Well, several recent university studies have uncovered a wide variety of benefits of daily meditation, as well as the specific changes that occur in the body to facilitate these benefits. For instance, one study of 40 older adults found that after an 8-week training course in Mindfulness-based meditation, the participants showed reductions in C-reactive protein, which is associated with the development of heart disease. Another study in Boston had participants with hypertension (high blood pressure) try daily meditation. After 3 months of practice 2/3rds of the participants had their blood pressure medication decreased or discontinued due to lower blood pressure readings. Their meditative practice increased their bodies' production of nitric oxide, which is used to expand blood vessels, making it easier for blood to flow throughout the body. A recent Harvard study found that many of the mental benefits of meditation (reduced stress levels, and increased creativity, empathy, and memory) were likely related to the increased thickness of gray matter in many areas of the brains of individuals who regularly meditate. That's right, meditation may increase the amount of matter in your brain!
So, I know you're all thinking now, "Those benefits sound awesome! How do I get started"? Well, here's one strategy to start your daily meditative practice:
To start with, commit to meditating at least 15 minutes, once or twice a day. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing, and sit or lie down in a comfortable position. If you find that you fall asleep when trying to meditate lying down, then trying sitting instead. Make sure you are in a quiet space and won't be interrupted during your meditation time.
We are going to start with a progressive relaxation technique to help us relax into our meditative state. Starting with your feet, clench and then release the muscles, feeling all of the tension drain away. Next move to your calves, then your thighs, repeating the process. Tighten and relax your buttocks, then your abs. Next tighten and relax your hands, then forearms, and upper arms. Tighten and relax your shoulders, your neck, your mouth, your cheeks, and your forehead.
Next, I want you to take a deep breath in, filling your lungs from the bottom, down by your diaphragm, to the middle, and then up to the top, and slowly breath out in the opposite order, top-middle-bottom. For the next 15 minutes or so, focus on nothing except your slow, deep breathing. If other thoughts enter your mind, brush them away and refocus on your breath.
Congratulations! You just completed the first meditation of your new practice!