While many are inspired by the idea of meditation, it is often a busy lifestyle that gets in the way of truly experiencing what it’s all about. However, as with most things, it’s a five letter word that’s standing in the way. And that word is 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 though. All you need to do is dedicate five minutes of your day to slowing down, switching off and going within. Gradually, you’ll be able to increase that time to half an hour a day. So what’s so great about meditation and why does it seem everyone is talking about it?
While it might seem like some kind of craze that’s sweeping every nation, meditation is anything but new. Like many other ancient Eastern Practices, it’s just taken a little while for the Western World to wake up to our neighbor’s ways of life.
But thank goodness it did carry across to the West. Meditation has never been more needed in our fast-paced, often stressful lifestyles that we have created for ourselves. Regardless of your religious background or cultural heritage, anyone and everyone can practice (and master) the art of meditation.
The history of meditation
Breathing practices have originated some 10,000 years ago from the Korean teachings of Tan’gun. In fact, many cultures have likely practiced in some form of meditation since the dawn of time. It’s just they didn’t always have ways and means to record those practices.
The true roots of meditation are thought to have sprouted from ancient India. That’s due to findings of some of the first scriptures of structured meditation being discovered in India, some 5,000 years ago. These scriptures were written by a group called the Upanishads.
During this time, it seemed the Upanishads were on the pursuit of spiritual happiness, where the concept of karma is also thought to have first been established. The Upanishads were incredibly mysterious, they banished many material objects, and ancient scriptures revealed their biggest questions on life, which still remain open to this very day.
This includes the all too common “Who am I?” question that we each would have asked at some point in our lives. They certainty delved into a lot of mysteries of life, which even science cannot to this day explain. Through meditation, the Upanishads mastered the practice of switching off the mind and exploring the depths of their inner being.
The teachings of meditation spreads to the world
Swami Vivekananda was one of the most respected spiritual leaders of his time. Born in Calcutta, India in 1863, he was responsible for spreading a message of self-awakening and the importance of meditation to the world. His lessons were learnt from his guru, Sri Ramakrishna. You would know all about the Krishna movement, with popular cities in America having its groups of Hare Krishnas singing mantras, clapping and playing instruments down busy streets, spreading messages of joy.
It was in Chicago, where a ground-breaking first World Parliament of Religions was held in 1893, where Swami captivated thousands in the audience and in fact received a standing ovation for his speech.
From here, he continued to spread his message on the relevance of meditation in our modern lives across America and the UK. These visits were the first that the West had even heard about the concept of meditation. By the mid 20th century, the concept of meditation was widely known in the Western World.
Meditation becomes a global phenomenon
By 1955 a transcendental meditation (TM) technique was developed by Mahesh Prasad Varma (Maharishi). This is an ancient Indian technique, where you’re able to reach greater clarity from practices that involve calming your mind. His message was taught to millions on his worldwide tours, including the likes of the Beatles.
It seemed that since the Beatles praised the incredible effects of meditation, it added an extra layer of curiosity from the general public. Maharishi was even dubbed spiritual advisor to the Beatles.
The International Meditation Society was formed in 1960 by Maharishi and he officially trained his first teacher of TM, Henry Nyburg of England. You can imagine, it would have been quite the honour to receive training from this worldwide guru. Training centres were opened and courses available for anyone to learn TM. By this time, meditation was well and truly mainstream. Although Maharishi passed away in 2008, his legacy continues on.
First studies reveal the positive effect of meditation on the mind
In the 1960’s, American born, Dr Herbert Benson became intrigued by the effect that meditation had on overall well-being and mental health. In fact, he created the term relaxation response, which describes the psychological effect that meditation has on your body and mind.
He went on to publish a book titled The Relaxation Response in 1975, which includes many studies undertaken in his laboratories of Harvard Medical School. He describes how we are each able to switch off our automated fight or flight modes and be in greater control of our reactions to certain situations in our lives. His research includes studies indicating that common health conditions can be avoided by frequently entering a state of deep relaxation.
What’s interesting is that over the past thirty years, research continues to mount on the link between emotional and physical health. In other words, the mind and body are all connected, not separate, as it has been long-viewed in the Western World. For this reason, meditation plays a pivotal role in maintaining optimal mental health.
Meditation helps to control stress and anxiety
Throughout many stages or chapters across your life, you might be a little guilty of giving too much power to passing thoughts, which only seems to magnify their presence. Before you know, your sleep starts to become affected, by a mind you just can’t seem to switch off.
This is particularly true for matters that involve worry or stress about what the future may bring. This becomes one of the most frustrating experiences, where you wish there was a thought cord you could just cut.
As you know, trying to go about your day on minimal sleep makes it hard to keep up with a schedule that’s bursting at the seams. If attention isn’t given to finding ways to switch off or wind down, 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 particular study involved 89 participants who had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. The participants were divided into two separate test groups, one group undertook a stress management course and the other group a mindfulness course. It was found that at the end of the eight-week test period, those who undertook the meditation course had improved coping mechanisms along with improvements in self-reported stress levels.
It’s all about learning how to manage your thoughts. In an article published by Julie Corliss on Harvard Medical School, Dr Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist behind the above study mentions:
“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.’”
