Alpha when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although aware of what is happening around us, its frequency are around 7 to 13 pulses per second.
Your brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. The combination of millions of neurons sending signals at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using sensitive medical equipment (such as an EEG), measuring electricity levels over areas of the scalp. The combination of electrical activity of the brain is commonly called a Brainwave pattern, because of its cyclic, 'wave-like' nature. Our mind regulates its activities by means of electric waves which are registered in the brain, emiting tiny electrochemical impulses of varied frequencies, which can be registered by an electroencephalogram. These brainwaves are known as: Beta emited when we are consciously alert, or we feel agitated, tense, afraid, with frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale.
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2 Alpha when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although aware of what is happening around us, its frequency are around 7 to 13 pulses per second.
3 Theta more or less 4 to 7 pulses, it is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness.
4 Delta when there is unconsciousness, deep sleep or catalepsy, emitting between 0.1 and 4 cycles per second.
In general, we are accostumed to using the beta brain rythm. When we diminish the brain rythm to alpha, we put ourselves in the ideal condition to learn new information, keep fact, data, perform elaborate tasks, learn languages, analyse complex situations. Meditation, relaxation exercises, and activities that enable the sense of calm, also enable this alpha state. According to neuroscientists, analysing electroencephalograms of people submmited to tests in order to research the effect of decreasing the brain rythm, the attentive relaxation or the deep relaxation, produce signficant increases in the levels of beta-endorphin, noroepinephrine and dopamine, linked to feelings of enlarged mental clarity and formation of rememberances, and that this effect lasts for hours and even days. It is an ideal state for synthetic thought and creativity, the proper functions of the right hemisphere. As it is easy for the hemisphere to create images, to visualise, to make associations, to deal with drawings, diagrams and emotions, as well as the use of good-humour and pleasure, learning is better absorbed if these elements are added to the study methods.
What are Alpha Brain Waves?
Alpha Brain Waves are a sign of relaxed activity in your brain. Alpha brainwaves are defined as brain waves that cycle between the frequency 8 Hz – 12 Hz. They are commonly produced in synchronized fashion connecting both hemispheres of your brain, though they can be found solely in the right hemisphere as well. Alpha brainwaves are the dominant brain wave activity when your body and mind are able to relax. If you have ever practiced meditation, yoga, or even felt relaxed after drinking alcohol – you have experienced alpha brain waves.
Alpha brain wave activity is common among highly creative individuals who have a clear mind or are experiencing relaxation. If you close your eyes for a minute or so, your alpha brain wave activity will significantly increase. As you open your eyes, the more stressful beta brain waves become the dominant pattern. In comparison, as a child you will have had significantly greater amounts of alpha brain wave activity than you will as an adult. Alpha brain waves have long been considered to be regarded as the healthiest brain wave range, but also the “safest” brain wave range to entrain – especially at 10 Hz (e.g. 10 cycles per second).
As an early teen or child, you likely had a dominant alpha brainwave pattern. Should you choose to experience a dominant alpha brain wave again, I recommend checking the products section. Most of the products recommended will do a nice job at increasing your alpha brain wave activity. I want to make it clear that there isn’t a single brain wave state that is “better” than the others to be in – each have their advantages and disadvantages. However, most people are lacking in at least one brain wave pattern. For the majority of individuals, alpha brain waves happen to be the lacking frequency range. Things like environmental stressors, fear, anxiety, tension, and overworking tend to deplete your alpha wave activity. Below, I will outline several benefits of alpha brain waves and also discuss ways in which you can naturally increase your alpha activity.
