic nervous system is much more subtle and organ-specific than the aforementioned fight or flight system. When you relax your blood pressure and heart rate decrease, muscles relax, brain waves slow down, sexual arousal increases, and your bowel movements become smoother. In order to trigger this relaxation response, one must focus the mind on something repetitive like breath, sound, or movement, and attempt to let go of all other thoughts. The important thing to keep in mind is that the attempt to let go of all other thoughts, however unsuccessful it may feel, triggers the relaxation response. Every time we meditate, we help bring the mind and body into balance.
Meditation can be a wonderful tool for combating stress and stress related issues. The toll all these tiny stressors, stacked upon each other daily, takes on us is often underestimated. Through meditation, we cannot only counteract some of the physical symptoms, we can learn to address the sickness head on and become more aware of what our stress triggers are.
Just the other day a good friend of mine, who had recently begun a meditation practice, told me she was frustrated at the onset because she found great difficulty in bringing her thoughts to stillness. She did, however, find that her self-awareness had become keener. Small things like being aware of the level of her voice in a discussion and taking a deep breath had greatly impacted her daily interactions with both loved ones and co-workers alike. By becoming more self-aware we automatically alter how we relate to the world around us. It is impossible to communicate feelings that you are not even aware of. Conversely, the search for knowledge of true self, on any level, has a calming effect on you and, as a result, the people you deal with on a daily basis. You can eliminate a lot of the stress in your life before it even starts, by bringing your awareness inward and focusing the mind with a daily meditation practice.
Roque L. Rodriguez III is a poet and yoga instructor in New York, NY. He practices meditation with Yogiraj Alan Finger at ISHTA Yoga NYC.
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