Where I am sitting on campus. Look at all the trees!
I’m sitting here at my college campus, freezing in the empty lobby while a man pushes a giant vacuum around the floor. Coming in early, then waiting three hours for rehearsal to start while freezing my butt off isn’t what I had in mind, however it does give me some time to work on my blog.
What is the rehearsal about, you say? Well, The Healthy Advocate is in a play here at the school. I play one of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I know, a male witch in Macbeth–however I think it is more in tune with Shakespeare’s original plays. No females allowed (what did he have against females?).
Now, let’s get to the topic at hand. I wanted to talk about the power of our mind. I am really into mind-body healing and medicine of all types, and am also a certified hypnotist. The more research I do, and the more I experience for myself, the better I can understand our mind’s abilities and its power over our health.
The power of our minds can radically improve our health, and it can also radically diminish it. When our thoughts are in order, and when our mind is filled with only images of success, of our goals, of how to make our lives healthier and happier, we actually move toward these things. Inversely, when our thoughts are stressful in nature, dark, hateful, pessimistic, etc., we move into a state of disorder and ultimately disease.
Our thoughts also play a huge impact on our emotions, because I know each and everyone of you have had moments where you visualized your bright future, full of the things you wanted, and you noticed your stress levels decreased. You become at ease, and you are able to focus on things more fully, and are able to give yourself 100%. However, when you imagine a future of unknowingness, of darkness and sickness, you feel uneasy, stressed, out of your mind–you get the picture. I don’t want to go down the downward path too much in this post; just stressing the importance of the positive will help you more so than understanding the downsides of the negative.
Meditation, one of my personal favorite methods for decreasing the disorder in the mind, is a vast term. You have probably encountered people who “meditate”, or you have probably even tried doing it yourself. Sometimes this stress relieving technique can actually be quite stressful when one has a hard time quieting the mind and calming the body. Then this person gives up completely on a wonderful health promoting tool. Meditation IS important for your health and happiness, as it gives you a sense of control, calm and well being in your life that I everyone has a right to.
The health benefits (dare I say proven health benefits?) of meditation are numerable, and I will go over the ones I find to be the most concerning to the majority of you guys. I’ll blog more on other benefits later; but now I want to share with you the one’s I found most important. Meditation has been shown in lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar (helping in insulin sensitivity) and lowering cholesterol. It has also been beneficial in weight loss, depression, mood and learning disorders, and benefits also lie in the arena of weight loss. That’s right–closing your eyes and listening to your breath can actually help you drop the pounds.
Here is my list for the top health benefits associated with meditation. Again, as with all my lists, this is far from complete–it only narrows down the top ones most people face and ask about.
In The Journal of Chronic Diseases
, meditation and relaxation exercises were shown to significantly lower blood pressure in subjects. This isn’t the only study out there–there are hundreds of them that exist; even common sense can tell you that relaxation techniques are effective at decreasing hypertension symptoms.
Meditation has also been shown to be beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels. A study recorded in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
showed that relaxation training and biofeedback lowered blood glucose levels in the individual studied. This person also showed this benefit maintained after a one year follow up. Another research study at the Cedar-Sanai Medical Center in Los Angeles
showed that meditation was able to lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
Cardiovascular disease and high levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol is associated with psychological stress. Reducing the stress has been shown to lower the bad cholesterol while decreasing cardiovascular disease risk.
*Note that there are two types of LDL. There are large buoyant lipoproteins and small, hard density lipoproteins. The hard and small lipoproteins are the ones you have to worry about. Having a high LDL doesn’t mean you are at risk for heart disease. Measuring your triglycerides levels are the best ways to determine your risk, while also comparing these levels with your HDL (you want a high HDL and low triglycerides).
Another study showed that participants with panic disorder were almost doubled with the risk of coronary heart disease, with those with depression were three times at risk. Meditation, combined with trusted medical advice, is beneficial in reducing your risk by lowering your anxiety and depressive moods.
Weight loss has also been shown to result when meditation techniques are applied to one’s everyday practice. It is well known and documented that hypnosis aides in weight reduction, and is successful in maintaining a healthy weight over time
. However, meditation is not the same as hypnosis. Meditation is a relaxation technique that quiets the mind and stills the body. Earlier I mentioned that hypnosis was beneficial in lowering blood sugar and insulin levels. Since insulin, in particular excessive insulin
, is known as the “fat storing hormone”. Too much insulin in the body easily stores the extra sugars in your body (those that are broken down from carbohydrates) as fat.
