Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meditation Can Give You a Lift

You wake up early in the morning to get ready for work, school or for whatever schedule you have for the day. You feel sluggish of course but several minutes after drinking that morning cup of coffee or tea, you feel a 'lift' and you are ready to start your day headstrong. Several hours later, you may feel tired but you need to work so you drink another cup to give you a lift to keep you going, and it does.

That's what most people drink coffee or tea for, to get a 'lift'. Indeed coffee and tea gives you that heightened energy and wakefulness - caffeine is mostly responsible for that. Coffee and tea contains other ingredients that can benefit the body like antioxidants but caffeine is mostly responsible for giving us that 'up' or 'lift' feeling.

EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate), a catechin which possess several times antioxidant power than vitamin c and e, is a major ingredient of tea. Aside from its antioxidant capacity, it can also prevent bacteria and viruses from adhering to cell walls.

There are many other beneficial ingredients in tea like theanine but it comes together with caffeine which in the long run may do some damage to your body. It can elevate your stress hormones and fatigue your adrenal glands. It can even degrade your quality of sleep. Sleep by the way is very important to our health.

The best way to gain benefits from coffee or tea is to choose the decaffeinated varieties but it would not give you the same 'lift' that you feel with the caffeinated one.

There are other healthful ways to get a 'lift' and re-energize your body and mind to keep you going for the rest of the day. If you can spare fifteen to thirty minutes, then try meditation or 'power naps'. It's amazing how a few minutes of meditation can re-energize your body and mind. It's healthful and has no side effects.

The idea behind meditation

When in a meditative state, your brain waves shift from beta to alpha. To get the most benefit from meditation, you need to stay in this 'alpha' state for fifteen to thirty minutes. If you are new to meditation, you may frequently go back to 'beta' state or you may fall to the sleep - 'theta' state. After a successful meditation, your mind and body will be energized and solutions to problems at hand may just pop up. What's more it's a very good stress reliever.

The beta state

When we are fully awake and fully conscious, our mind is full of 'talking and whispers'. Even if we are concentrating on a certain task like reading, calculating, talking, analyzing, etc - our minds are also thinking on several other things. If we concentrate less on a certain task, other thoughts will surface and will become the conscious focus. Take for example speed reading, the faster you read the more you can comprehend. If you read slowly, the more 'vacant' moments there will be for other mind 'whispers' to distract your focus. Handling so many information both external and internal from our minds can tire the mind and body.

Information external from the mind are the physical inputs from our senses - touch, hearing, taste, and smell. You may not be conscious of it but the roar of car engines passing by, the smell of barbecue, the warmth of your buttocks in the chair, etc., are being processed by your brain.

Internal information that are also processed by the brain are concerns of your daily life and the seemingly non rational bickerings of your subconscious mind. Mortgage payment, PTA meeting, what you want to eat for lunch and a lot more others are being processed by your mind. Suffice it to say, the body spends energy for those thoughts. Especially when thoughts leading to anxiety arise, which caffeine by the way can initiate.

Our minds process very many information not just the one you are currently involved in. This mind/brain activities slowly tires us until productivity and performance for our task diminishes.

The alpha state

Our brain waves does not immediately shift from one state to another. When entering the alpha state, it still goes back to beta in intervals until you are fully in the alpha state. Then gradually shifts to theta and so on as depicted by the image below.

alpha theta delta

In this state, the frequency of the brain waves are lower than the beta brain waves but have higher amplitude or strength.

Anger, guilt, worries and other negative thoughts which can make us ill are left behind and our own body's natural healing mechanisms come into play. When negative thoughts enter the mind when you are in alpha state, your mind will simply go back to beta state. To remain in alpha state for several minutes is the goal of meditation. It allows are own healing and relaxation mechanisms to work on our 'spent' body that's why we become energized.

To get into the meditative state, we need to be in the position where we are not fully in the alpha state otherwise we may easily move on to theta - light sleep. We should be a little conscious ( a little beta and more alpha). Supposing the alpha state is the plateau as you see in the image and your conscious state is the ball. If the ball goes to the middle of the plateau where there is no more beta waves then the natural course of the sleep cycle will occur because there is no more conscious thought to stop it. You will fall asleep.

