The saying goes “if everyone knew how to meditate there would be world peace by the end of the year.” Idealist maybe, but meditation can certainly help increase the level of peace and clarity within ourselves.
Meditation hit the scenes hard in the United States during the 1960s and by early 2000s has become about as mainstream as going for a jog. Meditation, however, is not a new practice. Like many other ancient Eastern practices, it’s just taken a little while for the Western World to catch on, but luckily, we have. Meditation couldn’t be more needed than in the fast-paced and often stressful lifestyles we have created for ourselves today.
The history of meditation is somewhat elusive, but many experts believe meditation, in some form or another, was practiced since the beginning of mankind. Documents of meditative breathing practices originated over 10,000 years ago in the Korean teachings of Tan’gun. However, the true roots of meditation are thought to have sprouted from India. This is because the first structured meditation scriptures, written by a group called the Upanishads, was discovered in India over 5,000 years ago. The Upanishads were on a quest for spiritual happiness; in addition to meditation and banishing material objects, they were also thought to be the creators of the concept of karma.
Fast forward to 1955 when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi developed a technique for transcendental meditation that helped meditation become a global phenomenon. Transcendental meditation is an ancient Indian technique, where you’re able to reach greater clarity from practices that involve calming your mind. Maharishi technique was taught to millions on his worldwide tours, including the likes of the Beatles. The Beatles praising the incredible effects of meditation added an extra layer of curiosity from the general public, which brings us back to today.
While many are inspired by the idea of meditation, it is often a busy lifestyle or a lack of knowing how to do it that gets in the way. However, as with most things in life, it’s a five-letter word that can shift this; habit. Once you experience the outstanding effects of meditation, you will find that taking the time to meditate is not as difficult as you may have thought. All you need to do is dedicate 10 minutes of your day to slowing down, switching off, and going within. Gradually, you may be able to increase that time to half an hour or hour a day.
But why is meditation good?
According to science meditation lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, balances hormone levels, reduces inflammation, improves thinking, and clears our minds.
Access to higher brain waves
There are 4 types of brain waves; delta, theta, alpha, and beta. When we meditate we utilize the theta and delta waves, which are considered the higher functioning waves. Theta waves are linked to relaxation, creativity, and problem-solving. Delta waves, on the other hand, occur during sleep and sleep like states and are thought to have restorative properties. Beta waves are the waves we are in most of the day when we are alert and actively thinking. Alpha waves are between alert and meditative states, they occur when we are relaxed, but still very lucid.
Studies reveal the positive effect of meditation on the mind
In the 1960’s Dr Herbert Benson became intrigued by the effect that meditation had on overall well-being and mental health. He went on to publish a book titled The Relaxation Response in 1975, which includes many of the studies that were undertaken in his laboratories at Harvard Medical School.
Benson claims that meditation allows us to turn off the automated fight or flight modes and gain more control over our reactions to certain situations. His studies also indicated that many common health conditions such as anxiety, hypertension, and heart conditions can be avoided by frequently entering a state of deep relaxation.
What’s interesting is that over the past thirty years, studies continue to back the claim that meditation has positive effects on the body, but a lot are disputed saying more rigorous research needed to be done. Since the mind and body are connected, meditation can play a pivotal role in maintaining optimal health.
Meditation helps to control stress and anxiety
Many of us are guilty of having a busy mind and giving too much power to passing thoughts, which only seems to magnify their presence. Before you know it, thoughts of worry and stress can start to play back on repeat, often to the point where your sleep starts to become affected and you have a mind you just can’t seem to switch off. Surviving on minimal sleep is bad for your health and makes keeping up with your busy schedule nearly impossible. If you don’t find a way to switch off and relax, your mental health can suffer greatly.
For those struggling with anxiety, doctors are turning their attention to the use of meditation in treatment plans rather than relying solely on psychotropic drugs. One study, by the National Health Institute, took 89 participants who had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and taught half of them meditation. Participants who were not in the mindfulness meditation group were taught a stress management course. It was found at the end of the eight-week test period that those who took the meditation course had superior coping mechanisms along with improvements in self-reported stress levels compared to those who took the stress management course.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist who worked on this study states:
“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.’”
Meditation related interventions are a necessary part of stress and mood management because medication alone is not always successful. It is estimated that 30-60% of patients prescribed psychotropics for anxiety don’t reach a successful outcome after treatment. Meditation is readily accessible to just about anyone on the planet and doesn’t come with any unwanted side effects.
Meditation has been linked to reduced disease and illness
It has been found that chronic psychological stress raises inflammation in the body, which greatly affects the immune system and our ability to ward off disease. This can be anything from a common cold to more serious conditions such as coronary artery disease or cancer. Dr Mercola paints a very clear picture of just how important it is to control stress and inflammation in your body with the statement, “inflammation is the root of all disease.”
While meditation is obviously not a miracle cure, by taking the time to practice daily, not only are you protecting your mental health, but you’re also ensuring that your immune system remains in top shape.
A study that was carried on 90 cancer patients who participated in a meditation-based stress reduction program, showed decreases in mood disturbances and overall stress symptoms.
How to incorporate meditation into each day
If you’re brand new to meditation, it can be a little hard to get started and maintain focus. Much like Julia Roberts in Eat, Love, Pray on her first attempt at meditation in India, it’s obviously easy to be distracted. From the noisy fan overhead, to an itch on the foot, or a buzzing fly, many people have a hard time switching off their mind. But don’t worry, you don’t need to force yourself to sit still for a whole hour. Just commit to 5-10 minutes and when you feel yourself starting to lose focus, focus on your breathing. It’s all about working your way up to more still time.
Finding your zen space is also helpful, you don’t need a Buddhist garden or ancient temple to start meditating, although that would be nice. A simple mat on the floor or your bed is a great place to start. While you can meditate on a busy train, plane or bus with the aid of guided meditation through headphones, it’s best to find a quiet space at home or in the outdoors to meditate when starting out.
If you do commute on public transport for work however, a guided meditation gives you that chance to zen out before coming home to cook dinner or running other errands. Guided meditations are a spoken meditation, usually with accompanying background music and are probably the easiest way for those who have a hard time sitting still to learn.
Others might find that they benefit more from a meditation class, where you can be guided through the steps of quieting the mind. Casual classes are generally between thirty minutes and one hour and you’ll be very surprised at how quick this time goes once you immerse yourself in the class.
During meditation, everything slows down. You feel the gentle beating of your heart in your chest, the breath traveling through your torso, and any sounds in the room begin to fade. You can even recognize which areas of your body or muscles are holding onto tension.
There are limitless rewards from meditation; scientifically proven health benefits, an overall feeling of wellness and vitality, and the ability to achieve clarity by quieting persistent overthinking. All of these elements help to understand how meditation continues to be carried across the ages, playing a pivotal role moving into our modern-day future.