First, there are the health benefits: Studies show that meditation not only boosts the immune system but actually rewires the brain to reduce stress. Dr. Herbert Benson, professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, measured the heart rate and blood pressure of meditators. He found that when meditating they used 17% less oxygen and lowered their heart rate by three beats a minute. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, studied patients with psoriasis - a skin disease that is treated by having patients stand in an ultra-violet light box. He picked half the patients at random and taught them to meditate while the other half used the light box. In two experiments the meditators' skin cleared up at four times the rate of the non-meditators. He also experimented with giving flu shots to both meditators and non-meditators and found that, even after eight weeks, the meditators had more antibodies in their systems. Meditation is now being recommended by many physicians as a way to prevent, slow and control pain associated with heart conditions, AIDS, cancer and infertility.
Then there are the psychological benefits: Tests using imaging techniques suggest that meditation can change "the boiling point" at which people succumb to road rage and other explosive emotions. At Cambridge University, John Teasdale found that meditation helped chronically depressed patients, reducing their relapse rate by half. Roger Walsh, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, studied how meditators can control their psychological states. He found that meditators can train their brains to stimulate the frontal concentration-oriented areas of the brain. The sports world is beginning to utilize this effect of meditation, most notably Phil Jackson, the basketball coach. Many people in the arts use meditation to deepen their creativity.
Finally there are the spiritual benefits: The root of meditation lies in the belief that by sitting in silence for at least 20 minutes a day, concentrating on a word, image or your breath, you begin to change your focus from rehashing past events and worrying about the future to an calm acceptance of the present. The longer a person meditates, the more likely it is that he/she will shift from a purely personal point of view to a broader perspective that includes spiritual growth. Deepak Chopra states that meditation is "the most powerful tool for my own, or anyone else's spiritual transformation."
How do I do it?
All you need is a quiet space where you won't be interrupted. If you're just starting out, a class can be helpful to orient you and keep you focused. For veteran meditators, meditating with other people brings an added dimension to the experience.
Amy Benesch has been teaching meditation in the tri-state area for over three years. She welcomes both beginner and experienced meditators to her classes. She can be reached at 914-237-0241 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.