In guided meditation, the heart and brain start working together.

Meditation Can Cut Cardiovascular Disease in Half

When patients calm the brain down through meditation, they not only feel more relaxed, their bodies are physically more stress-resistant. Studies have shown that meditation reduces blood pressure and cuts the risk of heart attack.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and people of all ages and backgrounds can get this condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that early action is key, and meditation is a great place to start.

In one 2013 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, researchers examined women and men diagnosed with prehypertension – blood pressure that was higher than normal, but not high enough to require antihypertensive drugs. While one group were assigned to work work mindfulness skills, including sitting meditation and yoga exercises, the "comparison" group received lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity.

Those in the mindfulness-based group had a significant reduction in blood pressure, with systolic blood pressure (the first, higher number) decreased by an average of nearly 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). In contrast, the systolic blood pressure of those in the control group dropped less than 1 mm Hg.

About three out of 10 Americans have prehypertension and may be prescribed medications for the condition. Stress temporarily raises high blood pressure, and over the long run, these stress-related blood pressure spikes may add up. There's no question that stress is an epidemic in the 21st century, and meditation just may be the antidote.

Ilchi Lee, an expert of meditation, points out that calming the mind helps build stress-resistance, temporarily quieting the outside noise and finding a sense of inner calm. Focusing on breathing and gentle body movements reinforces the mind-body connection, and when done daily, guided meditation can work wonders.

"Meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions," Schneider told the American Heart Association, who is also dean of Maharishi College of Perfect Health in Fairfield, Iowa.

Fighting Off Heart Problems
Another landmark study, published by the American Heart Association in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, corroborated the findings of the benefits of meditation. For the research, 201 participants were instructed in either meditation stress-reducing program or a lifestyle-modification course. Those in the meditation group made a big leap in dropping their blood pressure by 5 mm Hg. In short, meditation may cut the risk of heart attack and stroke in half.

"Many doctors and scientists are recognizing that mind-body-heart research has crossed a threshold," Dr. Schneider told PR Web. "With … the AHA's publication of a long-term clinical trial showing that the meditation technique reduces rates of death, heart attack and stroke by 48 percent – and with hundreds of other peer-reviewed studies on TM, mindfulness and other meditation practices – there is now strong scientific evidence that meditation, when properly practiced, may significantly contribute to preventing cardiovascular disease and promoting well-being."

Brain imaging has been used to find out what's going on inside the brain during meditation.

Brain-Meditation Research Shows Differences in Breathing Techniques

Combining brain imaging technology and data experiences from meditators, scientists are looking to advance research on the effects of meditation techniques on the brain.

In the past, the main obstacle in the neuroscience of mindfulness stemmed from a lack of understanding practices from the inside out, said Dr. Catherine Kerr, assistant professor of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown University's Contemplative Studies Initiative. Now Kerr and her colleagues are taking advantage of tools from mental health health treatments.

For the analysis, the team focused on different breathing patterns, a key aspect of mindful meditation. They honed in on sensations of breathing through the nose or in the belly. The two meditation techniques hail from different East Asian traditions. While it may seem like a minor difference, coded data gathered by the researchers indicated that the two techniques produced significantly different mental states in student meditators. The research was presented at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School on April 5, 2014.

Meditating students were split into two groups. The first group focused on breathing through the nose and the second concentrated on the belly. Then two independent coders conducted standardized evaluations of the journal entries of the meditators immediately after meditating.

"We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations," the researchers said in a press release.

Based on these somatic descriptions, Kerr believes that there's more ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity across different parts of the large brain regional called the insula, which encodes visceral somatic sensations. It's also responsible for what we know as "gut feelings."

Meanwhile, when students focused on the nose during mediation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, in particular how their attention "felt" when they sensed it.

Calming Down Regions in the Brain
Pairing up with a team of researchers at Yale University, Kerr correlated the coded experiences data with brain information. The team worked with experienced meditators to find out more about how the mental states described by the two groups of student meditators correlated with activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), which plays a role in awareness and memory. 

The researchers used real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging. They discovered that when meditators reported feelings of "effortless doing" and "undistracted awareness" during meditation, their PCC showed minimal activity, but when they reported being distracted and had to work at mindfulness, their PCC was significantly more active.

"You can observe both of these phenomena together and discover how they are co-determining one another," Juan Santoyo said in the press release.

As meditation benefits of relaxing one's mind comes with a feeling of recharge and lower stress, Kerr and others in her field are excited to delve into how certain experiences form brain activity patterns.

Innovative leader in the human brain potential development, Ilchi Lee, has explained the mind is the gateway to living up to our full potential. When we learn to control it, much like driving a vehicle, we can take it any direction we desire.

