Our goal in this blog is to shine a light on ways to help you live your best life. As we’ve discussed on more than one occasion, a wealth of research offers new insight into how we can counter our brain’s natural decrease in function as we age. From knitting and photography to painting and dancing, scientific studies are showing us the importance of keeping our minds active and in a constant learning mode.
Today, however, we’re going to consider the importance of also teaching our minds to do nothing. This practice, known as meditation, has shown to pack a big punch when it comes to improving the mind as well as the body.
When practiced on a regular basis, meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce depression and anxiety, and boost the immune system.
The art of breathing
An article in Senior Citizen Journal explores the results of a 2013 study by the University of California Los Angeles on the health benefits of meditation. At the core of meditation is taking deep breaths and staying focused on your breathing to the exclusion of all distractions.
Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen reaching organs, which in turn has a calming effect, reducing anxiety and depression. Increased oxygen in the bloodstream also boosts the body’s immunity and increases the amount of oxygen in the brain, which reduces fatigue.
Which meditation is right for you?
While physical exercise is good for your health, the specific benefit is determined by the exercise you choose, be it Yoga, tennis or weight lifting. The same is true of meditation, says the Transcendental Meditation website, which identifies three main types of “meditation brain pattern.” Understanding the brain benefits will guide you in selecting the meditation that is right for you.
- Focused attention. Concentrating on an object or a concept, such as kindness, is a form of meditation that stimulates activity in areas of the brain responsible for processing sensory information, emotions and attention.
- Open monitoring. With mindfulness meditation and some forms of Zen, the practitioner is observing reality without judging. This contemplative meditation is responsible for a relaxed state of mind.
- Automatic self-transcendence. This form of meditation turns on the whole brain and allows a sensation of mental limitlessness. Activity decreases in the area of the brain responsible for sensory information while activity increases in areas responsible for high level functioning and reasoning, as well as relaxation and calm.
Numerous bodies of research, including ongoing projects by the University of California Los Angeles, show that a small daily investment of time can reap many health benefits. If you’d like to explore meditation, a good place to wade in is UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center website. It offers free self-guided meditation sessions that make it easy to start meditating right away.
By blocking out the busy and demanding world for a few minutes each day, you can enjoy better health. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel better.