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Evidence Mounts for Benefits of Meditation

When Felicia Snyder voluntarily left her job at a high-tech start-up company, she found her life in transition and upheaval. On a friend's recommendation, she went on a spiritual retreat to a secluded retreat called an ashram and spent three hours a day in meditation and prayer. Her life, she says, changed for the better.

"There was this deep sense of peace, like a protective bubble around me that I had never experienced before," Snyder said.

Snyder, 27, was then inspired to found Meditation for Women, a Boston-area center devoted to giving women a comfortable haven for practicing meditation and finding balance in their lives.

Snyder is one of countless people seeking stillness amid all the commotion. Meditation can be good for the mind and soul, experts say, and it is becoming a more common way to treat health conditions. While it is not fully understood what changes in the body during meditation, the practice has been shown in various studies to relieve stress and improve the physical side effects of anxiety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refer to meditation as a group of techniques that may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, or enhance overall wellness.

How to meditate

Particularly for a beginner, the person preparing to meditate should seek a quiet location without distractions. Specific comfortable postures, a focus of attention and an open attitude are general elements of the practice.

Two common forms are mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is based on Buddhist teachings that involve focusing one's mind on the present. A person should sit alone quietly, be aware of her breathing and be mindful of the thoughts that come and go.

Transcendental Meditation is a different technique. TM is based on mantra meditation, in which the person chants a mantra or other sounds and sits comfortably for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day.

Most kinds of meditation should be practiced daily, preferably at the same time of day. Meditation should be done before a meal rather than after, and a quiet spot should be set aside for no other use than meditating.

The benefits

Two recent studies presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine showed Transcendental Meditation may reduce symptoms of depression in older adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The studies were conducted at Charles Drew University and University of Hawaii. Participants in both studies who practiced the meditation techniques showed significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared with those who did not meditate.

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While meditation of the kind described in this article may be beneficial, it bears little in common with the kind of meditation that Jesus practiced while living his life on earth. I would venture to say that learning about, and practicing "Jesus-Style Meditation" could produce even greater benefits. Unlike the forms of meditation that have come from Eastern religions, Jesus-Style meditation engages the mind and encourages a dialogue between God and the individual. Please click on the link provided to read all about it.

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