Meditation is a peaceful, spiritual practice used to disconnect from busy lifestyles, bring an awareness to the mind and to reflect on the self. Its roots are buried deep in Buddhist and Hindi culture. The first recorded mention of meditation (Dhyana) dates back as far as 1500 BCE, in the hindu practices of Vedantism.
By the 5th century BCE, meditation had developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India. These days, meditation is a popular practice worldwide, the focus of retreats, groups and events globally. But what is it that attracts people to the practice? Why do we do it?
To improve mental wellbeing
First off, meditation is a great way to reduce stress and to sleep better. Even a short meditation can allow a minute of time-out from stressful situations, to allow you to refocus, bring awareness to your breathing, and de-frazzle for a second. If you can’t sleep, meditation can be a great way to calm the mind and take your focus off the thoughts and emotions keeping you up at night.
But beyond that, meditation is a great way to fight against anxiety, depression and other conditions that keep us focused on negative situations. We’ve known since the 90s that mindfulness meditation can slow anxiety and panic (1, 2) but there is also evidence of its helpful effects with depression and chronic pain (3) as it is designed to bring us into the present, to reform how we think.
To find clarity and focus
Meditation can be a really strong technique for focussing yourself – for bringing clarity to goals and how to achieve them. The result? You can meditate yourself to success!
This is down to ‘brain integration’, or stronger connections between different areas of the brain, which have been found in tests on world-class athletes and managers. The brain is plastic – it can change itself with various practices – and meditation can actually cause these changes and improve the brain’s functionality (4).
To manage stress
This large meta-analysis (7) studied 47 clinical trials to find that meditation had positive effects on stress and its related outcomes, like attention, eating habits, pain, weight, substance use and anxiety/depression. According to them, meditation can improve multiple dimensions of psychological stress – and at the Green Moustache we thoroughly agree!
Meditation is the perfect antidote to calm yourself when things get a little too much – whether in the middle of those crazy moments, taking a quick 5-minute reboot when things are boiling over, or as a daily practice to keep yourself centred and focussed.
To improve our relationships
Meditation’s purpose is to bring awareness to your thoughts and emotions, to heighten your sense of who you are, and to better recognise the emotions and their causes that affect you on a day to day life.
Bringing this mindfulness to relationships – with your partner, with friends and family and even with yourself – is a healthy way to learn to communicate. Studies have shown that those who meditate regularly have stronger relationships (5,6), as learning the roots of your own emotions may make it easier to understand theirs.
To watch what you’re eating!
Without changing their diet, this study in San Francisco (8) taught participants to mindfully meditate for 30 minutes a day. They found that the meditating group controlled their weight and lowered cortisol levels, which corresponded with reductions in abdominal fat, suggesting that mindfulness training shows promise for improving eating patterns.
Meditation has also been shown to reduce emotional eating and binge eating (9). For the stress-eaters out there, meditation of course reduces stress – so not only are you more mindful of your stress-eating habit, but you’ll be less vulnerable to give in to it! Win-win, we say.
To control pain
Suffering chronic pain can be an incredibly awful experience, but since the 80’s (10) research has shown that meditating can significantly reduce pain and improve quality of life. Based on that research, Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the research, has developed a ‘Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction’ program which is now widely practiced.
It has recently been shown with MRI scanning (11) that when following this program, patients saw reductions in pain-induced cerebral blood flow whilst meditating – coinciding with their experience of reduced pain intensity.
Meditation in Medicine?
There is plenty of research over the last 20 years to show that meditation exerts many benefits on physical and mental health, as well as cognitive performance (12). Though practiced for centuries, we have just started to use modern brain scans to identify the neurological changes that meditation causes.
We are beginning to identify the real neurological effects of meditation and to uncover the brain areas and networks that cause these effects, which is exciting news. Meditation has the potential to enter the realm of modern medicine. There’s a long way to go – but in the meantime, why not try it for yourself and see what benefits you experience?
I’m down! What do I do?
There are many ways to get started. Attend a meditation class – check out your local yoga studio or wellness centre. Even if they don’t have a class, they will likely know a local practitioner.
There are also many books on the subject. If you’re based here in Whistler, or near their other stores in Sechelt or North Vancouver, you can check out the Oracle. They sell a great selection of books designed to introduce you to the practice of mindful meditation.