Benefits of Alpha Brain Waves:
Relaxing Thoughts / Relaxed Body – The alpha brainwave is produced when your body calms down and your mind is completely relaxed. Your brain’s thinking is slower, your mind is clear and you may even feel slightly drowsy. Your body has zero stress, tension, anxiety, or other feelings of being nervous. Increasing your alpha brain wave activity is a profound way to reduce your stress. Access Creative States – If you consider yourself to have above-average creativity, chances are that you often experience an alpha brain wave state. Artists, innovative thinkers, and singers are generally found to have higher alpha activity than the average person. If you feel that your creativity is lacking, an increase in your alpha waves will feel great. Enhanced Problem Solving – Most people cannot seem to tap their alpha waves to help them problem solve. Alpha waves integrate both hemispheres of your brain for better communication and clearer thinking. The problem with lacking alpha waves is that your left-hemisphere is pulling all the weight in solving a problem, when your right-hemisphere has a solution waiting to communicate to the left. Increasing your alpha brain waves can benefit artists, writers (for writers block), and creative thinkers. You certainly won’t feel mentally “stuck” in the alpha state. In order to tap your inner creativity, your brain must be able to produce synchronous bursts of alpha waves. Calming, Centered Emotions – Alpha brain waves will put you in a calm emotional state. You will not feel powerful emotions, however, you will feel “content” and centered. If you are stressed out or nerved up, you likely haven’t had access to the alpha brain waves in a long time. Getting back in an alpha state will stabilize your intense emotions and you will feel good about yourself. Optimal Athletic Performance – Interestingly enough, if you are an athlete, you could significantly improve your performance by entraining some alpha brain waves. There is published evidence showing that just before a golfer hits their best shot or a basketball player sinks a shot (think LeBron and Kobe), alpha activity bursts in the left-hemisphere of their brain. Elite marksmen also have shown a significant burst of alpha wave activity before perfect shots. Also unique is the fact that the EEG’s (brain wave measurement) of pro-athletes are very likely to display the alpha rhythm, whereas newbie athletes and even decent athletes do not demonstrate any alpha activity. The best brain wave to entrain for peak performance has been widely considered to be 10 Hz (i.e. 10 cycles per second). I encourage athletes to give some alpha entrainment a shot and see if it puts you “in the zone.” Reductions of Fear, Tension, Stress, Nervousness, Anxiety – Increasing your alpha brain waves automatically leads to decreasing your fears, tension, stress, nerves, and anxiety. If you have ever gotten so caught up in a stressful or fearful state, that you literally “forgot how to relax,” then having the ability to increase your alpha brain waves would feel like you’ve been given a miracle drug. Everything Seems to “Flow” – Being able to access “flow” means that you are able to tap a state of mind where all of life’s events seem to pass quickly and all challenges are easily and quickly overcome. “Flow” is a period of time when you do not have any resistance or problems. You are in a mental state with optimal brain wave stimulation – you are not thinking too rapidly as to stress yourself out, yet you are also not thinking too slow as to be tired; you are right in the middle between the two. You feel “balanced” and understand that you are in a desirable state of mental functioning. Ability to Tap “Super Learning” – The ability to learn quickly and effortlessly has been described as the phenomena of “super learning.” Basically, your brain is able to remember and recall information with less effort than normal. Alpha waves will allow your brain to retain large quantities of information. This is due to the fact that both hemispheres of your brain are integrated and communicating with each other. Improved Immune System Functioning – Your alpha waves are responsible for amping up your immune system. They have been linked to health, recovery from sickness, and serve as protection from stress-related illnesses. Stress can quickly ramp up damage on your immune system if you go long periods without taking some time to relax; thus increasing alpha activity. Think Positive – Research indicates that due to the calm, wellbeing as a result of increasing alpha brain wave activity, positive thinking and positive emotions also result. I can personally testify for this one – after having gotten caught up in stress for a prolonged period – my thinking became increasingly positive after a few sessions of alpha entrainment; likely resulting from increased mental peace and calmness. Alpha Brain Waves = Nautral Antidepressant – Alpha brain waves allow for increased release of an important neurotransmitter called “Serotonin.” Serotonin production usually drops to lower than normal levels in your brain when you feel depressed. In fact, most antidepressants nowdays aim to increase low levels of serotonin in the brain (do a search for “SSRI’s” to find out more). For these reasons, it makes sense that alpha brain waves may help ward off your blues. Internal Awareness – Alpha brainwaves are associated with an increased awareness of your self: body and mind. Where as beta brainwaves cause the mind to focus more on external events, the alpha brainwaves enhance the overall awareness of one’s self. People with Higher than Average Amounts of Alpha Brain Waves