The future is looking very hopeful for meditation related interventions, over the use of psychotropic drugs, which aren’t always successful in treating the core problem. In fact, 30 to 60% of patients prescribed with psychotropics for anxiety related symptoms, don’t reach a successful outcome after treatment. Meditation is readily accessible by just about anyone on the planet, it’s cost-effective and doesn’t come with any unwanted side effects!
Meditation’s link to avoiding disease and illness
It’s only been quite recently that scientists have found out just how stress affects the body in terms of developing disease. It has been found that chronic psychological stress raises inflammation in the body, which greatly affects the immune system and the ability to ward off disease.
This can be anything from a common cold, all the way through to heart disease. And I’m sure you know just how quickly your blood pressure and heart rate can rises during times of stress.
While meditation is obviously not a miracle cure, by taking the time to practice meditation daily, not only are you protecting your mental health, but you’re also ensuring that your immune system remains in top shape. Extreme stress is linked to persistent fatigue, obesity and even cancer.
One study was carried out on 90 cancer patients who participated in a meditation-based stress reduction program, that showed decreases in mood disturbances and overall stress symptoms.
While the topic of inflammation is a very complex one to understand, Dr Mercola paints a very clear picture of just how important it is to control stress in your life. He stands by a very bold statement, “inflammation is the root of all disease”.
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 clear to see how easy it is to be distracted. From the noisy fan overhead, to an itch on the foot, a buzzing fly and two hours left on the clock, you’re likely to be able to relate to the frustration of sitting still and switching off your mind.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to force yourself to sit still for a whole two hours and meet the same frustrations as Julia Roberts. It’s all about working your way up to more still time. If you can spare just five minutes out of your day to meditate then you’re already many steps ahead of the majority of those around you, who are rushing about their day.
Find your zen space
You don’t need a Buddhist garden or ancient temple to start meditating, although that would be nice. While you can meditate on a busy train, plane or bus with the aid of a guided meditation through headphones, it’s best to find a quiet space at home or in the outdoors to meditate.
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. Most people use commuting time to fill their mind with all happenings of their Facebook News Feed! Again, that’s another win for you!
The ease of guided meditations
If you were to search guided meditation on Youtube, you will get over 2 million search results. These recordings truly work wonders and if you haven’t already tried a guided meditation, then you’re missing out! It’s usually not until you find that time to slow down your mind, that you realize just how stressed you’ve been and how much you’ve been overthinking in many areas of your life.
Guided meditations are a spoken meditation, usually with accompanying background music. You can choose from any voice, male or female, and any kind of background sounds imaginable. Think flutes, the relaxing sounds of crashing waves, rainforest downpours, beautiful bird calls and anything else you can imagine to increase relaxation. It’s all up to you to choose the best track based on your personal preference.
If you’re brand new to meditation, then perhaps also add short meditation to your search terms. Track lengths range from just a few minutes, right up to multiple hours! Guided meditations are probably the easiest way to learn how to be still and meditate. You can also use these tracks to help you fall asleep at night. They do wonders in switching off a mind full of thoughts!
A meditation class
You might find that you 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.
This is likely due to the fact that you’re fully present in the moment. This is the same sensation you have when you’re immersed in a passion of yours (insert the cliché time flies when you’re having fun here).
During meditation, everything slows down. You feel the gentle beating of your heart in your chest, feel the breath travelling 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. In fact, sounds, touches and smells come to life during meditation.
You will certainty begin to experience a deeper level of consciousness, when you indulge in meditation classes. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people and also feel a true sense of community around you. This sense of belonging, is an incredibly rewarding human experience and one that is often deeply craved by many.
Meditation will change your life
When you have something on your mind that’s bothering you or you have reached a fork in the road you usually can achieve a lot of clarity by talking to your closest friends.
This helps to clear what might feel like brain fog through persistent overthinking. They can give advice from a place of clarity, from an outsider’s perspective, where they are not as emotionally invested as you are.
Meditation has this same effect, where you’re able to view the bigger picture by metaphorically stepping outside of your body and mind, if only temporarily.
Another great comparison for the type of clear-head-space that can be achieved during meditation, is that same feeling you have when you’re on vacation. You’re lounging with your feet up on a sun chair, cocktail in your hand, gazing out to a turquoise blue ocean, with not a care in the world. The magic of meditation is that you can reach this peaceful state each and every day.
With clarity, you’re able to make better decisions and choices in your life. You’ll find your relationships with friends, family, loved ones and even passing strangers will reach a greater depth, as you’re able to be more present in the moment. You certainly become more grateful for the love of those around you. Other than your personal life, don’t be surprised if your career also begins to flourish, with consistent meditation practice.
Just imagine if you were about to seal one of the biggest business deals of your career, you can’t sleep for nights on end, as every single bit of information you know about that contract is churning in your head. Rather than walking into that meeting, sleep deprived and a head full of constant chatter, you enter the room with full confidence and high energy, as you’ve used meditation as your tool to reach clarity.
Perhaps the importance of material objects will fade away as your meditation practices reach new levels. You might choose to lead a simpler, clutter-free lifestyle, where you’re genuinely a much happier and carefree version of yourself.
You could say with meditation, that you just understand more about the world around you. Perhaps you’ll even find answers to some of life’s biggest questions, which ultimately leads you to self-fulfillment and true happiness. There are limitless rewards to come out of meditation, from scientifically proven health benefits, to an overall feeling of wellness and vitality. 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.