Brain activity decreases during meditation.

Your Brain on Meditation

The human brain is one of the least understood organs in the body. Like the deep ocean, there are vast areas left unexplored and in the dark. Yet, within the last decade, neuroscientists have been covering more ground, shining light on how the brain reacts to certain environmental factors, and how we manipulate it. Meditation has proven to be one powerful healing tool for the brain, as it lowers blood pressure, encourages better focus and inspires creativity.

Using MRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what's going on in our brains as we meditate. You might have seen studies that show meditation lights up certain brain regions. Well, now let's take a look at exactly what's happening in different brain regions.

Frontal Lobe
This is the most evolved part of the human brain. To give you an idea of how vital the frontal lobe is, only a few animals on the planet, such as dolphins, have a similar though more limited version of the structure. It's responsible for emotions, reasoning, planning and self-conscious awareness. This area can be calmed even with the help of meditation techniques for beginners. During the meditation process, we tend to silence the frontal cortex, making way for a here-and-now experience.

Parietal Lobe
The parietal lobe processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in space and time. On the brain scans of people who are meditating, this region blackens with inactivity. 

Hippocampus
Neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, explained that chronic stress shrinks neurons o the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region of the brain located in the middle of the skull that's crucial for memory and learning capacity, according to Dr. Weil. The hippocampus can only regenerate and grow once stress is discontinued, which is where meditation enters the picture. Mindful meditation helps to quell stress, thereby increasing the density of the hippocampus. 

Posterior Cingulate Cortex
As the upper part of the limbic lobe, the posterior cingulate cortex is activated during daydreaming and craving. During meditation, this region shuts down. Interestingly, expert meditators can significantly decrease activity in this brain part on demand whereas novice meditators could not. 

Experiments suggest that Buddhist monks have robust connections between separate regions of the brain, which allows for more synchronized communication. Expert meditators also develop a wrinkly cortex, the brain's outer layer. The overall point to drive home is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally do. Ilchi Lee, the president of the International Brain Education Association and an expert of meditation, points out that meditation can serve as a key break in our days, lending itself to increased concentration and productivity afterwards. 

A good night's sleep can make all the difference.

Sleep’s Impact on Brain Function

Like meditation, a good night's sleep leaves us feeling reinvigorated. It charges our batteries, fights off sickness and clears our minds. Scientists have long pondered how sleep affects the brain. And now, you can actually strengthen your mind by getting some rest.

"Sleep is a quiescent period where the cells are doing a lot of repairing," Dr. Lisa Shives, founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine, told WebMD. "Your hormones act differently when you're asleep, and your immune system as well." 

Understanding Sleep
All sleep is not created equal. During this restful time, we go through five cycles of deep sleep and dreaming cycles. Each of these cycles lasts about 90 minutes and can be split between two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Most people start their sleep cycles with a period of NREM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep, when dreams typically occur.

Electroencephalography studies done on the human brain during sleep indicate that deep, or NREM, sleep produces something called delta waves, which encourage your body's growth and release mood-enhancing chemicals. Thus, when we wake up after a good deep sleep, we feel refreshed. Similarly, some research has shown that in deep meditation, one also produces delta waves, though most of the studies show a majority of alpha waves, which are associated with relaxation. 

Meanwhile, REM sleep bolsters alertness and acts as a way for the brain to store new information into long-term memory. The quality of your sleep directly impacts the quality of your waking life, including productivity, mental sharpness, emotional balance, creativity and even your weight.

One of the most cited benefits of sleep is its ability to strengthen memories. This process is called consolidation. When you're trying to learn something – whether mental or physical – sleep makes you learn it better. So, if you want to improve your Spanish skills or golf swing, research shows that you'll perform better after a full, good night's sleep. 

When we're awake, our brains move from alpha to busy beta cycles roughly every 90 minutes. With our fast-paced schedules, we often fight going into alpha by grabbing another cup of coffee or an energy drink. Instead, listen to what your body is telling you.

Most meditation will switch your brain from beta wave state to alpha wave state, which precedes sleep. According to psychologists, this activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to slow down and the brain to regenerate. With only 10 to 15 minutes of transcendental meditation among other forms, you can feel the benefits.

Getting the Best Sleep
What's the best way to induce sleep? You can achieve deep sleep by shutting out external inputs like light and sound. Along the same lines, if you have too many worries and the mind is not at peace, your sleep cycle is affected, making it more difficult to achieve deep sleep. 