Outgoing People, Extroverts – Generally, if you are more outgoing and consider yourself extroverted, you have more alpha brain waves than introverts. The consensus seems to be that if you have plenty of alpha activity, you are more than 3X as likely to be outgoing. It makes perfect sense – introverts are less comfortable during social interaction – whereas being social comes natural for extroverts. People who Meditate – If you practice meditation, then you have definitely accessed the alpha brain wave state. Each time as you close your eyes to meditate, you experience a surge of alpha brain wave activity. If you want to naturally increase your alpha activity, try meditation. As a Child – As a child, you tend to experience much greater activity in the alpha range. As you age, your brain shifts away from alpha to another range (commonly the beta range). It is important to recognize that even though you are not still a child, you can still have access to alpha waves. The majority of the adult population would benefit from increasing their alpha brain waves. - See more at: http://www.brainwavesblog.com/alpha-brain-waves/#sthash.vk9yR7OM.dpuf
XXXXAlso: Start a Meditation Routine – Meditation will get you into the alpha brainwave state fairly quickly after some practice (provided you know what your doing). If you make meditation a daily practice or start up a routine, you will be able to tap into that alpha state. The nice thing about meditation is that it’s free and very effective. However, I do not think it is as effective as the combination of meditation with brainwave entrainment. So even if you are meditating, consider trying it with entrainment software. I like using brainwave entrainment software with meditation because you can control the exact frequency to which you access during your meditation. It will also help you access alpha waves more quickly and more profoundly than it would if you used only meditation. - See more at: http://www.brainwavesblog.com/how-to-increase-alpha-brain-waves/#sthash.cgGg0vSM.dpuf Closed-Eyes Visualization – Each and every time that you shut your eyes and attempt to visualize, your alpha brain waves profoundly increase. If you are able to focus on pictures in your mind or using your imagination to create pictures, you know what it’s like to access alpha brain waves. As with meditation, I prefer to utilize brainwave entrainment software to help me create a more vivid visualization. Yoga, Yoga, Yoga – Though I don’t personally practice Yoga, it is another way to boost your alpha waves. If you are feeling relaxed while practicing your yoga, then you know what it’s like to increase your alpha brain wave activity. I’m not sure if I’d want to use brainwave entrainment while doing yoga – after all those poses can get pretty complicated ridiculous. Deep-Breathing Exercises – Utilizing deep-breathing exercises is a quick way to tap into your alpha brain wave range. Do a Google search and look up some deep breathing exercises. Not only will deep-breathing amp up your alpha levels, it has been found to increase your brain’s oxygen level. - See more at: http://www.brainwavesblog.com/how-to-increase-alpha-brain-waves/#sthash.cgGg0vSM.dpuf
REF 2 ACTIVATING THE RELAXATION RESPONSE
The activation of the "relaxation response," in opposition to the activation of the "fight-flight" response, lies in the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is stimulated by a rhythmical activity in meditative activities such as chanting, breathing in a pattern, or saying prayers over and over, the individual begins to feel calm, relaxed, and anxiety free. When the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system is activated by any of these activities, the following physiological reactions occur:
- Slowing of heart rate
- Decrease in respiration
- Decrease in metabolism
- Increase in salivation and digestion
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Increase in alpha brain waves
- Feeling of relaxation
- Feeling of warmth and heaviness
In 1970, R.K. Wallace published results concerning the physiological effects of meditation, which are similar to the effects of parasympathetic nervous system stimulation. He showed that during meditation, oxygen consumption of the body was decreased. The production of lactic acid was also decreased, thus indicating a slowing down of metabolism. A decrease in heart rate and cardiac output indicated a reduction in the workload of the heart. The skin had an increased resistance to the passage of an electrical current, indicating decreased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. An increase in slow theta and alpha brain waves indicated a more restful state. Wallace found that meditators he studied were in a restful and relaxed state after meditation. They were awake, alert, and exhibited increased reaction time, improved coordination, and improved hearing ability. Some meditators indicated that meditation resulted in a "natural high." These effects of meditation appear to result from the activation of the parasympathetic system and perhaps even the creation of natural opiates in the brain.
As has been previously mentioned, "natural opiates" and their receptor sites have been found in the brain. These brain chemicals-endorphins- have been found to block pain and to create a feeling of euphoria or a "high' much like opiates. It is thought that the "high" or euphoria from vigorous physical exertion, risky activities, gambling, meditation, and starvation may be due to the production of these brain chemicals. In theory, the endorphins, and probably other brain-manufactured "drugs," are released in response to both physical and psychological stress and/or other physiological states. This release may be induced by stimulation of the autonomic nervous system; however, research is not yet conclusive as to the mechanism of this phenomenon.
