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Your body on meditation
Tuning out and tuning into yourself - even 10 minutes a day - can help in more ways than you think

By AMY SIEWERT

 

Hoko Karnegis, interim practice director at Milwaukee Zen Center, has been practicing meditation for more than 18 years.

With calendars packed with appointments, activities and other distractions, itís difficult to imagine finding time for peaceful meditation. But experts say tuning out the outside world for even 10 minutes a day can lead to better health.

Hoko Karnegis, interim practice director at Milwaukee Zen Center, follows the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition Ė though he notes there are many different styles of meditation and different traditions. Soto Zen Buddhists sit quietly, do nothing and allow their minds to open and get in tune with their physical selves. "For us it is a religious practice," Karnegis says. "It is a way for us to return to our true self. When we sit we are watching our thoughts arise and give away," she says.

To eliminate distractions, Karnegis sits facing a wall. "When we sit facing the wall, we are truly facing ourselves. The wall becomes a mirror," Karnegis says.

Traditionally, Buddhists meditate for 40 minutes. Karnegis takes it slow with her new students and asks them to sit for 10 minutes. She says itís important to establish consistency in your meditation routine ó same time of day, same place and how long you sit. Sheíd rather people practice meditating every day for 10 minutes than once a week for an hour.

As New Agey as it sounds, finding your "right now" may provide more health benefits than you think.

Dr. Theodore Kotchen, professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, took part in a study of the benefits of meditation on controlling your blood pressure.
 

Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

"Meditation has had some moderate to significant effects on lowering blood pressure, especially in African Americans," says Kotchen.

He explains that decreasing nervous system activity can result in lowering your blood pressure. Also, reducing the amount of stress hormones, such as cortisol, can aid in dialing back the production of stress hormones in your adrenal glands and help boost your immune system.

It can also slow down your heart rate because nervous impulses sent to your heart and blood vessels lessen, he adds.

Kotchen warns that people should not expect immediate results from meditation and agrees with Karnegis in practicing daily sessions over a period of time.

"Taking time out during the day may be very beneficial for folks. I think it would be a great idea to add it to your daily routine," Kotchen says.
 

Brain

Our thoughts are like pingpong balls in our brain, constantly bouncing from one idea to the next and making it difficult to focus on one thing.

Karnegis says some individuals get clarity through meditation because they are reducing the distractions surrounding them, and may aid in their decision-making process. She goes on to say it can help to understand what you are feeling, especially during times of crisis. "We donít have to get hijacked by our feelings; itís something you learn to respond to in a skillful way," she says. "I have to be able to get off the pillow and take the insights of Zozen (Buddhist meditation) into the world."
 

Mood

"People find they are much less quick to anger, annoyance, etc ... we tend to spend a little less time in the aggravated state," she says.

"When we sit, some joy comes up ó joy, compassion and patience," she says. We begin to appreciate the little things in life.
 

Relaxation

When people give up the need to defend, we find relaxation in the body, says Karnegis. "If we let go of our need to constantly be doing things then we start to relax more. In our tradition we donít sit with an objective in mind. We sit to let go of our conditioned self. Through this practice we gain insight, let go of stress and gain more knowledge about relationships," she says.