We live in a world marred by distraction. Our minds are always racing, and we constantly seek some thing or the other to meet our needs and desires. As Buddha says, we're hurling from one pleasant experience to the next - "What's for lunch?", "how will my boss like the new proposal I printed out and left on his desk hours ago?", "how do I want to plan my weekend?" - it's an endless rant which doesn't pipe down till you hit the pillow.
Eckhart Tolle refers to this as your inner voice, an inner narrator who constantly seeks perfection, validation or consciousness. He says, "Once you identify that your mind won't stop, you need to find an anchor for presence. One that'll cut through the momentum that is your racing thoughts." If you're thinking, why break the chain of thought, why worry about it all then Dan Haris, author of 10% Happier answers this perfectly. He says, " We spend a whole lot of time on our bodies, our stock portfolios and home decor. But very rarely do we spend time fine tuning the filter through which we experience it all: our minds."
Meditation has been identified as a practice that makes you stronger, better and more efficient at work. It helps you become more focused and less confused. It disciplines your mind and encourages a culture of mindfulness or living in the present. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't promise to pull you out of misery but instead put you on the path of positive thinking. And Ariana Huffington, Novak Djokovic, Katy Perry, the rich and successful on Wall Street, and the young and restless in Silicon Valley will tell you that it absolutely does!
In 2014, Bloomberg published an article 'To Make a Killing on Wall Street, Start Meditating'. It quoted real life examples of hedge fund managers and stock brokers who turned to meditation when they were drowning in stress, anxiety and monthly targets. It obviously worked because not only traders and bankers across the country started to adopt the practice, but even corporate America as a whole. An article in The New Yorker reported that Aetna, General Mills, and Goldman Sachs all offer their employees free in-office meditation training.
In fact, Google employees have an in-house course called 'Search Inside Yourself'. With the help of meditation, it's designed to teach employees how to manage their emotions, and make them better workers in the process. According to an article that came out in the online magazine Wired, meditation or quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts.
The Many Health Benefits of Meditation
Till a few years ago, meditation was known to be a practice only spiritual yogis or savy hippies would adopt. There was never any kind of scientific evidence to show that meditation contributes to your well-being. There were no quantifiable benefits, so to say.
Jay Michaelson said that till around 1983 there were only three peer-reviewed scientific studies of meditation and in 2013 the number rose to around 1300. Fast forward to today and you're sitting on some fantastic scientific research which shows how meditation isn't just a tool for personal development but has real health benefits.
Dan Harris points out some crucial ones in his Google talk: meditation lowers your blood pressure, boosts the immune system, mitigates depression, anxiety and ADHD. Sometimes, it also helps with seemingly unrelated things like IBS. Let's dive deeper, shall we?
1. Meditation Improves Brain Function - Harvard Medical School was one of the first schools to prove their hypothesis that meditation can produce a positive change overtime in the brain's gray matter. They conducted an 8 week long study where 16 students practiced mindful meditation, self-awareness exercises for the course of the study. Researchers took magnetic resonance (MR) images of their brains 2 weeks before the study and then after the study. They found increased gray matter density in the brain which is known to be important for learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
2. Meditation Can Protect the Brain - A 2015 study from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center proved how meditation can protect the ageing brain. "The brain starts to decline in your 20s and continues to decrease in both size and volume. Regular meditation can help keep away normal cognitive decline that occurs with ageing and is also an effective way to prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinsons and Dementia."
3. Meditation Can Treat Depression - A few months ago, researchers from Oxford University published a study which suggests meditation as a good way to treat mild to moderate depression. They also found it to work as a strong medication for people suffering from recurrent depression.
4. Meditation Helps Relieve, Stress & Anxiety - Everyday we find ourselves buried knee deep in work: Exhaustive to-do lists, being stuck to our computer screens, smartphones, emails etc. We feel over-worked, anxious and exhausted. Researchers at Joh Hopkins found that meditation works on so many levels and can actually help people deal with everyday stress and anxiety. One of the researchers explains how "When you're stressed or anxious you tend to have unproductive worries that can often be nagging. Mindful meditation teaches you to identify that thought as useless, as just a thought and not part of who you are."
5. Meditation Helps You Fight Insomnia, Sleep Better - Mindful meditation evokes a relaxational response in people said Dr. Benson, director of the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Mind Body Medicine. A 2015 study conducted at Harvard and published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggested that mindful meditation worked really well on insomnia, fatigue, lack of sleep and depression.
6. Meditation for Pain Management - In 1965, Kabat Zinn, a graduate student in molecular biology at M.I.T came up with an 8 week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or M.B.S.R. which helped patients being treated from severe medical conditions at the university hospital manage their pain. He said, "Meditation helps find new ways to be in a relationship to their pain-mainly, to separate physical sensations from the emotions and fears surrounding them." This wasn't the only study which identified meditation as a way of pain management. A 2013 study published in the journal Pain also spoke about meditation as a way to manage chronic neck pain.
How to Meditate
If you tell yourself to meditate 10 minutes a day over and over again, it's likely that you won't end up doing so. Just like physical exercise or bushing your teeth, meditation needs to become habitual. Something that you do out of necessity and not need. Find a comfortable position and quiet spot and start to breathe in and out, really slow. Focus on your breathing or on the energy in your hands, legs, your body. Eckhart Tolle suggests that once you find a different focus it'll anchor your thoughts and give you a break from what you'd usually think.