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Yoga And Meditation

Meditate Away Those Grey Days

Mediation may be an ancient practice, but it can seriously benefit some modern-day problems including stress and a low mood.

Focusing on your breathing (or a mantra, a specific sound or an image) is one of the main touch points of meditation, and it almost immediately brings down blood pressure, which rises significantly in times of stress.

It is a workout for the brain, and like any good workout, it helps us feel better.

“Meditation is just simple brain exercise,” wrote Dan Harris, an ABC news anchor whose on-air panic attack led to the book “10% Happier,” a 2014 award winner.” “Meditation is training yourself to see your own inner chaos so that it doesn’t own you.” 1

Stress and its negative impact on mood

In the long term, stress can be truly damaging, not just because symptoms can interfere with normal functioning, but also because chronic stress – a debilitating anxiety that goes on unchecked for a lengthy period of time – can wreak havoc on the mind and body, potentially causing depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce too much of the hormone cortisol, better known as our caveman-era fight-or-flight hormone. It triggers the release of blood glucose that usually can’t be used at the time – today’s stressors are rarely wild beasts chasing us back to our Paleolithic stone homes, but rather work or home-related anxieties that keep us awake at night or trapped at our desks, struggling to meet deadlines.

Unused sugar sticks around or is stored as fat and is linked to a wide range of different health problems.

While you may not be able to erase your stress, anxiety symptoms can be eased by mediation, reducing the risk of depression and other negative health outcomes.

One of the reasons meditation works is that the practice is believed to change brain physiology, so areas of the brain that handle emotions are bolstered with additional neurons, while other areas such as those tasked with anxiety, generate fewer neurons.

“There is a strong feeling in the neuroscience area and the psychology realm that meditation and meditative practices can change your brain physiology,” Dr. E Robert Schwartz, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Health magazine. 2

Finding happiness through meditation

More than 350 million people worldwide – about one in five people – suffer from depression, which can be brought about by a traumatic life experience or a chemical imbalance.

There are many methods to help ease symptoms of depression, but meditation can be an effective treatment option.

While those diagnosed with clinical depression would not want to set prescribed medications aside, meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can be an excellent option to augment a current treatment regimen. 2

Mindfulness meditation, a central tenant of Buddhism, might be considered the gold standard of all forms of meditation and has been the focus of myriad scientific studies.

Through it, practitioners use breathing to allow focus and “cognitive retraining,” which helps prevent negative thinking.

According to Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, medical director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, mindfulness meditation is a focus on the present, one so strong and powerful that past and present slip away for a time.

There is no focus on traumas of the past or worries about the future. Instead, practitioners use breathing to keep them in the present moment, those concerns to temporarily lift. The heart rate slows, alleviating symptoms of anxiety.

According to a 2011 study from researchers at General Hospital in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester that appeared in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,” mindful meditation may change the brain.

As part of the study, researchers compared the amount of gray matter – the neural tissue of the brain – in those who practiced mindful meditation compared to those who did not. Results found that gray matter in the hippocampus area of the brain was elevated in those who performed regular sessions of mindful meditation, positively influencing the synthesis of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and reduced in those who didn’t. They also found that meditators had reduced gray matter in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety. 3

Types of meditation aimed at alleviating depression

In addition to mindfulness meditation, some of the most effective forms of meditation to ease symptoms of depression and increase happiness include:

  • Transcendental meditation. Once popular with the Beatles – the Fab Four began meditating after meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 – transcendental meditation, or TM, uses a personal mantra or sound that helps focus attention on the present, allowing the rest to drift away.

In addition to offering a mood boost, TM also helps spark energy, Beatle George Harrison told David Frost during an episode of the British journalist’s TV talk show “The Frost Programme.”

“The energy is latently there every day, anyways. So, meditation is just a natural process of contacting it,” he said in that interview, taped on Oct. 4, 1967. “By doing it each day you give yourself a chance of contacting this energy and giving it to yourself a little more. Consequently, you’re able to do whatever you normally do – just with a little bit more happiness, maybe.” 4

  • Visualization. Through visualization, practitioners focus on pleasant images – ocean waves gently washing across a sandy beach, the sun glinting like diamonds on freshly-fallen snow, the moon casting a soft glow on a calm, quiet forest lake – to calm the mind and ease anxiety.

Visualization and the similar guided imagery – which involves replacing negative images from the past with more positive ones – can also be used as a treatment option to help users focus on what they want for their future, a self-actualizing method that can lift anxiety. 5

  • Body scan meditation. Those who use body scan meditation focus on different parts of the body in sequential order, such as from the tip of your toes to the top of your head, to control concentration and shift focus away from negativity. This form of mediation is combined with breathing exercises and helps control responses to stress. Research has shown that body scan meditation resulted in fewer lapses in depression.

  • Chanting . As a form of meditation, chanting improves the brain’s ability to focus because it “drowns out thoughts,” according to registered nurse Burke Lennihan, a meditation teacher at the Harvard University Center for Wellness. 6

  • Movement-based meditations . Yoga, tai chi and qigong each combine movement with breathing and focus, which can trigger a sense of calm. Walking meditation is also an exercise-based form of meditation, one that merges the tranquility of the outdoors with movement to create a meditative space.

Benefits are quick to reveal themselves

Meditation is an excellent stress reliever because it teaches how to focus and relax your mind, Schwartz told Health magazine. “You’re learning how to bring it back to neutral.”

While meditation can be done on your own, and requires just 10 minutes a day, meditating as a group can bring on a deeper sense of calm, said Lennihan, who added that benefits should be noticeable within a week or two, with regular practice.

“People will start to feel some inner peace, even in the midst of their busy lives,” she said.

Meditation causes your body to release endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is not only associated with happiness but also seems to help keep our moods under control by helping keep away both insomnia and anxiety.

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