Take a Breath
Renewal through meditation.
Published: October 10, 2011
A timeless tool to balance, heal and transform.
Only a few decades ago, Western medicine viewed the body as a machine whose parts would inevitably break down until they could no longer be repaired. Medical students were taught that random chemical reactions determined everything that happened in the body, the mind and body were separate and independent from each other, and our health and lifespan were largely determined by genes.
Today scientific research is arriving at a radically different understanding, albeit one reached by ancient wisdom traditions thousands of years ago: The body and mind are inextricably connected in a network of energy and intelligence that is in constant, dynamic exchange with the world around us. With every breath we take, every mouthful of food we swallow, every sound we hear, and every sensation we feel, our body is changing.
Furthermore, we are the only creatures on the planet who can change biology through our thoughts and feelings. Our cells are constantly eavesdropping on our thoughts and being changed by them. If we experience a happy thought or a feeling of love, our body is directly influenced as messenger molecules course through the bloodstream, delivering the positive energizing effect to trillions of cells. Dark thoughts and feelings of depression suppress our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to illness.
The Ripple Effect
Even the smallest changes in energy, such as just a few words, can lead to large-scale disruptions in the body. If we find out that our spouse is filing for divorce or that our entire bank account has been wiped out, our thoughts and feelings can instantly trigger a stress response in our body. Also known as a fight-or-flight response, the physiological changes include increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, suppressed immune functioning, and accelerated breathing and oxygen consumption.
Prolonged stress can make us sick and accelerate aging. Over time, the stress response can lead to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, cancer, insomnia, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
Cultivating Restful Awareness
The opposite of the fight-or-flight response is the restful response, which includes restful sleep and the restful awareness experienced during meditation. When we’re in a state of restful awareness, our body is resting deeply while the mind is awake though quiet. Research has found that people who regularly experience restful awareness develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. They find it easier to give up life-damaging addictions to cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. People who meditate regularly also experience wide-ranging health benefits and a reversal in many of the biomarkers of aging.
In short, meditation is the perfect vehicle for renewing the body, mind, and spirit. By its very nature, meditation exposes your brain to a less active state. Through repeated exposure, your brain adapts to that stillness and silence and works gently to stem the fight-or-flight stress response. Meditation is a vital way to purify and quiet the mind, thus rejuvenating the body.
Getting Started with Meditation
I usually recommend that people learn a traditional meditation practice from a qualified instructor. That way, you know exactly what to do at any point in meditation and with any experience that comes along. Often when people try to learn on their own or from a book, they learn incorrectly and soon give up in frustration because they aren’t experiencing the expected benefits. For those who are interested, the Chopra Center offers instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation, a natural, easy practice that dates back thousands of years to India’s Vedic tradition. Another way to get started is by participating in the Center’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge program, which you can learn about at chopracentermeditation.com.
When you begin to meditate on a regular basis, you will start to notice that thoughts and feelings that may have been building up inside of you are gently released and you reach the quiet place that was always there, waiting for you – the place of pure awareness. It is there that you will experience peace, healing, and true rejuvenation.
Known as the prolific author of over 55 books with eighteen New York Times best sellers on mind-body health, spirituality, and peace, Times Magazine heralds Chopra as one of the top 100 heroes and icons of this century.