The goal of meditation is to be able to focus attention on ourselves, following perceptions, sensations, thoughts and emotions, or on the external environment in order to achieve a level of greater awareness and inner calm. Through meditation it is possible to reduce stress, anxiety, fear and anger. Numerous studies support the effectiveness of meditation in managing different forms of pain, an effective example are the studies conducted in the 1980s by John Kabat-Zinn. In association with visualization techniques (Simonton method), meditation is proven to be effective for the reduction of pain related to oncological diseases and for the containment of the side effects of chemotherapy. Other studies testify the importance of the application of these practices in the preoperative phase, to encourage the reduction of hospitalization times and the reduction of pain consequent to surgical procedures

How to start meditating
The practitioner, wearing comfortable clothes, first of all needs a quiet place, which allows him the opportunity to concentrate without interruption. Silence is not necessarily a requirement; including a background noise within your awareness and paying attention to occasional ones can become part of our meditation practice.
A good rule of thumb is to establish, before starting, the time that we will devote to our practice. Although experienced practitioners recommend two twenty-minute daily sessions, it is possible to start with one five-minute session per day.

The position that we will assume is important, therefore, where having done some stretching to relax the muscles, we will look for a dignified posture that does not overload the shoulders, neck and lower back muscles. For example, we could sit cross-legged on a pillow (lotus position). What is most important is to feel comfortable and relaxed, taking care that your spine supports the weight of the body from the waist up. Once this is done we can close our eyes (with experience it will be possible to meditate even with open eyes, without concentrating the gaze on a point, but simply maintaining a soft vision in a vacuum).

A good starting point is to focus on your own breathing, perhaps using mental images (e.g. the movement of the belly that lifts, the flow of air that fills our lungs with each breath), gently observing the frequency, the intensity, changing it during practice, etc.
Some declination of meditation provide for the repetition of a mantra, ie a sound, a word (eg, "peace", "tranquility") or a phrase ("Sat, Chit, Ananda" which means "Existence, Consciousness, Bliss" ).
There are many forms of meditation. An example is the body scan or body scan, through which attention is gradually placed on the various parts of our body, seeking sensations or simply observing their state, walking meditation, meditation on daily life, etc.

Main benefits of meditation

Cardiovascular activity
The positive effects of meditation are also found in some cardiovascular outcomes. For example, research has observed that formal practice improved certain parameters related to cardiovascular well-being, such as High Frequencies (HF), a heart rate variability (HRV) parameter that mainly reflects activity parasympathetic or vagal and which, when reduced, is configured as a predictor of cardiovascular mortality (Krygier et al., 2013). According to another research published in Circulation: Cardiovascular quality and outcomes, those who practiced Vipassana meditation daily had 48% less chance of having a heart attack or stroke than those who had attended a health that lasted five years where diet and exercise were considered.

Mood tone and Neuroplasticity
In a recent article (2012) published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists Yi-Yuan Tang of Texas Tech and Michael Posner of the University of Oregon found an improvement in mood and levels of neuroplasticity in individuals who for a month practiced a particular form of meditation, defined by the authors as "integrative body-mind training" (IBMT). As a result of the practice, an increase in myelination and axonal density, in particular in the anterior cingulate cortex, were found in the experimental group, compared to the control group subjected to a more general relaxation training for the same time. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is an area involved in emotional regulation, whose activation deficits are present in some disorders such as ADHD, depression and schizophrenia. It is therefore possible that improvements in the neuronal connectivity of the ACC are accompanied by a reduction in the symptoms of the mental disorders associated with it. In addition, the study found improvements in mood by means of self-report questionnaires.

The Relaxation Response (RR)
The Relaxation Response (RR) is a psychophysiological state opposite to the stress response. Results from rigorous scientific trials have repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of "mind-body" relaxation interventions aimed at reducing chronic stress and improving well-being, which in fact induce an RR. Several studies have reported that the elicitation of a RR represents an effective therapeutic intervention to reduce the adverse clinical effects related to some stress-related disorders, such as hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. RR occurs when an individual focuses on a word, a sound, a phrase, a prayer, a movement, ignoring everyday thoughts. These 2 steps, i.e. the concentration on a particular action and the shift of attention from conscious thoughts, determines an interruption in the flow of consciousness. There are millennial mind-body relaxation practices capable of inducing an RR (transcendental meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and some ritual prayers) and more recent and equally effective practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, Biofeedback and Mindfulness.
In a recent work published in the journal "Plos ONE", the genes whose expression is modulated by different relaxation practices, such as yoga, ritual prayer, meditation or biofeedback, have been studied. The results showed that both the group of experienced practitioners and the group of trained novices reported variations in gene expression. The Relaxation Response, in fact, increases the expression of some genes related to energy metabolism, mitochondrial functions, insulin secretion; the same Relaxation Response is also able to reduce the expression of genes related to inflammatory and stress responses. These changes in gene expression are aimed at increasing energy production at the level of mitochondria, allowing cells to respond adequately to the increase in energy needs, characterized as a standard present in all stress conditions. The same gene modifications reduce the production of free radicals, potentially harmful to the cells, and the phenomena of programmed cell death (apoptosis) or autophagocytosis. In conclusion, the really interesting results of this study indicate for the first time that the elicitation of a Relaxation Response, especially in those who have been using relaxation practices for many years, reduces stress and promotes well-being through better use and production. of energy from the cells of our tissues. Curiously, these modifications would seem independent of the relaxation techniques practiced (yoga, meditation, prayer, etc.).

