Meditation has its advantages

by Nick Mecikalski ,Huntsville Times, April 20, 2009

Studies show it can reduce stress, cut disease risks

Birmingham, AL (USA) -- When my instructor told me to sit perfectly still, keep my back straight, close my eyes, and not listen to anything but the sound of my own breathing, all for 10 minutes, I didn't think I would be able to survive. Who did he think I was? A Buddhist monk?

But I followed the directions, and by the end of the 10 minutes I had such an antsy urge to move, talk, do something, that I felt like I was going to just pop.

"It's called meditation," he told us as we (finally) opened our eyes, squinting against the light of the real world. "Don't you feel good?"

Well, I did feel good, but more because I could finally move again rather than because my mind was "cleared." My first try at meditation had been excruciating, but something compelled me to try it again. And again. And again.

Luckily, those attempts were a little more pleasant than the first. That night in bed when I couldn't sleep I tried some of the meditation tactics, and I was out like a light.

So what exactly was this meditation in the first place? Could sitting and doing absolutely nothing really make you a happier person, as all the meditation gurus say? Well, in fact, it can, and it's not "just because."

To be scientific for a second, Psychology Today reports that those who meditate generally produce less of the stress hormone cortisol. I'm sure most all of us have heard that meditation is a stress reducer. And it is.

In fact, it's a remarkable stress reducer. From simple anxiety to troubling depression, meditation has been shown to cure or significantly help many problems. This information about stress definitely seemed to follow what I had experienced as I continued to meditate.

I did more research and found that people who meditate have been shown to have more effective immune systems, which enables them to fight other diseases. The chances of heart attacks, strokes, atherosclerosis and gastrointestinal diseases have all been shown to decrease with meditation.