The Altered State or "Flow" Experience
Csikszentmihalyi discusses similar states that are described by individuals who become absorbed in various creative and recreational activities. A person who is completely involved in an activity, whether it be chess, rock climbing, the arts, dance, or anything else, often experiences certain subjective feelings called the "flow state." The flow state is a feeling of unified flowing from one moment to the next in which the person is in control of his/her actions and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, past, present, and future, stimulus or response. While in the flow state, the person usually does not think of him/herself as being separate from what he/she is doing. Individuals in the flow state are usually oblivious to their surroundings and describe what they experience in the following ways:
in control of their actions, even if it is a potentially dangerous activity a general feeling of well-being an altered sense of time a merging of action and awareness clarity and manageability of limits happiness, health, vision integration of mind and body understanding of true self and self integration sense of place in the universe and oneness of nature This sense of flow, or altered state, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is what causes certain individuals to sacrifice power, fame, and money for such things as artistic creativity, hobbies, and other recreational and sports activities. He implies that this flow or altered state experience can be a strong motivator for many individuals and can be an alternative to drug use. MORE: PHYSICAL EXERTION
Rhythmic physical exertion such as running, jogging, fast walking, swimming, bicycling, and dancing are thought to create a training effect. In the training effect the heart and other muscles are made stronger and the respiratory system has an increased capacity to take in air and exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The hormonal system and metabolic reactions are also strengthened in their ability to cope with stressors. During physical activity, all of these systems are stimulated for action. However, about ninety minutes after a good physical bout of exercise, a feeling of deep relaxation occurs. To benefit from the training effect, one needs to accomplish the exercise at least three times a week for at least twenty minutes at a time. Other vigorous activities such as self defense and active sports can also promote feelings of well-being and fitness.
Jogging, Running, and Fast Walking. The cheapest vigorous exercise is jogging, running, or fast walking. You do not need any special equipment and can do it almost anywhere and in any season. This type of exercise can help you lose weight, decrease the appetite, and keep you in good physical shape besides eliciting an altered state and reducing tension. The only disadvantage is that jogging and running may cause knee injuries in some people. This is often found among those who tend to "push themselves."
Before you start a jogging or running program, you should check with your physician to make sure that you do not have a serious medical condition. This is especially true if you are over the age of forty. Many individuals have suddenly died of heart attacks after a bout of exercise, such as snow shoveling, when they had not exercised for years.
The following are some guidelines for beginning a jogging or running program:
Wear rubber-soled tennis or running shoes. They do not need to be expensive or "name brand." However, they need to support your foot when you run and must fit comfortably.
Wear Socks. In some areas of the country, it is fashionable among college students not to wear socks with shoes. However, socks help absorb the shock to the foot when it meets the ground in running, and they help to prevent the formation of blisters.
During warm weather wear shorts and a T-shirt. Long pants such as "long johns" and several sweaters or a sweat shirt are needed for cold weather. There are all types of fashionable exercising outfits on the market. They are not necessary for fitness programs, even though advertisements try to convince you they are.
Test your physical condition by doing a Fitness Test. In this test, you run or walk as far as you can in twelve minutes. After a month of exercise, take the test again and see if you have improved if you were in the "Fair" to "Very Poor" categories.
- If you are not used to physical activity, start off slowly. You should be able to talk and jog at the same time. If you find that you are panting or that your heart rate is above 160 beats per minute, stop jogging and walk for awhile.
Swimming and Biking. Swimming is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning and total body fitness. It produces little jar to body joints. The disadvantages are that it requires learned skill and special facilities. It also tends to be seasonal unless there is an indoor pool available. There is the minimal cost of the swimsuit. If you have never learned to swim, you might like to seek out swimming lessons at your school. Most communities have lessons offered by the YMCA, Red Cross, and other groups.
Bike riding promotes good cardiovascular conditioning and aids in weight control. It is easier on the joints than jogging, running or fast walking. It is also an excellent energy saving transportation. There are several disadvantages of bike riding. It requires a learned skill, a bike is sometimes expensive to buy, and there is always a risk of riding in automobile traffic. Riding for several miles does promote tension reduction and usually a feeling of well-being. It is also an activity that can easily be done alone or with other people.
Dancing. There are many types of dancing. They aid in weight control, can be done in almost any location, and are good for cardiovascular conditioning. Dancing can include disco, rock and roll, folk, aerobic, ballet, and T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Disco and rock and roll dancing tends to be done in public places with people as a social activity. However, as an exercise and alternative, a disco tape or record can be played at home and danced to. Many university communities have folk dancing groups. At these groups various dances from different cultures are learned and practiced. Square dancing and clogging are sometimes considered North American folk dancing forms and can usually be found in rural areas of the continent. However, many college communities have clubs devoted to square dancing.