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience and conducted by a group of researchers from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Sale (USA), meditation has analgesic power. In fact, the results revealed a reduction in pain perception quantified between 40% and 93% during meditation, accompanied by a decrease of approximately 57% in the subjective perception of annoyance and displeasure resulting from suffering. Neuro-imaging scans have identified a substantial reduction in brain activity of the somato-sensory cortex known to be involved in the genesis of pain. In addition, other brain areas involved in painful perception were activated: the anterior cingulate, the anterior insula and the orbital-frontal cortex. This circuit processes painful signals, defining duration and intensity of perceived pain. According to the authors, the strength of meditation would be the involvement of multiple brain areas, thanks to which the pain experience would be sweetened.

Sensomotor Learning
Zen meditation would also have effects on learning processes as shown by researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum and Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. The study was conducted during a Zen meditation retreat by practitioners with several years of experience: the retreat involved complete silence with 8 hours of meditation per day. All the subjects practiced a meditation characterized by the conscious attention of their thoughts, internal states and external stimuli. In addition, some participants were asked to meditate for two hours a day focusing on the sensations of the index finger of the right hand, training awareness of the perceptions and sensations related to this specific part of the body. In the pre- and post-assessment phases, the level of tactile perception was quantitatively assessed by means of an index that measures how far two stimuli must be so that they are discriminated as two distinct sensations. The results showed that practitioners who had meditated on their right finger for a period of time showed significant improvements (approximately 17%) in the tactile acuity of the index finger of the right hand compared to the control group, an increase comparable to the consequent changes training and physical-body stimulation. In conclusion, this research has shown that the "simple" conscious attention (a mental process) on one's tactile sensations is able to modify the perceptual thresholds and the sensory acuity, acting on the sensorimotor learning mechanisms.

Thanks to meditation techniques it would be easier to be able to concentrate on the present moment. The confirmation of this data, already known in the reference scientific literature, comes from a study by a research group of the Department of Psychiatry of the Yale University School of Medicine. The contribution of this research lies in having identified that through some meditation techniques it is possible to "turn off" a specific area of   the brain, indicated in the study as the Default Mode Network (DMN), considered capable of generating that continuous emergence of ideas and thoughts (brooding) which somehow interferes with what is being done at that moment. This automatic thought production activity is present for about half of the waking time, and can bring to light unpleasant memories and contribute to the emergence of worries for the future, thus creating a state of anxiety and depression in the person.

Three different meditation techniques were considered in the study:

1. CONCENTRATION: the practitioner must concentrate on the breath, perceiving the air entering and exiting the nose, the belly filling and emptying, and whenever a thought occurs in his mind he is invited to observe it gently and, afterwards, to let it go without hanging on to it.

2. LOVE-KINDNESS: In this technique the practitioner must visualize a situation in which he desired the good of someone significant for him, using this mental image to then desire the good of others.

3. AWARENESS: This technique consists in paying attention moment by moment to what is happening, to what comes to the practitioner's consciousness, without attempting to modify the thought or sensation that has just arrived but simply accepting it. The study revealed through functional magnetic resonance imaging that expert subjects are able to "turn off" the activity of the brain areas included in the Default Mode Network, such as the cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. Experienced practitioners show reduced DMN activity even outside the practice itself, as if "training" also had its beneficial effects in daily activities. The results of this study open interesting scenarios for the use of meditation in the treatment of attention deficit disorder. In addition, hyperactivation of DMN is also observed in Alzheimer's patients which could support the deposition of beta-amyloid in brain cells. The use of meditative techniques could normalize the activity of DMN, protecting the patient from Alzheimer's symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have shown that thanks to meditation techniques, it is possible to become more compassionate and kinder to others. Compassion seems to be something that can be improved through training and practice. Adults can be trained in compassion. To date, little is known, in scientific terms, about the human potential to cultivate compassion - the emotional state for which we are driven to take selfless care of those who suffer or are in a disadvantaged condition. A new study conducted by researchers at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that by training a group of young adults to compassionate meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique for increasing the sense of care for people who suffer, it is actually possible to support this arrangement. in the subjects.

