Written By: Greg Washington
The value and importance of meditation as a daily health tool for self-improvement can no longer be overlooked in this stress-inducing, fast-paced, ever-changing world we find ourselves living in. Our lovely planet inhabits roughly 7.5 billion walking, talking, different personalities.
You can see it in the news, on the roads, and at home: simply put the average individual is stressed out more often than healthy living should permit. A shocking 80 percent of American workers indicate they feel stressed in the workplace. More than 90 percent of adult Australians acknowledge that at least one major aspect of their life is overwhelmed with stress.
To top it off, records of labor surveys reveal an estimated 440,000 citizens of Britain have willingly worked while experiencing stress that was making them ill. This begs two questions: what is meditation, and how can it help alleviate stress while promoting healthy living?
What is meditation
The term “meditation” can be foreign to some, while to others it may be viewed as an essential aspect of one’s life. Meditation can be defined as a discourse intended to express the author’s perception and experience or to guide others in contemplation. Practiced meditation can also be expressed as a state of deep peace that occurs when the mind is settled.
Where did it come from
Although many have deemed daily meditation as a New Age fad, that could not be further from the truth. The practice and application of meditation for personal health can be traced all the way back to BC 1500 in the East on the account of Hindu written records and BC 20 in the West via Philo of Alexandria.
Health benefits of meditation
A vast array of benefits may be cultivated through meditation, including decreased rates of depression, lower levels of stress and diminished anxiety. A study involving 400 students at five different middle schools in Belgium linked mindfulness meditation practices to a reduction in the aforementioned categories of depression, stress and anxiety. This study also showed these students reported decreased signs and symptoms of depression six months later.
Furthermore, experiments conducted by Harvard neuroscientists support the use of meditation to increase grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, regulation of emotions and having a perspective of oneself and others. The data from Harvard’s neuroscientists also revealed increased growth of the hippocampal and volumes of frontal grey matter respectively within individuals who continually practice meditation.
How to meditate
At this point, you might find yourself wanting to give this whole meditation for health thing a go. Here are a few steps to help you get started. The dynamics and application of meditation practices may vary among individuals; but in general, the following six steps may be used as a simple and effective means by which to meditate.
Select a word or mantra. This does not need to be an in-depth sentence. One can simply use a word such as peace or love. The point here is focusing your attention on the mantra and not your clutter of anxiety-ridden thoughts.
Grab a comfy spot to sit. You will not need the popcorn, but finding a comfortable place to sit is essential given the amount of time you will be stationary. Sitting on a chair or sofa with cushions or pillows is suggested. A blanket may also be used, but is not necessary; point here is to find a posture you can remain in comfortably for an extended amount of time.
Relax your eyes and breathe deeply. Start by inhaling through your nose slowly while exhaling out of your mouth; this will help to cleanse and relax your body.
Begin repeating your chosen word or mantra. One may now start the repetition of silently repeating their selected mantra without moving the tongue or lips. The mantra does not need to correlate with the in-breath and out-breath respectively, although this might be beneficial for some. The purpose of this step is to stay relaxed and not to force oneself. Meditation at its core is meant to be effortless.
Get out of your own way. An individual might find that their mind tends to wander towards various thoughts and distractions; do not fret – this is typical human nature. If you do find your mind wandering, simply return the point of focus back to your mantra to settle the mind once more.
Stop repeating the mantra. Once you have reached your allotted meditation time, you may stop repeating your chosen word or mantra while continuing to sit with your eyes closed. This is a good time to relax after your meditation and before resuming daily activities.
A means to an end
With the global population set to increase to 8.6 billion by the year 2030 and to 9.8 billion by 2050, individuals will increasingly find themselves interacting with others on a more frequent and intimate basis. Using meditation as a means to help cope with the stresses of daily life may prove to be an advantageous and proactive addition to your daily rituals.