Aerobic dancing is primarily exercising to music. Various steps and body motions are performed. This is an excellent conditioning exercise and can be done in a group or at home to a tape or record. There are several books on the market that illustrate a variety of aerobic exercises.
Ballet and classical dance usually take more practice than other current dance forms. Training and instruction are required for several years to arrive at some degree of accomplishment. However, individuals who accomplish and practice ballet often report that it promotes relaxation and well-being.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is an oriental dance and self protection exercise. It is concerned with motion and change and is done in slow motion. It also has a meditative quality. Most practitioners report an altered state plus relaxation from engaging in this dancelike activity.
Self Defense Activities. Karate, Tae Kwando, and other self defense/martial art activities promote both rhythmical exercise and meditative concentration. These dance-defense-exercise forms are from the Orient and have been practiced in one form or another for hundreds of years. In Japan the Samurai, or warrior, class was expected to be proficient in many of these defense forms. Ritual, mental, and physical discipline and concentration are found in all of the self defense activities. Practitioners often report feelings of confidence and altered states after participating in these exercises. MORE: Meditation
There are many forms of meditation. Most trace their ancestry from ancient yoga and Zen Buddhism. Over the last decade, TM, or transcendental Meditation, based upon Hindu teaching, has become popular in the west. A secret mantra (sound) is given to the meditator by a teacher of the technique. This sound is then repeated over and over with eyes closed.
Some types of Hindu and Buddhist practices focus upon a mandala- a visualization of some object such as a thousand-petal lotus. Regardless of their origin, all the meditative techniques have at least two phases. The first is to quiet the body, and the second is to quiet the mind. This is often done in the following sequence:
- Relaxing the motor muscles i.e. arms, legs
- Decreasing the breathing rate.
- Decreasing the rate of other body functions.
- Slowing brain activities.
Meditation is often considered the process of trying to eliminate the chatter of the mind-the constant thinking, planning, and fantasizing-which occupies the conscious state of the mind every waking moment. As arousal is reduced, so is anxiety. Self transcendence, or an altered state, is then achieved. Most meditators find they feel creative, positive, calm, and energetic after meditation.
A simple easy to learn meditative exercise, which combines both a mantra and a mandala, is described as follows:
Find a quiet place where you can be alone if possible. (This technique may be done in crowded places as long as it is appropriate for you to close your eyes. If you cannot escape to your bedroom or other isolated spot, you can always close the stall door in a public facility to achieve some degree of aloneness and privacy.)
Sit in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Let your thoughts come and go.
Start to visualize a particular object-for example, a rose.
In your thoughts, start to repeat the word for the object-"rose"-over and over, at any speed or rhythm it wants to go.
As you continue to repeat the word, start to imagine the rose opening and closing in the same rhythm.
If distracting thoughts come into your mind, let them pass through. Continue to repeat your word and see its image. (Often, worries of the day, like "what shall I have for dinner" or "I have three exams to study for," will flow through your mind to distract you.?
Keep this process going from two to twenty minutes.
- When it is time to stop, open your eyes slowly.
You should feel relaxed, refreshed, and less anxious after trying this technique.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning "union". The practice is at least 3000 years old, and its origins can be traced to India. It is considered to be a philosophical system. There are now several sects or "paths" of yoga which have developed over the years. Bhakti yoga is a way of devotion of love and faith directed to God. It uses chants and worship, Dhyana yoga is a method of concentration. It is a purely mental discipline leading to trance states. Karma yoga is concerned with selfless work and good deeds. Charitable acts are accomplished by individuals who follow this path. Kriya yoga is primarily concerned with religious action and ritualism. Kundalini yoga theorizes potential energy coiled up in the nervous system, which can be released with the recitation of sacred mantras. Hatha yoga is the most familiar to Westerners. It is the path of health using exercise as a means to mental and physical harmony.
All forms of yoga teach methods of concentration ad contemplation to control the mind, subdue the primitive consciousness, and bring the physical body under control of the will. In Hatha yoga, slow stretching of the muscles in exercise is taught, along with breathing in certain rhythmical patterns. The body positions or asamas for exercises and meditation can be learned, with some practice, by most. These positions are thought to clear the mind and create energy and a state of relaxation for the individual.
A common breathing technique that can be done while in the Siddha, or Lotus position (sitting on the floor with the feet tucked under the knees), is as follows:
Sit comfortably in the Siddha position.