Creative Thinking
Some meditation techniques can encourage the development of creative thinking, even in people who have never practiced any type of meditation. This is what emerged from a study conducted by two cognitive psychologists, Lorenza Colzato and Dominique Lippelt, at the University of Leiden. From this study it emerged that the practice of meditation exercises affects some aspects of human cognition in the long term, including the way in which ideas are conceived. During the study, the influence of different meditation techniques on two main aspects of creative thinking was investigated: divergent thinking and converging thinking. When we talk about divergent thinking we refer to the ability to create new ideas. This ability was assessed through the use of a defined Alternative Uses task in which participants were asked to think about as many uses as possible a particular object could have, for example a pen. By convergent thinking we mean, however, the ability to trace a possible solution in reference to a specific problem. This aspect was assessed through the presentation of a task of Remote Associations in which three apparently unrelated words were presented to the participants, such as time, hair and lengthening. The study participants were then asked to identify a possible link between these words, in this case for example long. The study showed that not all forms of meditation can have the same effect on the genesis of creative thinking. Study participants scored better in evaluating divergent thinking after practicing an Open Monitoring meditation, during which subjects are required to be receptive to any thoughts and feelings that may arise during meditation practice. However, no effect was found on divergent thinking following Focused Attention practices, ie focused on a particular thought or object.

But for how long?
Just ten minutes a day of relaxation exercises are enough to decrease the perception of muscle tension, improve the quality of sleep and decrease the perception of tiredness and the feeling of fatigue. This is the heartening figure that emerged from research by the Bethesda Medical Center presented during CHEST 2012 (annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians). The research presented was conducted on 334 subjects who were asked to practice a particular sequence of relaxation exercises and visualizations for ten minutes a day. The results showed that 65% of the group members had decreased their perceived stress level, improved sleep quality and decreased the perception of the level of tiredness and daily fatigue.


Yoga consists of physical, respiratory and mental practices that contribute to personal well-being and can be done by everyone. The term Yoga (from "Yo" - union - and "ghan" - completeness -; alternatively from the Sanskrit yuj - to join, unite -) etymologically indicates the way that, through the conjunction of the individual with the universal, leads to completeness being. The first step of the practitioner must be to find harmony and union between the different planes of which it is composed: physical, mental and spiritual. Later, the individual soul (jîvâtman) can be reunited with the universal one (paramâtman). The harmony between the floors is often altered by external situations or internal conditions. Through yoga it is possible to seek a new balance, a harmonious union with our being, in fact.

Effects on Stress
Yoga is believed to have a beneficial effect in improving nervous system imbalances due to stress, this would explain from a neurophysiological point of view the feeling of well-being that many patients experience after practicing yoga.
For example, it was possible to detect significant differences in GABA-ergic activity between two groups of subjects, one of whom had repeatedly practiced yoga sessions and the other had dedicated himself to frequent walks for a period of twelve weeks. In the group of subjects who had practiced yoga there was an increase in GABAergic activity with a consequent improvement in anxiety symptoms and a decrease in the perception of pain in some patients who complained in particular of lower back pain, compared to the group that had only walked. These results would support the need to include some techniques borrowed from yoga and oriental disciplines in the "traditional" therapeutic intervention protocols.

Effects on menopause symptoms
According to a study conducted by researcher Katherine Newton at Group Health Research, practicing yoga can help ease the symptoms of menopause.
A randomized research called "MeFlash" was carried out to verify whether natural approaches, including yoga, exercise and the intake of fish oil in the diet, could alleviate the symptoms of menopause. The results of this study highlighted the importance of exercise which appears to be linked to a reduction in depression and insomnia. Practicing yoga has also been associated with better sleep and mood. However, it is good to indicate that the effects detected were not statistically significant.

Effects on teenagers
Practicing yoga would have positive psychological effects among secondary school students ("high schools"). In fact, a study carried out on 51 American students has established that practicing yoga (Kripalu yoga, physical postures of yoga with breathing, relaxation and meditation exercises) for 10 weeks produces an improvement in mood, anxious symptoms and skills mindfulness, compared to performing standard physical activity (e.g., a sport). Although the sample is limited, the study suggests the positive effects of yoga in adolescents, in line with other studies in the literature which highlight positive effects both in preventive terms and in different conditions of physical and psychological suffering.

Mindfulness means to pay attention to the present moment in a curious and non-judgmental way (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Mindfulness is therefore a process that cultivates the ability to bring attention to the present moment, awareness and acceptance of the present moment (Hanh, 1987). The goal of mindfulness is to eliminate suffering by cultivating a deep understanding and acceptance of whatever happens through active work with one's mental states. According to the original tradition, the practice of mindfulness should make it possible to pass from a state of imbalance and suffering to one of greater subjective perception of well-being, thanks to a profound knowledge of mental states and processes.
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