Studies on sleep habits show that 7.5 to 9 hours is the recommended amount of sleep for an adult, since it allows us to go through the five cycles. Children ages 1 to 5 need around 11 to 14 hours, children ages 5 to 12 require about 10 to 11 hours and teenagers need roughly 8.5 to 10 hours.

Ilchi Lee, an innovative leader in the human brain potential development, says that just like guided meditation, sleep can help your brain function at its best. So, in order to perform at your best, make a point to go to bed early.

Transcendental meditation can reduce PTSD among refugees.

Transcendental Meditation May Reduce PTSD

Soldiers returning home from with life-changing events or refugees from war-torn countries may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals with PTSD often cannot stop thinking about the horrifying event, reliving the experience again and again. To ward off its symptoms, a number of studies have shown transcendental meditation lowers the painful effects of PTSD.

Transcendental meditation is a technique specifically designed to steer your mind away from distracting thoughts and promote a state of relaxed awareness. It consists of sitting with eyes closed and repeating a mantra, which is a meaningless sound from the Vedic tradition of India. Experts point out that when meditating, the ordinary thinking process becomes replaced by a state of pure consciousness, or "transcended." In this state, PTSD patients can achieve stillness, rest, stability, order and an absence of mental boundaries.

PTSD in Refugees
A recent, small study indicates that Congolese war refugees who learned transcendental meditation showed significant reduction in PTSD in just 10 days. The research was published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

In the study, 11 subjects were assessed using the PTSD Checklist for Civilians, which ranks PTSD on a scale from 17 to 85. A score less than 35 means the symptoms of the disorder have abated.

Initially, the participants received an average score 77.9. After only 10 days of practicing transcendental meditation, their PTSD test scores dropped to an average of 48, a shockingly significant reduction. At the 30-day mark, the subjects were tested again, with scores falling to an average of 35.3, meaning they were almost without their disorder. 

"What makes this study interesting is when we tested them in the 90 days before they began the TM technique, their PTSD scores kept going up," co-author of the study Fred Travis, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, said in a statement. "During that period their scores were rising, from 68.5 at the beginning to 77.9 after 90 days. But once they started the transcendental meditation technique, their PTSD scores plummeted."

According to the researchers, something profound happens when one experiences a traumatic event. It locks into a specific brain functioning by over​ stimulating the amygdala, thereby trapping people into a rut of thinking and feeling, in this case fear, mistrust and vigilance. However, with transcendental meditation, people enter a deep state of restfulness, which calms the amygdala and alleviates PTSD symptoms. Researchers note it allows the individual to "see more possibilities."

 Esperance Ndozi, a 35-year-old mother of five, was among the Congolese refugees traumatized by the civil war. Before the transcendental meditation, Ndozi could hardly sleep and was disturbed by her dark memories. Yet after a week of mediating 20 minutes a day she said she found noticeable relief from the symptoms.

"Your mind, your body relaxes," Ndozi told the Maharishi University of Management. "You feel you are out of the outside world. You are just in your peaceful world. No negativity. It doesn't come near me now."

This was the fourth study to highlight an improvement in PTSD through meditation. Currently, transcendental meditation is being considered as a viable treatment by the U.S. military. 

PTSD affects at least 7.7 million adults in the U.S. Meditation has proven to relieve stress in PTSD and provide relief to the sufferers. Learning how to live with yourself can seem like an insurmountable hurdle for natural treatments, but this type of meditation has proven a beaming ray of light.

Ilchi Lee, an innovative leader in the human brain potential development, encourages transcendental meditation to overcome the personal challenges, no matter how big they are. 

Active brain

Mental Workouts Offer Big Benefits

Just as exercise builds and tones your body, meditation can sculpt the mind, studies suggest. Ilchi Lee, an expert on meditation and the president of the International Brain Education Association, points out that you may think of your brain as a muscle. In this way, getting in mental workouts could be just as important as finishing those dumbbell reps.

To assess specific meditation benefits, researchers at the University of Wisconsin scanned the brains of Tibetan monks, who are well-known champions of mental fitness. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at UW, zoomed in on the amygdala, the region associated with emotions and emotional memories. What he found here was a connection between meditation and resilience. His work indicated the more you meditate, the quicker your amygdala recovers from stress. 

A separate MRI study from Harvard University highlighted that meditation also thickens gray matter, which includes regions of the brain involved in memory, muscle control and sensory perception. Researchers found that meditation beginners who took an eight-week course literally had thicker gray matter associated with self-awareness, while the regions associated with stress shrank. 

There are many doors into mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness by concentrating on something, such as your own breath, and bringing your attention back to the point of focus when it begins to wander. Some people choose to hone in on a specific body part, channeling all of their energy into it. 

