RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—When I first started meditating 34 years ago, I was more than a little bit skeptical. How could sitting with your eyes closed for 20 minutes change your brain function, strengthen your immune system, increase your intelligence, and make you dramatically happier? I was wary of devoting 40 minutes (20 minutes twice a day) to practice a technique that was apparently developed by a little man from India in a white robe with a long beard and a strange laugh. So I read everything I could about the science behind transcendental meditation, and finally was convinced that it was a technique worth learning.
Thirty-four years later, meditation has transformed me, and it is in the process of transforming health care in America. Mind-body medicine has become an important dimension of health care as we have gained a greater understanding of the powerful effects of thoughts, emotions, and stress on physical health. Increasingly, mind-body stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, are used to help people cope with and reverse physical and emotional conditions ranging from high blood pressure and anxiety to chronic pain and depression. Meditation has been used for thousands of years in cultures around the world as a spiritual practice. Today, it is a powerful technique used by millions of Americans to improve their health and enhance their well-being. I encourage most of my clients to learn meditation. Those that do progress faster, develop greater calmness and mental clarity, and make positive changes in their lives more easily.
The two types of meditation that have been researched most extensively are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation. While the practices have slight differences, they both involve:
• Focusing attention on one thing, such as the breath, an image, or a word or sound, called a mantra
• Focusing attention on the present moment
• Cultivating a compassionate, nonjudgmental attitude
• Letting go of our usual preoccupation with daily problems, goals, and concerns.
Early research on the effects of transcendental meditation by R. Keith Wallace, PhD, in the 1960’s showed that it lowers blood pressure, slows down brain waves, and leads to significant reductions in anxiety and stress-related illness.