Adopting a new mantra to breathe fresh air into lifeSo one week on, how are your New Year’s health resolutions going? Have you already given up or is it so far so good?
For those who are slacking, there is one way of taking care of your health ― both mental and physical ― that, according to practitioners, is the most effective at the lowest cost. The miracle method ― meditation.
For believers, this is a great way to relieve the mind and body of stress and an invaluable aid for concentration. Just looking at the winter sky without thinking for a while can also be a form of meditation. If you meditate for 40 minutes a day in the evening for a month, they say, you will feel changes in your body.
“A person is suffering, not feeling happy, if they don’t immediately think of beauty when they look at a diamond and instead question how much it costs,” says Lee Jung-ho, a psychologist and meditation expert at Sanggye Paik Hospital. “If one reduces greed through meditation, a person can be free from stress and be happier,” he emphasized.
Meditation is a mental and, for some, religious acetic exercise. In nearly every religion, different types of meditation exist ― the number exceeds 200. Many people consider meditation to be something done only in a seated position with one’s legs crossed, concentrating on one thing. But it is possible to be lost in meditation while moving your body, as in yoga, taichi or simply walking.
The original meaning of meditation is “seeing a thing as it is,” or “having a spiritual awakening.” Thus, some define it as a process of peeling away layers, like those of an onion, that cover the true self. More broadly, any act of focussing the consciousness for a period of time is meditation.
Meditation can be divided into two forms ― concentration and spiritual repletion. The former is literally concentrating your spirit on one thing. In many cases, people focus on their breathing, feeling the air coming into and out of their bodies. Sometimes people concentrate on a specific part of their body, an object or an unimportant question. Some recite a mantra in order to focus their consciousness.
Spiritual repletion is experiencing images, thoughts, sounds or odors just as they are without any analysis. “If you follow your stream of consciousness while sitting on the floor, you will be comfortable and feel the spirit becoming clearer,” says Song Mi-yeon, a doctor of the department of Oriental Rehabilitation Medicine at Kyung Hee University Medical Center.
But sometimes it’s not so easy to concentrate on one thing even while sitting in the “right” position for meditation. “If you try meditation, you can see how uncomfortable we feel at normal times,” says Dr. Lee. “Beginners even open one eye slightly and check what others are doing after only 30 seconds.”
The history of meditation goes back thousands of years, but it’s only in the last 30 years that its medical properties were acknowledged. Ironically, studies of the medical effects of meditation were mostly done in the West rather than in the East. They considered meditation as one of the complementary and alternative medical therapies along with hypnosis, dance, music and art.
“Meditation lightens pain, prevents high blood pressure and heart attacks and raises the quality of life for patients suffering from cancer,” says Kim Gyeong-soo, a doctor at the Life Style Center of Kangnam St. Mary’s Hospital.
Meditation also relieves anxiety, depression and stress, as it helps one be free from negative thoughts. According to the November 2004 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, a study by the Medical College of Georgia on 73 middle school students found that after 3 months of regular meditation, the participants’ blood pressure dropped by 3.8 mmHg on average. The students meditated twice a day for 10 minutes at a time by focusing on breathing with their eyes closed. Based on this research, the U.S. National Institute of Health recommended patients with high blood pressure to meditate along with their standard exercises and low-salt diet.
The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York also uses meditation as a complementary remedy for cancer patients, as it reduces depression and stress and raises the will to fight the disease.
Meditation also positively affects brain waves and mental activity. A study on the brain activity of monks who had meditated for 15 to 40 years (10,000 hours to 50,000 hours) and whose average age was 49 years old showed that their brains were more active than those of college students in their early 20s. Particularly, the study showed that during meditation, the brain’s gamma waves were more active, which is associated with positive emotions such as happiness.
Sanggye Paik Hospital recommends couples who often fight to meditate, as this reduces the number of incidents and makes them get angry less frequently.
“It’s because people become more magnanimous and react positively to outside stimulation after meditation,” Dr. Lee explained. This is a result of the lowering of anxiety and stress that often lead people to express themselves violently.
While meditation can’t be viewed as a cure-all for each and every one of life’s ills, setting aside some time each day to reflect may help us to lead a more fulfilling existence.
by Park Tae-kyun