As what we believe is the finest yoga retreat Hawaii has to offer, we strive to inspire our guests to adapt a holistic approach to health and wellness. Most people think they understand the basics of being healthy; all you have to do is eat your fruits and vegetables, limit sugar and processed food, and get regular exercise, right?
In actuality, being healthy is anything but simple. Health looks different for everyone. Even two individuals that share a common definition of health may find different ways to effectively achieve it. There is no single approach to wellness; different lifestyles work for different people.
However, there is one universal aspect of health that, in our experience running the best yoga retreat Hawaii is known for, we have discovered most people neglect: spiritual health. In order to be truly healthy inside and out, we must work to nurture and maintain our spiritual alignment. At Gingerhill, we host guests from all over the world with a plethora of beliefs. One spiritual practice we have found palatable and beneficial to people of all backgrounds is meditation.
Types of Meditation
Meditation is a nebulous concept for many people. In considering meditation, you might conjure an image of someone sitting down with his or her eyes closed, humming or chanting. But that mental image fails to represent the inner healing one achieves through the process of meditation.
There are several types of meditation, some deriving from ancient Chinese and Indian practices, and others touting a modern, western spin. Today, 30 million Americans maintain meditation practices hailing from a multiplicity of cultures. These practices include, but are by no means limited to:
- Transcendental Meditation, the goal of which is to achieve enlightenment and inner peace. In the Hindu tradition, transcendental meditation is performed in a seated position and entails the repetition of an inner mantra. Focusing your consciousness on your inner mantra silences the turbulence of the external world, allowing you to break free of your damaged ego.
- Kundalini Meditation requires that one concentrate on one’s breath, feeling it move energy through the body’s energy centers. Qi Gong, a meditation of Chinese origin, is designed to do the same, moving energy through the body’s “meridians,” but also incorporates bodily movement.
- Guided Vizualization requires that the meditator envision a calming, happy situation to generate feelings of positivity and relaxation.
- Mindfulness Meditation, unlike other forms of meditation, does not require you to focus on a mantra or image. In fact, the objective of mindfulness meditation is to allow your mind to wander without becoming engulfed in your thoughts or feelings. A mindful meditator becomes aware of her thoughts and feelings while remaining detached from them, averting the emotional responses they typically evoke. This form of meditation is particularly beneficial for those leading stressful, conflict-ridden lives.
In seeking to be the greatest yoga retreat Hawaii can offer, we want our program to yield benefits that transcend the physical. We therefore meditate daily to reap the many psychological benefits that the practice generates.
The root of meditation’s psychological benefits lies in its ability to reduce bodily concentrations of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone. Cortisol causes a spike in cytokines, chemicals that contribute to inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can impair sleep, dampen mood, increase blood pressure, intensify anxiety, and cause exhaustion and brain fog. By taming our cortisol levels, meditation can reverse the negative impacts of high cortisol, thereby combatting the aforementioned afflictions. It also decreases depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic attacks, and increases levels of feel-good compounds like serotonin and human growth hormone.
Even for those who do not experience chronic psychological turbulence, meditation is conducive to sociability and positivity. Meditation increases feelings of social connection and empathy, remedying feelings of loneliness and detachment. Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford claims meditation also improves our ability to regulate our emotions and put thoughts and feelings into perspective. Indeed, studies indicate that meditation increases brain volume in areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and self-control.
The positive effects of meditation on the brain are not limited to mood regulation. Meditation also enhances cognitive capacities. Indeed, Shrimati Bhanu Narasimhan refers to meditation as “mental hygiene.” Meditation has been proven to increase the amount of gray matter in both the hippocampus and the frontal lobe, contributing to improved memory and thought. It also increases cortical thickness in the areas of the brain responsible for introspection and concentration. Multiple studies demonstrate that it sharpens attention span, in turn promoting mental agility.
Of course, those looking to benefit from a yoga retreat Hawaii has to offer seek to improve their physical health. To many of our guests’ surprise, meditation yields a shocking number of unprecedented physical benefits. These benefits are largely due to the reduction of cortisol, the stress hormone that harms immunity, blood pressure, and fertility.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that meditation was able to activate genes that protect against a host of physical disorders, such as infertility, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer. It also increases the length of telomeres, the chromosomal caps that indicate biological age. Increased telomeres length indicate improved resilience against the effects of oxidative stress. Meditation increases bodily concentrations of nitric oxide, reducing blood pressure and further protecting against the many physical threats of the body’s stress response.
Finally, meditation may also help ease digestive distress. Because meditation is conducive to mindfulness, it may help you tune into your bodily needs and make more nutritious choices. In reducing cortisol levels, meditation also prevents the anxiety and inflammation that can lead to gas, bloating, and constipation. Indeed, the State Universiry of New York recommends it as a treatment for symptoms of IBS. By lowering stress, meditation increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s organs. This increased blood flow to digestive organs can support healthy digestion, which in turn facilitates detoxification. It is perhaps the facilitation of healthy digestion that has rendered meditation an Ayurvedic remedy for thousands of years.