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The benefits of meditation.

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by Larisa Klein

So what’s the big deal about meditation? Well, in addition to the fact that most people can’t do it due to its bare simplicity, meditation is actually serious business. But it’s a business of losing. Meditation eliminates or lessens stress, anxiety, worry, illusions about self and situations, and many other negative feelings and thoughts. At the very least, it helps us recognize these conditions as separate from our selves. As these conditions lessen or disappear and no longer take such space in our lives, others have the room to reveal themselves. From improving a sense of well-being and positivity to reducing side effects associated with cancer and cancer treatment, studies show over and over that meditation works.

Most picture Buddhist monks or serene looking yogis when thinking of meditation. Often, that image is quickly followed by thoughts of how boring or annoying it must be to just sit there, breathe, and do nothing. However, the truth is that sitting there and doing nothing but focusing on breathing, i.e. meditating, has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, chronic pain, cancer associated conditions, and stress. The doing of nothing, in body and mind, is the very mechanism that makes meditation work.

The most commonly employed forms of meditation are Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The TM technique originates from Indian religious practices. The practitioner is given a mantra, a Sanskrit word or phrase with special meaning, to be repeated over and over as the main focus of the meditation. MBSR is based on Buddhist meditation practices and incorporates concepts of Buddhist philosophy. However, these religious connotations can exclude those uninterested in these particular religions or religion in general. In addition to the religious influences, these practices also require training and financial commitments, at the further possible exclusion of more people. But these types of meditation are not the only ones that work. Other programs with no specific religious associations and without requirement of lengthy instruction have also been shown to be very effective. (Lane, 2007)

For example, the "Calm Your Stress Study" employed the repetition of a word or sound for 15 to 20 minutes. While the idea is the same as for the TM technique, the word does not need to have religious meaning or be assigned by a special person. The study tested the effectiveness of meditation on stress and negative emotions. The negative emotions tested included "fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger, guilt, and disgust." (Lane, 2007) Evaluations were taken of negative moods, perceived stress in daily life, anxiety, symptoms of psychological distress, depression, tendency to become stressed, and neuroticism. Frequencies of meditation ranged from “twice a day every day", "twice a day most days", "at least once a day every day", "once a day every day", "once a day most days", "several times a week", and "never." (Lane, 2007)
Reduction in negativity and improvement in positive emotional states were clearly shown in those who practiced with increased duration and frequency leading to greater improvements.

In addition to improved mood, mindfulness meditation sharpens attention skills allowing the practitioner to be fully aware in the present moment without judging it. This methodology is even employed in academic psychology as part of self-determination theory (SDT) as a way to enhance well-being. Studies in mindfulness meditation show that those who practice daily have improved emotional reactions, well-being, and vitality over those who do not. It has not only been clinically shown to alleviate psychological and physical suffering, but can also improve medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and heart disease. (Keune, 2010) In fact, “Patients with coronary heart disease who practiced the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation (R) technique had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to non-meditating controls, according to the results of a first-ever study presented during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla., on Nov.16, 2009.” (Anonymous, 2009)

The practitioner also becomes more open through this training. It leads to self-acceptance which leads to more tolerance of others. It increases acceptance and willingness to deal with the present moment as it is, leading to less avoidance of situations in general. It lowers self-judgment which leads to an increase self-regulation. According to SDT, this openness promotes making decisions which are in line with personal needs and ethics. (Keune, 2010)

In short, mindfulness training decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism. AS a result, positive feelings such as vitality, well-being, and joviality are increased. However, these improvements only occur in those who practice regularly and for adequate amounts of time. Furthermore, applying this training to daily life makes its effects even greater. It is like anything else: it only works when practiced and applied to daily life.

References

Anonymous. (2009) Transcendental Meditation Helped Heart Disease Patients Lower Cardiac
Disease Risks by 50 Percent. NewsRx Health & Science. Retrieved on 5/14/14 from
www.evergladeslibrary.com. Document URL:
http://search.proquest.com.ezp-01.lirn.net/docview/212094577?accountid=1...

Keune, P., Forintos, D. (2010) Mindfulness Mediation: A Preliminary Study on Meditation
Practice During Everyday Life Activities and its Association with Well-Being.
Psychological Topics. Retrieved on 5/14/14 from www.evergladeslibrary.com.
Document URL:
http://search.proquest.com.ezp-01.lirn.net/docview/1017879800?accountid=...

Lane, J., Seskevich, J., Pieper, C. (January, 2007). Brief Meditation Training Can Improve
Perceived Stress and Negative Mood. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Retrieved on 5/14/14 from www.evergladeslibrary.com. Document URL:
http://search.proquest.com.ezp-01.lirn.net/docview/204836684?accountid=1...

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