"When you see you are not your thoughts or your emotions, then you have a whole different palette of ways to be," Jon Kabat-Zinn​, a clinical mindfulness experct at the Unviersity of Massachusetts, told LiveScience.

Cultivating mindfulness can train the mind to work more efficiently, boost concentration and can break harmful cycles, such as those that accompany depression, in which the mind repeats the same negative thoughts. 

Oprah Winfrey is among the list of entrepreneurs who meditate frequently.

Meditation for Entrepreneurs

At the backbone of every entrepreneur lies creativity and endurance. Though meditation may sound like a relaxing downtime to refresh and refocus, it can actually maximize your performance when it comes to busy hours. And more powerful people are embracing its effects.

Over the last few years, meditation has become a daily ritual for several of the world's most successful entrepreneurs: Oprah Winfrey, Jack Dorsey and Tim Ferriss, to name a few, all meditate each morning before starting their workdays since it helps them perform at their fullest.

Here are four examples of meditation benefits for the brain that enhance the entrepreneur:

Boosts Creativity
Entrepreneurs are nothing without their original ideas. Meditating can help switch on that initial light bulb, as well as work toward troubleshooting and developing creative solutions to customers' problems.

In a study led by professor Melissa Hines at Princeton University, meditation was shown to improve what psychologists call "ideational fluency," or the tendency for mental associations to flow easily, quickly and productively. The more you meditate, the more ideational fluent you become.

To reach your creative potential, it's also important to get in "the zone," or what we consider a time of heightened focus. Since meditation is essentially focus, practicing mindful exercises daily helps trains our brains to draw on muscles of concentration when we need it most.

Increases Willpower
The ability to maintain unwavering ambition is the cornerstone of the entrepreneurial spirit. It's the driving force behind blocking out the chatter of the naysayers and keeping your eyes set on the prize, moving your business forward day after day. 

Dr. Kelly McGonigal, who teaches a class on the science of willpower at Stanford University, ranks meditation as her No. 1 method to boost determination.

"Practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making," McGonigal told Entrepreneur Magazine.

Gray matter contains most of the brain's neuronal cell bodies, including the regions involved in major tasks like making decisions and retaining memories. The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, though-processing part of your brain, the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences. Thus, by increasing gray matter, meditation can allow you to make wiser decisions. 

Lowers Stress
While some stress can be helpful, too much of it becomes destructive. Not only does it weaken your immune system, it drains your energy and worsens your mood. 

"Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure," psychologist Dr. Judith Tutin, a certified life coach in Georgia, told WebMD.

Managing stress is important to staying healthy. It also allows you to think with a clear head, producing more rational moves that ramp up business. 

Helps You Deal with Fear
No risk, no reward couldn't prove more true for ambitious entrepreneurs. During a presentation of your business model in front of investors or an important call with a prospective client, the ability to shine in the face of fear is paramount. 

A study from Harvard Medical School showed that meditation shrinks the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear. 

People who are generally anxious by nature tend to have exaggerated amygdala activation. To help throw the worries by the wayside, sit down and meditate for several minutes each day. When we aren't hindered by fear, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. 

Ilchi Lee, the president of the International Brain Education Association and expert of meditation, underscores the importance of mindful brain exercises in acheiving our full potential. Our minds are both the engine and steering wheel of our bodies, it's time we learn how to control them.

Get your creative juices flowing and discover the meditation's far-reaching benefits today. 

Yoga and deep breathing exercises can boost immunity, lower blood pressure and encourage healthier hormone levels.

Meditation Alters Genes

To no surprise among yogis, deep relaxation is as good for you as it feels. In the last few years, science has even shown that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level. 

Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that when people practiced relaxation methods such as meditation and yoga far more "disease-fighting genes" became activated when compared to those who did not practice any forms of relaxation.

Specifically, the scientists honed in on several genes that protected the body from disorders like high blood pressure, infertility, pain and even rheumatoid arthritis.

"We found that a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group," Dr. Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and leader of the research, explained to Sydney Morning Herald. "After two months, their bodies began to change – the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer, all began to switch on."

Without a doubt, this marked a momentous leap for meditation research. Benson calls it the "relaxation effect," a genetic phenomenon that can be as powerful as a medical drug. However, the same genes that were turned on through relaxation can be just as easily turned off, researchers pointed out. The three main factors that influenced the genes were environment, behavior and mood. 

Those searching for a place to "get in the zone" when practicing yoga for beginners may want to choose a serene, calming environment that's full of warm colors. This has been known to foster a better atmosphere for yoga exercises.

