Stress can take a huge toll on our health, because it produces a hormone in the body called cortisol. High levels of cortisol caused by stress can contribute to depression, diabetes and heart disease, all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Meditation – the act of simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, a sound or a word – is a proven stress reducer. Scientists who have studied the meditative state say it’s equal to an aerobic workout for both short-term and long-term health benefits. Meditation can lower blood pressure, improve the body’s ability to use oxygen and reduce harmful cortisol levels.
The beauty of this relaxation technique is that all is needed is a quiet space without distractions, a few minutes of time and an open mind. Here’s how to get started:First, find a quiet place to sit away from distractions. A cross-legged position is traditional, but you can sit in a chair or any comfortable position.
Set aside at least 10 to 30 minutes to allow your mind and body to experience the full benefits of meditation. Keep your back straight and keep your posture firm yet relaxed. Close your eyes and focus on a word, a sound and your breathing.Become aware of your breath as you inhale and exhale. This awareness is the object of your meditation.
Concentrate on your breath to the exclusion of everything else. At first, your mind will wander and seem very busy, but keep focusing on your breathing. Gradually the distracting thoughts will diminish and you will feel a sense of inner peace and relaxation. Scientists call this the “Alpha,” or relaxation state.After you’ve been practicing meditation for a while, often in as few as two or three sessions, you’ll reach this relaxation state sooner, and experience the feeling of calm and serenity.
Regular meditation, even just two or three times a week, can reduce stress, keep your cortisol levels low, and help you live a long, healthier life.
When Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School introduced a simple form of meditation to relieve stress in “The Relaxation Response” twenty-five years ago, the book became an instant national bestseller. Since that time, millions of people have learned the basic technique – without high-priced lectures, drugs, or prescription medicine. If you’d like to learn his simple technique that takes minutes to learn and and ten to twenty minutes per day to practice, get a copy of the book at Amazon.com, or your favorite bookstore.