After publishing the study on how a happy baby can lead to an allergy free toddler one fellow reader felt moved to provide a detailed article on meditation, the health benefits included and steps for using mediation to reduce stress. Christobel Edwards took a break from her own website focusing on beds for kids to provide a powerful article to help allergy sufferers find relief through mediation.
Article by Christobel Edwards
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion
If you want to be happy, practice compassion
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I first learned to meditate about thirty five years ago. I did Transcendental Meditation mainly because someone in my office told me it would do all sorts of wonderful things for me.
Well I did the course, which even then cost quite a bit of money, but I never really believed in it, as it seemed a bit strange. Most importantly it all seemed to be very rigid. You had to practice twice a day, firstly in the morning before breakfast, secondly at about six o’clock in the evening.
Well I was young, the thought of waking up half an hour earlier in the morning did not appeal and I don’t know about you, but six in the evening is a busy time. I may still be at work, or meeting friends for a drink, or even on my weary way home. It certainly was not a good moment to sit down close my eyes and focus on a mantra!
Added to this of course, if you mentioned to anyone that you meditated, you got strange looks. Oh your one of those! Meditation was definitely considered very odd, surely you could do something better and more constructive with your time. I did not keep it going.
But over the last thirty or forty years there has been increasing interest in the health benefits of meditation and quite a bit of serious research has been carried out with some surprising results.
Harvard Medical School
Sara Lazar Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and study senior author of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program conducted an eight week study group. Using two groups one of whom did an average of 27 minutes a day of mindfulness or meditation and another parallel group who did nothing.
Both groups filled in a questionnaire prior to the study and then again at the end of the period. The group that had done the meditation showed significant improvements in several areas compared with their responses at the start.
MR images of practitioners, which analyzed parts of the brain that were known to show change due to meditation from earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain which is important for learning and memory and is associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
Participants also reported a great reduction in stress.
The group that had not participated in the study showed no signs of change, so it was not just a phenomena of the passage of time.
Britta Holzel first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, said of the results
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life”
A great deal of research has also been conducted on sufferers of SAD at Stanford University. These are people who suffer in social situations from jittery nerves, headaches, sleep problems and thoughts of failure and embarrassment. Don’t we all have some of this?
They established that meditation had beneficial results and increased self confidence for such sufferers. In another study they found that mediators increased in compassion and altruism.
So Why Did I Start Meditating
The nineties were a very difficult time for me, there was a severe recession in the UK. I had a teenage daughter, who I was raising by myself and suddenly no one wanted to employ anyone over forty.
The doctor prescribed Prozac “To keep my head above water!” he said. But he didn’t say don’t drink alcohol.
I smoked twenty cigarettes a day and although I had tried many times to give up, I simply fell back into the habit after a short while. After all I had been bought up in a household were both my parents smoked heavily. Smoking was seen as glamorous in the fifties and sixties.
Over a period of three or four years the lethal combination of Prozac and alcohol started to take hold. My life was out of control and friends suggested I went to AA.
I spent a year in AA which is a marvelous organization, but when I listened to other people, I did not believe I was an alcoholic. I did not get out of bed in the morning unable to function without a drink. So why was it that only a couple of drinks had a disastrous effect on me?
Then I remembered my experience of meditation. Attitudes had changed and by the nineties it was being talked about and taken much more seriously as a beneficial practice. So I decided to give it three months. I would do it religiously twice a day for three months.
Four Major Changes In Three Months
1. Immediately I started, I noticed that my life calmed down and became much more manageable. Suddenly I was managing my finances a lot better, so much so that my daughter and I could afford to take a holiday.
2. On boarding the plane I told my daughter that I would stop smoking. Three days later she told me that I had! It was that easy, I did not have to think about it, it just happened and I have never smoked again.
3. During the three months, I just stopped taking Prozac and felt completely calm and much more in control.
4. My relationship with alcohol changed completely. By this I mean I can have a nice glass of wine with a meal but never feel I must have another.
The changes were so dramatic that I was completely sold on making this a regular practice. But to ensure that I would keep it up, I had to arrange the times and where and how I meditated, to fit in with my lifestyle.
How I Do It
1. Because I have had such great results I determined to do it twice a day. But as the Harvard study shows just 27 minutes a day is all that is needed. I wake half and hour earlier and meditate for half an hour before breakfast. I then do another half an hour before I go to bed.
2. I have a pile of cushions in my bed and when meditating I sit up keeping my back as straight as possible but supported with cushions. I have a shawl around my shoulders and if the room is cold I pull the blankets up.
3. The key to results from meditation is regularity, so if like me you feel comfortable in bed with cushions fine, or you mayor prefer to sit in a chair. Be comfortable, enjoy it, it is a deeply pleasurable sensation.
4. There are many ways to meditate, the key is to try to focus the mind and reduce the conversation in your head. I focus on my breathing, but you can use a mantra such as “Peace” “Love” or you can run through your body starting at you head and relax each part.
5. If you want to be taught most Buddhist centers will teach you free of charge and they don’t try to indoctrinate you with their religion. But the key is to do what fits into your day.
Ongoing Benefits, What Can It Do For You!
I have now been meditating regularly for twelve years and the changes in my life have been wonderful.
Most notably I am more comfortable in myself. I am more aware of what I have achieved and that reassures me when fears present themselves, as they do. I am kinder to myself and I hope equally kinder to others
I am more prepared to let things go. I realize when people do things that are hurtful, it is their problem not mine. It is my choice if I let it upset me.
We live in a stressful world. There is increasing evidence that many illnesses are caused by stress so anything that reduces it must be good. So I can only recommend that you take the pledge like I did and give it three months. Do at least 27 minutes every day and see what it can do for you.
About the Author
Christobel Edwards is an entrepreneur living in London UK. Her expertise is in sales and marketing and is excited by the business opportunities, as well as social opportunities, the internet offers. Two years ago she became a grandmother and enjoys spoiling her granddaughter recently buying her a kids Captain’s bed