A JetBlue pilot becomes unhinged midair, sprinting down the center aisle yelling jumbled remarks about 9/11 and Iran. The creator of the new video, “Kony 2012,” is found naked, roaming through the streets of a San Diego neighborhood, highlighting the kind of debilitating stress than can result from public criticism. Stress levels everywhere are soaring.
Stress has been part of human life since our earliest days on the planet. Although we no longer experience the stress of living in cold, dark caves and fighting off saber tooth cats, we do experience emotional turmoil in our relationships, challenges balancing our daily lives, and a multitude of physical health concerns. When we encounter situations that we interpret as stressful, our body has the same reactions our ancestors had tens of thousands of years ago. Our blood pressure rises, we begin to perspire, our breath becomes shallow, and our blood platelets become sticky. Our body activates its fight-or-flight response, and it takes at least twenty-four hours for the body to recover its equilibrium. Many people live in a state of chronic stress and imbalance, which contributes to emotional and physical disease.
Through the practice of meditation, we can activate a different response, one of restful awareness, intuitiveness, and creativity. Meditation takes our body and our mind from a place of hyperactivity, fear, unrest, and uneasiness to a state of inner calm, peace, and silence.
In meditation, as we cultivate the ability to witness the activity of the mind, we spontaneously make more conscious choices. We’re able to access the response that best supports our own health and wellbeing. Stress then becomes something that we can observe and release.
Through meditation, we can reverse the effects of accumulated stress and toxicity. Meditation, in fact, has several different effects on the body; both on the physical body and on the psychological well being of the mind. First, some of the physical benefits of meditation include:
• Oxygen consumption lessens
• Respiratory rates decease
• A marked increase in blood flow occurs, which in turn slows the heart rate
• Meditation actually increases the level of exercise tolerance in heart patients
• High blood pressure is lowered to normal levels
• A decrease in muscle tension and headaches
• Increases in the production of serotonin levels (which influences and mood and behavior). Note that low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches.
• Meditation has also been shown to help in chronic diseases, such as allergies and arthritis.
• In women, meditation can reduce pre-menstrual syndrome.
Perhaps most important among meditation facts is that this practice can actually enhance the immune system. Recent research demonstrates that meditation can increase the activity of “natural-killer” cells. This is important because these natural killer cells help to kill bacteria and cancer cells.
Amazingly enough, there are even more documented health benefits. Individuals who practice meditation also have a decreased metabolic rate, and because of this, the heart works less strenuously to pump blood throughout the body.
Along with this drop in cholesterol levels, there’s also a reduction of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that cause tissue damage within the body. Decreasing the levels of free radicals, are important because they are thought to play an integral role in the aging process. It’s thought that if we could slow or eliminate the proliferation of free radicals, we may actually be able to slow the aging process!
Meditation can also have positive effects on the psychological well being of its practitioners, who report:
• Greater levels of creativity
• A decrease in anxiety
• Decreased depression
• A decrease in feelings of irritability and moodiness
• Improved learning abilities and increase in memory retention
• Increase feelings of vitality and rejuvenation
• Most people report feeling a general sense of happiness and emotional stability
Find a place where you can be quiet either outdoors, in your home, your office or perhaps while on a plane. Think of a word or set of words for your mantra. Some possibilities include peace, love, joy, bills, shalom, or amen. Close your eyes and take three very deep breaths originating in your lower abdomen. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the temperature of the air you inhale. Expand your chest and belly. Exhale. Breathe in, and say your mantra silently. Breathe out and silently say your mantra. Allow each inhalation to be deeper, ever exhalation deliberate. When you have a thought, acknowledge it and release it. Don’t fight your thoughts. Then go back to your breath.
Try meditation, and hopefully this will prevent you from running and screaming down a Southwest airplane aisle or running naked up Mesa.