To hold on to that state for several minutes is the ideal meditative state, more alpha and lesser beta.

2 basic ways to get into a meditative state

  • Thinking of nothing - this would be quite difficult to attain because our minds are full of 'talk' . To ignore all these 'talk' which are all waiting to get your conscious attention would be quite difficult.
  • Thinking of only one thing - this is an easier way since we have some thought to hold on to. You can visualize an apple; repeating a word or phrase - silently or aloud; listen to the ticking of a clock; observing your breath - feel the air enter your nostrils then to your lungs, feel how it expands your diaphragm and chest, etc.

These ways are employed for quieting the mind which would allow us to enter the alpha state while still being in a little beta. To quiet the mind then would be either to think of nothing or think of only one thing. This would require a lot less energy for the mind compared to being in beta where all those thoughts are occurring whether you are conscious of it or not.

Prepare yourself for meditation

To help you not to fall asleep in the meditation process, it would be a good idea to give your brain an ample supply of oxygen. One way to do this is to breathe deeply several times. Here's the proper way for deep breathing.

  • Expand your diaphragm as far as it goes, then expand your chest to let more air in your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for a second or two.
  • Exhale slowly

Do this 5 or 10 times before meditating so that you will less likely to fall asleep.

A simple way to meditate

Observing your breath is a good way to start practicing meditation. It would be a good idea to use an alarm clock or a timer and set it for 15 minutes. As you get more adept to meditation, you won't need a timer anymore as your body will adjust to the time automatically.

After you have prepared by breathing deeply, sit comfortably in a chair. It is advisable not to lie down as you might fall asleep.

Before observing your breath, feel and be conscious of your body parts from the feet to the head. If you feel some tension in any part, try to relax the muscles.

  • Breathe in - feel the air enter your nostrils and enter your lungs. Feel your diaphragm expanding.
  • Breath out- Feel your diaphragm contracting while the air is leaving your lungs out to your nostrils.

Focus only in your breathing until the alarm goes off. If any thought comes to your mind (as it will) simply shove it away by focusing on your breathing. If you feel sleepy, again focus on your breathing.

Some distractions may not easily be shoved off like being bitten by a mosquito. The itchiness cannot just be shoved away by not thinking about it. The itch will persist for several minutes distracting your meditation session. You have to remove the itch first before proceeding to meditate by maybe applying an anti itch ointment. Always deal with persisting distractions first.

If you can hold that observation of your breath for several minutes, then you'll surely reach your alpha state and feel energized afterwards. Being energized is not the only benefit you'll get out of meditation.

If you continue practicing it, the more you'll be in touch with your 'higher self' or the greater power within you. It doesn't matter how you call it but we all have an inner power not normally accessible by our conscious minds. Intuition and solutions to problems suddenly coming to light are some manifestations of that greater power within us. Practice meditation regularly and you'll be more creative and productive in your daily life.

Where can you meditate?

For the beginner, it's best to do it in a peaceful and quiet place so as to limit distractions. But for those who regularly meditate, any place will do. They can do it while riding on a bus or in a noisy office.

Other ways of meditating

There are many other ways in getting to a meditative state. Visualizing a candle flame, apple, ball or any simple object that your mind could focus on are some examples.

One other type of meditation is just to simply 'observe' what's on your mind without having any conscious participation like judging and analyzing. Simply observe the images, scenes or events as it is. The problem with this is you could fall asleep easily.

Still another type is active so to speak. You repeat a statement over and over. The statement can be something that you need to accomplish or some change that you want in yourself.

Need a lift or an energy boost?

We all need something like that in order to perform better with our daily task. You can opt for stimulants like caffeine but it can have adverse effects on your health which is not good in the long run. Opt instead for meditation which have no harmful side effects - it's all for your good - the longer you do it, the better it gets.

Vitamins and antioxidants can work for you more efficiently because there are no chemicals involved unlike caffeine which inhibits the absorption of vitamin b6, calcium and iron to name some of it's 'bad' side..

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