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Why meditate?

Dealing with changes, odd lifestyle, a situation which is totally out of our control, restrictions and limitations on our freedom and social interaction that have not been experienced for a long time have brought at best a sense of unease and at worse stress, anxiety and panic attacks. I know - it is challenging to sit and meditate and you may ask why? What good will it do? Perfectly legitimate questions. I will explain why. Earlier today, I attended a webinar of Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram today, led by Śrī S Sridharan, Trustee of KYM and senior mentor. My interest was on the yoga philosophy aspects he was going to talk about. Śrī S Sridharan went through some of the principles, thousands of years old. One by one he explained how these can be relevant to the challenging situation presently facing our families, friends, community, and the world. Undoubtedly, our lives have changed with the rise and spread of the virus. We have little control over the situation. Uncertainty and fear likely to be experienced at this time. Whilst the internet, social media, TV and other modern communications have been extremely useful in this situation, Śrī S Sridharan pointed out that the terminology used may have an effect on our emotional state. We hear words such as 'fighting' the virus - not 'treating' the virus - we cannot physically fight it after all, it is an invisible enemy. That terminology may trigger 'the flight and fight response' that has implications on the sympathetic nervous system. When this is triggered, chemicals, nerve impulses and hormones are released in the body (heart, lungs and digestive system) on the brain’s instructions. The heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and blood flow to the muscles, increased secretion from the glands brings about sweating, the pupils dilatate and the digestive system pauses. Noradrenaline or adrenaline is released into the body depending if we are preparing for action or fleeing.

So what, you may ask?

When fear and uncertainty lead to stress, the immune system weakens and that in turn, make the body weaker. So, we need to reverse the stress response and call upon the 'relaxation response'. Breathing deeply and slowly to decrease oxygen consumption and increase carbon-dioxide elimination, slow heart rate and breathing rate, suppressing our sympathetic nervous system and making way for our parasympathetic nervous system to switch on. We need our brain to instruct the release of melatonin and endorphins, chemicals that help us to calm and be free from pain, naturally.

Herbert Benson, M D, conducted several studies on the effects of stress and summarized the elements conducive to what he described as the relaxation response[1]:

  • a quiet environment, free from distractions;

  • a mental device such as word, sound or object to aid focusing and concentration;

  • a passive attitude through repetition, a willingness to allow no thoughts interfere with the process;

  • sitting comfortably, with no tension in the body;

  • breathing, deeply and slowing, counting or repeating the chosen word, mantra or sound, for 10 to 20 minutes.

This is what we do during the weekly on line session Relaxation & Meditation on Wednesdays, at 6pm.

We need focus, concentrate and meditate now more than ever...

[1] from The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD

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