Breathe in through the mouth to the count of 6. Hold your breath to the count of 9. Exhale your breath through the mouth to the count of 3.
Repeat this procedure three times.
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose, using this procedure, three times.
Then hold the left nostril closed with a finger and repeat the procedure, breathing through the right nostril three times.
- Continue to repeat the procedure in the following manner.
Breathe through the left nostril, breathe deeply or shallowly, hot or cold, panting, puffing, or making animal-like noises such as mooing, cooing, barking, etc. Repeat each of the breathing patterns three times for each sound or part you are concentrating upon.
These breathing exercises can then be done in the various yoga positions. After engaging in this activity, many find that they feel relaxed and are energized, alert, and calm.
Like most other mind-altering techniques, hypnosis is very ancient. The earliest documented use of hypnotherapy dates back 3000 years to the Evers Papyrus of ancient Egypt. The sleep temples of the Babylonians and ancient Greeks are other examples of early hypnosis centers. Hypnosis has waxed and waned in popularity over the centuries. Until recently, it has not been popular in North America. However, hypnotic techniques under different names, such as visualization and imaging, have been used increasingly over the past twenty years. Mental health professionals are now also beginning to use hypnosis in treatment. Many hypnosis techniques are easy to learn and can bring relaxation, altered states, and alertness. They can also relieve headaches and other chronic pain and are effective against insomnia.
When people think of hypnosis, they often think of a trance state that takes special preparation, intelligence, or skill to achieve. However, going into a trance through self hypnosis is something we do every day. For example, when you drive a car and suddenly "wake up," realizing that you had driven further than you thought, you have just come out of trance. Daydreaming in a boring lecture is another example of a trance state. Using self hypnosis for relaxation or concentration is taking this natural skill of relaxed, focused concentration and putting it to use for your benefit.
The following procedure is a simple self hypnosis technique that takes about ten to twenty minutes to accomplish.
Sit in a comfortable chair.
Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out ten times.
Imagine that you are at the top of the stairs in an old mansion.
Each time you breathe out, start to take a step down the stairs.
As you are breathing and stepping down, start counting backwards from 20 to 1.
As you are breathing, counting, and walking, down the steps you may notice that your body is beginning to feel relaxed, warm, and heavy.
When you have reached the bottom of the stairs, go out a door that opens onto a beach.
After you have walked through the door to the beach, feel the warm sun on your body. Hear the waves washing against the shore and the sound of seagulls. Feel the warm sand flowing through your toes. Smell the fresh salt air. See the sparkling water and the blue sky above you. Enjoy the beach for a few moments.
- When you are ready to reorient yourself back to your surrounding environment, start to count from 1 to 20. At the count of 20, you will feel refreshed, alert, relaxed, and wide awake.
ref3: Benefits of Meditation
By relaxing the body and calming the mind, meditation can reduce the harmful effects of tension and stress - factors that are associated with many medical conditions. Although meditation has its roots in Eastern religious practice, it appears that the health benefits are independent of the spiritual aspects. You can bring your own beliefs and worldview to the meditative experience.
Members of many Eastern religions have long realized the benefits of meditation, but most Westerners have approached the practice with a skeptical eye. In 1968, Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School decided to look more deeply into this eastern method that was gaining popularity in the West. Volunteer practitioners of Transcendental Meditation were tested to see if meditation really could counter the physiological effects of stress. Benson's research found that during meditation:
Heartbeat and breathing rates slow down,
Oxygen consumption falls by 20 percent,
Blood lactate levels, which are known to rise with stress and fatigue, drop,
- Electroencephalograms (EEG) show an increase of alpha brain wave patterns, another sign of relaxation.
In research on meditation and its affects on anxiety, results have shown reductions in anxiety levels after beginning regular practice of meditation (Carrington, 1993). Many stress-related illnesses have also responded favorably to meditation. Meditation has been correlated with improvement in the breathing patterns of patients with bronchial asthma; with decreased blood pressure in both pharmacologically treated and untreated hypertensive patients; with reduced premature ventricular contractions in patients with ischemic heart disease; with reduced symptoms of angina pectoris; with reduced serum cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolemic patients; with reduced sleep-onset insomnia; with amelioration of stuttering; with lowered blood sugar levels in diabetic patients; and with reductions in the symptoms of psychiatric illness including depression. Thus, meditation can be seen as a useful and effective intervention in both reducing stress and dealing with wide variety of stress-related illnesses (Carrington, 1993).