The Physiology Of Meditation
Most people picture meditation as a practice done by monks on the serene mountaintops of the Himalayas. Or they may picture a health ad showing a yoga master on a deserted beach calmly resting in a classic seated meditation pose. It’s generally thought of as an eastern religious practice with something having to do with “enlightenment,” and they dismiss it.
Today we know that the practice of meditation has notable health benefits, particularly for the busy, high stress world we live in.
Stress is a defining culprit for a number of diseases and ailments. Logically then, whatever reduces our stress has the potential to help support our health. Meditation is one of those practices that is proven to reduce stress as well as provide a host of other benefits, so it warrants discussion in the field of holistic health.
So what is meditation? “Meditation” comes down to simply focus. It literally means to think or ponder. At it’s core, it’s a mental exercise, but the effects of a rested mind translate to a rested, and healthy, body.
Most of the time, meditation is done in conjunction with deliberate and intentional deep breathing. I’ve talked before about the beneficial effects of deliberate breathing. Taking several deep breaths activates what is called the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes called “rest and digest.” It’s the state in which our bodies are meant to live. It’s a place of physical homeostasis and rest, in which our bodies were meant to spend 97% of our time.
Conversely, the sympathetic nervous system is the adrenaline-charged fight or flight response that is designed to keep us alive when faced with danger. Our bodies should only really experience this state in life or death situations. It increases our respirations, sends blood to the extremities, increases blood pressure, and heightens our awareness and senses.
The activation of the sympathetic nervous system is a wonderful design for managing dangerous situations. However, we are not meant to live like that all the time. Prolonged sympathetic nervous system responses wreak havoc on our health. Unfortunately most people today live like this, and their health suffers as a result.
When people meditate, it brings the person’s body back to a place where their parasympathetic nervous system is in control. This affects all parts of the body including:
- The Nervous system
- The Endocrine system
- The Digestive system
- The Immune System
As such, it helps to:
- Reduce asthma attacks
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce Depression
- Help people sleep better
- Helps those with heart disease
- Regulate blood sugar
- Lower anxiety
If you want to start a simple daily meditation habit, it doesn’t need to be difficult. 5 minutes a day of focused deep breathing can get you started. Most people who try it find that the effects are more pronounced than what they originally anticipated, and they begin to look forward to that part of their day. Give it a try and you may find the same benefits!
To Your Health,Dr. Felicia Conner