Lowering your insulin levels is one key to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight over time. Doing this will also help improve insulin sensitivity (your cells are able to take in sugar for energy more easily). You will also optimize your grehlin hormone (hunger hormone) at the same time, helping you to control your appetite and only eat whenever you are truly hungry. Can you believe just a few minutes a day, closing your eyes and listening to your breath, can help you this immensely?
Meditation has been shown to be beneficial for those with depression and mood disorders by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain
. Serotonin is the “feel good” hormone that increases feelings of hope and joy, all scientific feelings–but I would rather look at them as spiritual ones, as well. Mindfulness relaxation also helps one to deal with stress more efficiently, making it easy to take on hardships without having to get into a funk.
4 – Meditation is a powerful tool in combating learning “disorders” and disabilities. I don’t necessarily believe in ADD or ADHD–I do, however, believe that certain conditions can lessen ones abilities to concentrate, especially in this time (diet, lack of exercise, popular culture, etc.). Having a good foundation based on natural principles, while combing meditation, has been shown to increase one’s attention.
Meditation has been shown to actually increase
one’s brain size! This part is very fascinating to me, because it shows that we can actually grow new neurons and gray matter within our brain just by the power of thought and relaxation. In a study done at Harvard Medical School, researchers found that those who meditated for 20 minutes a day showed actual growth in one of the inner cortexes of the brain, the one most associated with memory and attentiveness. Another study showed activation in brainwaves associated with attention
Isn’t it amazing that we can actually change the structure of our brains by using meditation? It’s incredibly fascinating that we can do something to our brains that most thought was impossible. We have been taught that the brain stays pretty stagnant over our lifetime, and very little physical growth is actually achieved. However, using meditation one can thicken parts of the brain to help aid in memory and mood.
How Can I Start My Meditation Practice?
This mind altering (yes, it can be a bit mind altering at times) tool doesn’t solely rest on having you sitting on the floor, cross legged, closing your eyes and repeating, “OM” over and over again. OM is a very powerful and relaxing mantra, but meditation is so much more than that, and I believe each and everyone is important and should be incorporated into our life. One form of meditation I love to do is yoga, outside in the sunshine. Doing yoga is an amazing way to calm and center the mind, which is a large component of meditation; but doing yoga in nature allows you to connect to the earth, to nature, and it also helps you get your beneficial Vitamin D from the sun (which has been shown to help in correlating benefits achieved through meditation–healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, learning and attention).
Other exercise, such as running, walking, lifting, jogging, pilates, etc., is a very good form of meditation, as it allows your brain to focus on one thing–the task at hand. In meditation, you want to achieve a state where you are only focusing on one thing–your body, breath, the exercise you are performing, so on and so forth. Then, as you continue to practice, you will be able to completely free yourself of all thoughts and of the world around you, clearing your mind in order to receive healing and nurturance. Centering the mind and healing the body is a goal in meditation which is easily achieved through continued practice.
Combining exercise and meditation is a powerful way to elicit good health, however there are other ways to meditate. The most popular way is laying or sitting down, in a comfortable position (whatever works for you), closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. There is absolutely nothing else you have to do but breathe and listen. Your breathing will continue to slow down, and your muscles will start to loosen and become relaxed. You can even imagine that every single muscle in your body is relaxing, from the top of your head, to the bottom of your feet (or vice versa).
Am I Doing it Right?
Here’s a secret: It doesn’t matter. There isn’t a “wrong” or “right” way to meditate. There really isn’t. Besides, worrying about getting it “just right” will only aggravate your system, causing you more stress than when you started. That definitely will not produce the benefits associated with deep relaxation and focus. Just let go, allow yourself to relax and breathe deeply, and with practice, you will be able to flow within a state that brings forth ease of mind and healing.
Just implementing an exercise program will help you incorporate a form of meditation into your life. This way, you will be getting the benefits of exercise along with the benefits of meditation. Although, there are certain parts of quiet and still meditation (relaxation) that you can’t achieve in exercise meditation. Doing it at night before you go to sleep, or in the morning as soon as you awake is what is easiest for most people. During the day it can be a bit hectic, unless you do have a time where you will not be disturbed and have nothing else you need to do.
Take this information and share it with those you love, as health information needs to spread across to all those who will listen! Meditation is beneficial and fun, and I’m sure you will love it, as it will greatly increase your health while helping you maintain a calm and solid attitude throughout your life.
This has been The Healthy Advocate.
P.S. Upcoming blog posts will be two of my favorite recipes. One is my Gluten Free Sprouted Buckwheat “Ritz” Style Crackers!
These seriously are good. Grain free and low in calories, these are crackers you shouldn’t feel bad eating.
I will also be sharing with you in an upcoming video about how to make sunflower seed butter. See you then…