Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content. Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work and patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energized states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.
For thousands of years, meditation has been used to help the body, the mind, and the spirit. Today, meditation is making news as a reliever of stress, a way to lower blood pressure, a way to improve focus and even as a way to reduce violence and negative emotions. As meditation guru Deepak Chopra likes to point out, “ Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering the quiet that is already there.”
What do people who have a meditation practice want you to know about people who meditate?
1. We are happier
Dascher Keltner, head of Berkeley’s Positive Psychology Program teaches that meditation boosts positive emotion, lowers negative emotion, and strengthens coping mechanisms. Meditation puts you on the fast track to being happy,” says Ronnie Newman, director of research and health promotion for the Art of Living Foundation, the umbrella organization for the Sahaj meditation course. Studies have shown that brain signaling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions, while activity decreases in the right side, responsible for negative emotions, Newman says. The other benefits of meditation, including increased self-awareness and acceptance, also contribute to improved overall well-being. Meditation is one of many tools that schools and workplaces are employing to increase well-being of students and workers.
2. We are healthier
Studies have shown that meditation has lowers the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. It also lowers the risk of heart disease. The vagus nerve literally connects the heart to the brain. In studies, people who meditated for up to 15 minutes once a day showed improved vagal tone. Reducing the body’s exposure to these while improving vagal tone has been shown to decrease chance of stroke and heart attack. A recent study even showed that meditators were able to change the piece of DNA, the telomere, that controls the aging of cells.
3. We are more creative
People who meditate regularly have reported both greater sense of creativity. When you meditate, you are in the space of vastness, calmness and joy and this is what you emit into the environment, bringing harmony to where you are.Once the mind is emptied and calm, there is more room for new ideas to come in. Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied both focused-attention and open-monitoring meditation to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards. They found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show any obvious signs of improvement in the creativity task following their meditation. For those who did open-monitoring meditation, however, they performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.
4. We feel connected
When we meditate, we are going within, and yet one of the paradoxes of meditating is that by spending time with yourself, you feel a greater sense of connection to others. The simple difference between those who meditate and those who do not, is that for a meditative mind the thought occurs but is witnessed, while for an ordinary mind, the thought occurs and is the boss. So in both minds, an upsetting thought can occur, but for those who meditate it is just another thought, which is seen as such and is allowed to blossom and die, while in the ordinary mind the thought instigates a storm which rages on and on.
5. We let go more easily
By spending time in meditation, we turn up our ability to be compassionate and empathetic, and we spend less time in critical self-rumination. Emotional balance, means to be free of all the neurotic behavior that results from the existence of a tortured and traumatized ego. This is very hard to achieve fully, but meditation certainly is the way to cure such neurosis and unhealthy emotional states. As one’s consciousness is cleansed of emotionally soaked memories, not only does great freedom abound, but also great balance. As one’s responses then are not colored by the burdens one carries, but are instead true, direct and appropriate.
6. We feel pain less and pleasure more
When people who experience chronic pain due to disease were taught meditation, they reported a reduction of pain and an increase of their tolerance for the pain they had. Meditation actually changes the brain and teaches it the skill of self-generating positive emotion.
Meditation was shown to reduce activity in key pain-processing regions of the brain. The study appears in the April 6 issue of the The Journal of Neuroscience. The study confirms that mindfulness meditation can have a real and measurable impact on the experience of acute pain, even in people with very little formal training, Wake Forest associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy Robert C. Coghill, PhD conducted the study. “ Meditation has been used to treat chronic pain for a long time, but patients tend to have a lot more training,” he says. “ It is not clear if the brief training sessions like the ones used in this study would be useful for these patients.” The study shows that meditation distracts the mind and reduces the emotional response to pain.
7. We are more resilient
People who meditate have a healthier stress response and are more flexible and adjustable to change than non-meditators. The results of bran scans on meditators shows different areas of the brain being used in stressful situation by meditators. By sitting silently for a few minutes each day you actually change the
density of grey matter and the right to left ratio. This means that when things go wrong, our brain is better at thinking its way out of the situation and coping with the stress. We become skilled at seeing half-full.
Relaxation also appears to boost immunity in recovering cancer patients. A study at the Ohio State University found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practiced daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In another study at Ohio State, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumors and to viruses.
8. We are kind
People who meditate use that sense of connection to become kind and compassionate. That is a fancy way of saying that people who meditate are more likely to volunteer, donate or be heroic. Research on meditation has shown that empathy and compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. One experiment showed participants images of other people that were either good, bad or neutral in what they called “ compassion meditation.” The participants were able to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.
Part of this comes from activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that processes emotional stimuli. During meditation, this part of the brain normally shows decreased activity, but in this experiment it was exceptionally responsive when participants were shown images of people.
The techniques of meditation are very simple. However, reading about them is no substitute for learning from an experienced and reliable teacher. A teacher will be able to offer you guidance in how to apply the technique and how to deal with difficulties. Perhaps most importantly, a teacher can offer the encouragement and inspiration of their own example.
If you haven’t started I encourage you to register for a 21-day meditation challenge, start a home practice or download a guided meditation app. There is a great selection online for resources on meditation ranging from online web guides to YouTube videos showing how to do meditation. Spending time alone
may seem daunting in today’s busy world, but as the Zen proverb says, “ You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”