The good news for the advanced yogi? The perks of relaxation were found to enhance with practice, so the more frequently individuals repeats their yoga poses or Dahn yoga exercises, the greater their chances are strengthening immunity, lowering blood pressure, maintaining healthier hormone levels and staying free of joint pain. This piece of information might also serve as encouragement for those who are just starting off. Practice not only makes perfect, it makes you healthy!

Lastly, Benson underscores how a person's state of mind influences the body on both a physical and genetic level. So, take a deep breath, relax and think positive. It could spell the difference between a vitalized or decrepit body and mind.

Yoga class has its own etiquette.

5 Tips of Yoga Etiquette

For yoga of all levels, it's important to be mindful of your fellow yogis and the intimate setting. Part of that stems from knowing what to do, what to wear and knowing when to ask for help. In other words, having proper etiquette will facilitate a quality yoga experience for you and those around you. Here are five tips to get on the right track:

1. Be Punctual to Class
Make it a habit of not only showing up on time to every class, but early. Nothing disrupts a class mood like a late comer. If punctuality is not your forte, make a point to leave five minutes earlier than normal. It's important to hold yourself accountable and respect everyone in the class around you.

2. Take Care of Your Personal Hygiene
Along the same lines of respect, you should maintain proper personal hygiene. Yoga class is a very intimate setting, where most yogis sit within a few feet of each other. While this rule should go unsaid, it's been known to be a problem. Bring a clean mat, clean towel, fresh clothes and use deodorant. Good personal hygiene demonstrates a level of self-respect first and foremost. 

3. Wear Decent Yoga Clothing
Steer clear of revealing clothing. Please wear garments that will not expose you when you are upside down, in a twisted position soaking with sweat. Women can find a shirts that don't ride up. Tight fitting pieces and elastic bands will help to ensure less movement and grant more focus on your body than your clothes. For men, shorts must be mid-thigh or longer. Appropriate under garments should also be worn. Whether or not men wear a shirt is their choice. With that being said, it is more difficult for a teacher to adjust you in a yoga pose with exposed skin.

4. Turn Off Your Phone
In such a quiet environment, even phone vibrations can cause a distraction. So, shut your phone down before entering the class. You can be without it for one hour of the day. More often than not, it will make you feel free of the world of constant communication, helping you concentrate better once you step foot on that mat.

5. Thank the Teacher
Let the last thing you leave in the classroom be positive words. It's not frowned upon to go out of your way to find them, tap them on the shoulder just to say thank you.

Break the cigarette habit with meditation.

Can Meditation Help You Quit Smoking?

Meditation might be the key to kicking the habit. There's no doubt that mindfulness helps with self control. Whether we're practicing transcendental meditation, simple yoga poses or guided meditation, our minds enter a state of prolonged concentration. As a result, we can train our brains to resist cravings, especially smoking, in a tricky way: to acknowledge them then shift our focus away from them.

A report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information examined 14 clinical trials to determine the impact of mind and body practices on nicotine addiction and smoking cessation. Of these, three studies focused on breathing techniques, three applied yoga and eight used meditation. 

The Results
Five studies reported smoking abstinence rates of 21 to 56 percent after treatment. Six studies indicated a reduction in cigarette cravings and desire to smoke, while two reported 20 to 26 percent decreases in the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Despite the differences between studies, all 14 studies portrayed that meditation was helpful in quitting smoking.

This might be why: Mindfulness helps with muscles of attention, which are essential for self control, explained Nick Begley, head of research at Headspace, a meditation organization. Take this example: You're having a conversation with a friend. Suddenly you notice a chocolate cake sitting on the counter – or whatever your drug of choice may be, whether it's dessert or smoking outside with a friend – and your attention shifts toward the cake. Though the dialogue is still going on, all you can think about is how delicious the treat would taste. But what if you could notice the "naughty" desire as soon as possible, then reengage your attention back with your friend? If you do this, Begley explains, you're more likely to escape the attractiveness to the chocolate cake. 

We're developing the exact same muscles when we meditate. If we're focusing on our breathing, we sometimes take detours, getting carried away with other thoughts. However, the process of recognizing tangential thoughts and re-engaging with the matter at hand is just like acknowledging the chocolate cake, or smoking, and continuing with your initial object of focus. In short, these "re-focusing" muscles are useful in controlling our impulses or emotions in your day-to-day life.

"You actually have to face the cravings and deal with them instead of ignoring or wishing them away," Michelle Morgan, who had been a pack-a-day smoker for 20 years and a participant in a meditation trial, told New Haven Register News. "You just kind of have to accept that it's there and wrangle with it a little bit."

Read about the healing potential of Ilchi Lee's Brain Wave Vibration moving meditation technique.