It's daunting talking about things with which you had, until now, only practical experience. But I think that time has arrived, to delve deeper into the mind/body connection. We need to rely on our own natural potential for self-healing as the first line of defense against disease. And, I also believe, that as a stroke survivor I can begin to mend my body and emotions through meditation.
My first introduction to meditation was about 20 years ago with a book I picked up at a garage sale called Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. That was how I discovered the significance of breathing and first experienced the powers of meditation. But, I got busy teaching school, never finished the book and stopped meditating.
In May 2014, Shri Babaji came to Austin from India to lead five meditations at the Yoga Yoga studios. He recommended that individuals meditate for an hour each day. I vowed not to disclose the meditation experience or technique to others as this may reduce its effect.
Then 2 months ago I took a trip to Taos, New Mexico where I visited my sister Yolanda. As I was perusing her extensive library of fascinating books on alternative medicine, one book called out to me. I would like to share that book with you.
The Relaxation Response is by Herbert Benson, M.D., Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (BHI), and Mind/Body Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. In the book, Dr. Benson shares his research about meditation. It has sold almost 4 million copies, has been translated into 13 languages and become the self care book most often recommended by health professionals. How come I never heard of it until now?
At the risk of plagiarism, I will attempt to discuss his physiological observations and research, as well as age old testimonials about the benefits of meditation. To begin with, in the research labs of the Mind/Body Medical Institute, it was discovered that during meditation less oxygen is used, the heart rate slows, metabolism is lowered, and more Alpha waves are produced. Those are the brain waves found during relaxation.
The book starts off by talking about hypertension or high blood pressure. Dr. Benson calls it an epidemic among industrialized nations, and that this is due to the complexity of additional stress that we humans continually deal with. Each generation brings no relief from this stress, only adding to it. Especially with all the latest technology, when we keep thinking that it should be easier to cope with stress. Still, our day to day existence is only intensifying with stress.
We live unpredictable times, with the unpredictability probably being the biggest cause of stress. The invisible forces we have given names to, like job insecurity, war, terrorism, success, and failure. I could go on and on. My point is, ideas cause the acts that are eventually played out on TV, radio, newspapers, and in reality. My belief is that stress is the potential for something negative to happen.
The relaxation response is the opposite of the "fight-or-flight" response, where there is an increase in heart and respiratory rates, as well as an elevation in blood pressure. It prepares you for battle or to runaway. But we can't run away from stress.
Are we smart enough to identify the causes of stress, and courageous enough to face them? Which is a lot to take on, and . . . "Hey, we're only human!"
My readers will have to figure out the solutions to our shared dilemmas on their own. I can't help you there. But because we have the relaxation response at our disposal, you can get through this mess called stress through meditation.
One way to achieve it is through prayer, which is a very powerful vehicle for meditation. Transcendental Meditation is another. So with that in mind, people have a choice between a secular or religious approaches to meditation.
I guess what I like about the book I'm reading, The Relaxation Response, is that it offers scientific explanations as to how and why meditation works. Testimonials are interjected from historical figures as to the effects on emotions and spirit. Science creates technical wonders for the mind to ponder, and the heart explains to the soul. The book is recognized as a link between East and West.
If we stop and think about it, why is yoga all the rage? Where did that come from? Yoga is so popular in Austin, pretty soon there will be a yoga studio on every street corner. And then there are Transcendental Meditation, Zen, Buddhism and all the traditions from India.
"The altered state of consciousness associated with the Relaxation Response has been routinely experienced in Eastern and Western cultures throughout all ages." (Benson) The experiences associated with this altered state of consciousness have been described as ecstatic, clairvoyant, and totally relaxing.
Apparently, meditation has for basic elements, regardless of the cultural it comes from.
The 1st element is the need for a quiet environment. A room or other surroundings were the distractions are minimal.
An object to dwell upon, is the 2nd element. It may be a word; a symbol or object to gaze upon; concentrating on a single feeling. Keep your mind focused while your thoughts attempt to distract you.
The 3rd element is essential: a passive attitude. Thoughts and awareness may drift into your consciousness, usher them through and do not allow them to linger.
A comfortable position is the 4th element. A sitting position is recommended.
In the forward to his latest edition, Dr. Benson states that only the 2nd and 3rd elements, an object to dwell upon and the passive attitude, are necessary. He then describes what he calls the generic technique to achieve the relaxation response through meditation:
1. Pick up a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system.
2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
3. Close your eyes.
4. Relax your muscles, progressing from feet to your calves, thighs and, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
6. Assume a passive attitude. Don't worry how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh well," and gently return to your repetition.
7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
8. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
9. Practice that technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.
Taken from The Relaxation Response
p. XX-xxii Forward: 25th Anniversary Update
According to research, during meditation blood pressure drops in patients with high blood pressure. Also, research has demonstrated that in Transcendental Meditation, Zen and Yoga there is a reduction in heart and respiratory rates. Plus, metabolism slows and Alpha Waves are increased. (These are the brain waves present during relaxation.)
The meditation techniques are described in the book by several authors from varying religions and belief systems, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, and Yoga. Shamanism in all native cultures is also included. The English mystic poets of the 18th to 19th century, including Brontë, Wordsworth, and Tennyson and the Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau practiced meditation and waxed eloquently about it. So it's nothing new to the Western world, and now, more than ever, the benefits embodied in meditation are being spread and practiced by more and more people. Feel free to please join us.
Begin by finding a serene surrounding. It can be a quiet room or even the kitchen table while the kids are somewhere else. I begin meditating while the coffee is brewing before breakfast and usually lasts about 15 minutes. Just follow the steps listed above.
If I can remember to do it, my goal is to include a meditation session before dinner. Dr. Benson observed that the relaxation response occurs about 3 minutes into meditation. That is when the heart rate and oxygen intake decreases, metabolism lessens, and the Alpha waves have increased. These are the physiological factors creating the relaxation response.
* I want to take the opportunity to thank my sister Yolanda for loaning me the book from her extensive library on natural healing.