Meditation: Regulation of the breath has been used for millennia to calm the mind and heal the body. Even without a modern understanding of how the brain and body communicate, the ancients formulated breathing techniques that balanced the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of your brain, nerves, immune, and endocrine systems that determines your state of relaxation.

The autonomic nervous system is composed of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system initiates the release of stress hormones when your brain perceives that you are in danger. These hormones cause your heart rate to elevate, raises your blood pressure, and makes glucose available to fuel your muscles in preparation for combat or evasive maneuvers. It can also cause your bowels to empty and your stomach to eject its contents. This reaction is known as the fight-or-flight response.

In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system calms all these processes and returns the body to a normal state of activity. Slow, deep breathing stimulates the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system called the vagus nerve, which in turn releases hormones and neurotransmitters that slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, resume normal bowel function, and generally bring your body into balance.1

Controlling the breath is often one of the first steps employed in meditation. There are many different types of meditation—Buddhist, Hindu, Zen, Tibetan, Daoist, mindfulness, and many more. Depending on the ideology associated with the practice, the goals of meditation can range from relaxation and stress relief to compassion and spiritual enlightenment. Meditation usually results in a sense of calmness and clarity that can be difficult to describe. Numerous medical benefits have been attributed to meditation, and scientists are investigating how meditation affects the brain and overall health.

You can meditate anytime and anywhere during the day. It can be five minutes, ten minutes, or twenty minutes, depending on how much time you have. Even a ten-minute meditation break during work can be beneficial—like taking a mini-vacation. You just need to make time to do it. No matter how much you know, it is not useful without practice. Some people say you have to meditate thirty to forty-five minutes to get results. This can be intimidating for busy people; they won’t do it, because they don’t have forty-five minutes. You can take less time to meditate but do it more often and do it correctly; you can still get the benefits. It is better than not doing it at all. If you have never practiced meditation, here are some methods for you to try.

Position. Your body position should be very comfortable. You can be standing, sitting, or even lying on the ground; just do whatever feels most comfortable. If you prefer to sit on the floor, you may need a cushion or pillow to help your posture, so you won’t have backache during meditation. If you choose to lie on the floor, you may fall asleep during meditation practice. This is because meditation makes you very comfortable and relaxed.

Mind. During meditation practice, some say you need to remove all thoughts from your mind. This is actually impossible. Neuroscience has shown us that when you are awake, your brain is always on idle. If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. Your brain is always alert, always thinking, and ready to react to any danger that may arise. This constant brain activity has been dubbed the Default Mode Network. It is like the program that is supposed to be running in the background of your mind. As you are meditating, random thoughts will float in and out of your consciousness. This is normal and happens to everyone; it does not mean you have failed. Expect this to happen and when it does, notice the thought and return your attention to your breathing.

First, your mind should focus on your breathing: how deep, how slow, and how even it is. In the beginning, your breath may be too fast, but as you continue your daily practice, you will realize you can breathe more deeply, more slowly, and with more intention.

Next, focus on total relaxation. Ask yourself some questions: are my shoulders relaxed? Is my neck relaxed? Is my back relaxed? Is my body comfortable? Make sure your answer to each is yes. If not, relax each part of the body at each exhalation until all parts of the body are relaxed.

You are meditating now, so it is not the right time for you to think of work. Your mind never leaves your body, no matter how many things you have to deal with. When you leave meditation, you can do whatever you need to do. But during meditation practice, we focus on now.

Breath. Focus on breaths that are deep, slow, mindful, and controlled. With each inhalation, you bring maximum oxygen to your body; with each exhalation you relax your entire body. Really pay attention to your breath. A very effective and simple way to achieve this state of relaxation is to exhale for about twice as long as you inhale. This technique will further activate the parasympathetic nervous system and improve digestive function.

Body. Your body needs to be in a comfortable position. If you are not comfortable, you will need to find a way to make yourself comfortable. Your body needs to be completely relaxed from head to toe, including the fingers. Your facial muscles also need to be relaxed, including your jaw. Place your tongue behind your upper teeth, on the upper palate, which keeps the roof of your mouth open.

When you finish your meditation, you will feel much better, much calmer, and much more relaxed. You will feel less stressed and more focused. You can achieve more if you remain calm and focused, mindful of your feelings and thoughts as you integrate new therapies or foods into your life.

References:

T. M. Srinivasan, “Pranayama and Brain Correlates,” Ancient Science of Life 11, no. 1-2: 1–6; D. Krshnakumar, M. R. Hamblin, and S. Lakshmanan, “Meditation and Yoga Can Modulate Brain Mechanisms That Affect Behaviour and Anxiety,” Ancient Science of Life 2, no. 1: 13–19, https://doi.org/10.14259/as/v2i2il1.171; Michael M. Zanoni, “Healing Resonance Qi Gong and Hamanaleo Meditation,” https://www.mikezanoni.com/meditation-qi-gong, accessed February 4, 2018.

The above is an excerpt from True Wellness for Your Gut: Combine the best of Western and Eastern medicine for optimal Digestion, Glucose Metabolism and Weight Control, by Catherine Kurosu, MD, LAc and Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT, Publication Date October 2020, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594397455.