Meditation for Disease Prevention

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Author: Bethany Pinto, Registered Yoga Teacher RYT 200®

Like many Americans today, you are probably in a highly stressful career, perhaps working 60 or more hours a week, raising a family and attempting to keep social commitments, too. You are most likely overworked, overstressed and sleep deprived – all of which create a dangerous breeding ground for disease. In today's busy, modern society, many people cannot, or will not, stop to make quality time for themselves. This situation is not uncommon. We simply don't see the connection between our mind and body.

Luckily, meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep and boost immune efficiency. This will dramatically reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes, depression and heart disease, to name a few. Although the ancient practice of meditation was traditionally reserved for Eastern monks and yogis, extensive research of its effectiveness and health benefits has brought it credibility in the Western world. In a study conducted in 1970, a yogi from India amazed Dr. Elmer Green at Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS. He was attached to an EKG machine and monitored while meditating. He shocked the lab technicians with his ability to change the temperature of his hands, change his EEG readings to any of the four major brain wave types (alpha, beta, theta and delta) and slow down and speed up his heart rate.[1] With this much power over our own bodies, it is no surprise that we could foster an environment that will resist (or invite) disease.
Meditation is the practice of being still in your body so you can quiet your mind. Through focused breathing, you can slow down your blood pressure, heart rate and calm your nerves. So much of our waking lives require us to operate in "flight or fight" mode. That is, we are always high-strung, always tense, always poised for the next tiger (i.e. project, competitor, deadline) to pounce. This causes our adrenals to constantly release a steady stream of the stress hormone cortisol into our system, making us bloated, lethargic and anxious. Focusing attention on the breath will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, reducing cortisol secretion, heart rate and breathing while producing endorphins for an overall feeling of well-being. This atmosphere is not exactly what disease forming cells would consider nurturing since they thrive on stress and inflammation!
Meditation can also improve your sleep. As you have probably experienced, when you're all wound up from the day's activities, it's nearly impossible to fall asleep. What's worse, the quality of your sleep is poor, robbing your body of its natural ability to conduct much needed repair of cells. Since the discipline of focusing your mind (or your breath, a beautiful image, a word or phrase, etc.) slows down your brainwaves and creates a deeply relaxed state, you're on your way to catching some great zzzzs! In fact, when you first start practicing, you'll find yourself falling asleep a lot, depending on how sleep deprived you really are. And becoming well rested will allow your body's circadian rhythms to fall naturally back in place, regulating hormone secretion and other bodily functions.[2] When your systems are in balance, you improve your body's natural immune function, therefore preventing disease from developing and spreading.
With so many forms of meditation to choose from, it may be overwhelming to know where to start or if you're doing it right. There are excellent resources online and in bookstores to provide tips and techniques. When you quiet your body and mind, even for just one minute of silence, you are meditating, and therefore beginning to reap the benefits. If you have trouble sitting still and relaxing long enough to try it, Native Remedies makes a great herbal product called PureCalm that can help reduce anxiety. You will soon agree that a daily meditation practice is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself for lasting wellness!

[1] McCall, Timothy, M.D., Yoga as Medicine; 2007: 26-27

[2] Gottfried, Sara, M.D., Beat the Odds. Yoga International. 2012 Fall; 56-57

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