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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Meditation and Diabetes

Meditation is a part of Hindu practice, but you can enjoy its fruits even if you belong to another religion, or even if you are an agnostic.

Lord Gautama Buddha meditated to gain the insights which enabled him to expound the principles of the faith, which has inspired generations for eons, and which countless numbers of people all over the world follow to this day.

It is best to learn how to meditate from a spiritual leader (Guru), but anyone can also practice a rudimentary form of this deep introspection on his or her own.

Meditation helps people with diabetes live better with their afflictions. Daily practice calms the mind, fights stress, anxiety, and depression, and helps resist temptations to indulge in unhealthy eating, and lazy habits. Meditation also builds self-confidence, and increases resilience against adversity.

Measurements before and after meditation can prove that the process reduces blood pressure and slow down the heart rate as well, though these benefits are only transient with casual practice. Meditation, in any case is not a substitute for professional medical management of hypertension or of irregular heart beats. However, everyone with diabetes can usefully practice meditation to blend well with their prescriptions for management of the disease.

Here are simple steps to start meditation on your own, if you do not have access to a Guru or to an accomplished practitioner, to show you the way:

1. Choose a place and a time of day: 45 minutes before dawn is the best time for meditation, though any time and place may do after some years of daily practice. The stillness, calm, and one’s refreshed state of mind just after even a few hours of restful sleep, make the wee hours most suitable for meditation. However, you can also choose to draw the curtains, to close doors, and ask people around to leave you alone for a few minutes, if you prefer to meditate during the day. Some people like to meditate at night, and to lapse in to sleep from this state. There are no restrictions on how many times you can meditate in a 24-hour period, but at least one session at a fixed time, on a 24*7 basis, will give best results.

2. Choose a posture: the classic position in which to meditate is the Lotus pose of Yoga, in which one sits cross-legged on the floor or on a mat. However, this will not suit people with osteoarthritis of the knee joints, and those accustomed to sitting on modern chairs. Many people with diabetes are uncomfortable with the Lotus pose. It is important to sit in a way that you can remain still for some time, because meditation is difficult for the average practitioner, with any form of voluntary movement. You can choose a stool or a straight-backed chair as a substitute for the Lotus pose. It is also possible to meditate in the Shava-Asana pose of Yoga. The latter, for the purpose of meditation, is no more than lying flat on your back.

3. Put your hands at rest: there are two common ways of keeping the upper limbs still while meditating: one is to place your palms, facing downwards, on your knees, with index fingers of each hand touching the respective thumbs, at the tips. The other way is to place any one palm in the other, with both facing upwards. There is no harm in creating your own variations of these poses, as long as you can sit or lie completely still in comfort.

4. Choose what you would like to do with your eyes: most practitioners like to meditate with their eyes closed, but beginners often find it easier to focus on a spot on a wall, or on any inspiring picture or statue. I recommend that you try alternatives, and choose whatever seems to suit you best.

5. Become conscious of your rhythm of breathing: the Yoga technique of Pranayama is the right way to breathe before and after meditating, but it is not safe to attempt this without a Guru, or if you have an arrhythmia. It may be safest to try and breathe in through the nose, drawing air in so as to fill the lungs completely, to hold the breath momentarily, and to finally exhale through the mouth, as slowly as possible. Do not worry if this sound too complicated, because you can meditate as long as your breathing is measured and follows a natural pattern.

You are now ready to meditate.

Folk lore has it that sages could meditate for years at a time, but you will find it hard to practice the method for even a few seconds. 5 minutes a day is a fair compromise for most working people.

Inspiring music, often devotional, and incense are commonly used to provide the right atmospherics for meditation, but neither is essential.

The key part of meditation is its most difficult part. It sounds and looks simple, but can prove annoyingly elusive when you start. This relates to emptying the mind of all thoughts. The principal objective of meditation is to make the mind as still as prescribed for the body in earlier parts of this post. The average human mind has large numbers of fleeting thoughts all the time, and we are not conscious of all of them. All kinds of things will flit across your mind when to sit or lie down to meditate, not least being conscious of what you are trying to do. It is important to be patient during this phase, because it could be weeks, if you attempt meditation alone, before you can truly empty your mind of all activity for even a few seconds at a time. Do not get frustrated if you find your mind wavering off in some direction: just try and get back to the tightrope balancing act of ceasing all thoughts for as long as you can.

The benefits of meditation have not been proven by modern scientific methods, but I have found that it does help people to deal with the stresses of diabetes. I am also certain that it will do no harm as long as you follow the guidelines in this post.

I can provide audio and video support for anyone who would like to try meditation, and who finds this text insufficient as a guide. Just leave a post here or send me an email. I am available, by appointment, on Skype as drsbanerji.


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