1. Meditation boosts physical health

    Culture is a funny thing: In some places, you're considered a little weird if you meditate... in others, you're weird if you don't.

    Most people here in the West never even consider it at all -- but maybe you should, because a growing body of evidence finds that this practice of the mind can have a major impact on the body, including a serious boost in heart health.

    In fact, it works so well that researchers from Harvard University and Justuc Liebig University say it's time for mainstream docs to start working meditation into their clinical practices as a treatment for some of our most common -- and overmedicated -- conditions, especially hypertension.

    While no one has been able to pinpoint how meditation can accomplish so much with so little, the study in Perspectives on Psychological Science breaks the effects down into four key components: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self.

    Sounds to me like it's as mysterious as ever, at least to Western science. In any case, I'm more interested in what it does rather than how it does it -- because it's downright astonishing.

    In one recent study on cardiovascular health, the researchers said meditators got so many benefits that it was as if they had been given some powerful new drug.

    In that one, the patients who practiced a popular form of meditation were 50 percent less likely to suffer from heart attack, stroke or even death from any cause during that study period than non-meditators.

    Powerful new drug? Big Pharma can only wish it had a med this safe and effective!

    Another recent study found that meditation can improve concentration and focus, while other studies have found that the practice can slash levels of stress, anxiety, depression and anger while improving memory and cognition and boosting immune system function.

    Learning meditation can get pricey -- there are expensive courses and fancy retreats you can take. But it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg to get a new look inside your mind.

    In fact, it can even be free. Visit your local library and check out a few books on the subject -- you'll learn everything you need to know to get started.

  2. The new morphine

    Next time you're in pain, don't take a pill--take a few deep breaths instead, because meditation can actually offer real relief.

    And before you dismiss that as something straight out of a 1960s space cadet academy, consider this: A new study finds the practice can actually bring more relief than morphine.

    I'll chant to that!

    Researchers asked 18 healthy young adults who had never meditated to spend four 20-minute training sessions learning a technique known as focused attention.

    Focused attention is exactly how you might picture meditation: You focus on something very specific, like the sound of a clock ticking, and take control of your breathing as you let go of everything else.

    Before the volunteers learned these techniques, they were placed into an MRI tube while a probe was placed against the calf and slowly raised to 120 degrees.

    That's not going to burn anyone... but it's hot enough to cause pain, and researchers asked the volunteers to rate those levels.

    Then, the experiment was repeated after the training sessions--and this time, the volunteers were asked to meditate while the probe did its work.

    The researchers say meditating reduced pain intensity by an average of 40 percent--with some people reporting up to 93 percent relief compared to how they felt before they learned the technique.

    In addition, the average "pain unpleasantness" score fell by 57 percent, while MRI images revealed less activity in the areas of the brain associated with pain, according to the study in The Journal of Neuroscience.

    Compare that to the 25 percent reduction in pain usually experienced with meds like morphine--and if that's what four quickie training sessions can do, imagine the benefits of a steady meditation habit.

    Other studies have also found that meditation can help reduce pain and beat stress... and it might even save your life.

    Another form of meditation, transcendental meditation, has been shown to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by up to 50 percent. (Read more here.)

    Believe it or not, the benefits didn't end there: Participants in that study also had lower levels of blood pressure, anxiety, depression and anger.

    Of course, TM is also famous for the high cost of learning it--but you don't have to pay big money to meditate.

    It might even cost nothing at all.

    Many senior centers offer meditation lessons for little or no money. You can also search online for free lessons.

    Here's one to get you started, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

    Ready, set... focus.

  3. The best way to improve concentration

    A new study finds that meditation can actually help you focus... and sustain that focus, even when you're forced to engage in the most mind-numbing tasks.

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