I was introduced to meditation right from the first day of my life. My parents have been punctual practitioners of meditation long before my birth. Though they have been consistently practicing meditation for over thirty years now, I, a 20-something psychology student, share a bumpy relationship with meditation. Do I practice meditation every day? Maybe not. But am I convinced that meditation helps in maintaining my mental sanity? Absolutely, yes!
Before I dwell deeper into the psychological benefits of meditation, let me first talk about the history of meditation.
Meditation has gained its rightful momentum in recent years as a mind-calming practice. But the origin of meditation can be traced back to thousands of years ago. The popular narrative suggests that meditation was very much in existence during the Vedic period. The Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad of the 14th Century lists around 70 generations of gurus and students involved in meditative practices till that era. The practice of meditation is also associated with major cultures like Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christian Mysticism, and Sufism. Because of its widespread popularity across geographical boundaries, we see a rise in different meditative techniques, presumably due to the integration of various cultures. For example, the Jewish tradition of Kaballah (based on contemplation of philosophical concepts) developed its own form of meditation that is different from Sufism (that focuses on breathing, mantra, and gazing). The important lesson to learn from this history is that even though different meditation techniques emerged due to cultural influences, the core function of meditation remained untouched, that is, “Spiritual Oneness.”
In today’s world of logic and sciences, meditation is practiced more as a mental or cognitive exercise. Integration of meditative practices in psychological counseling techniques like mindfulness, dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT), stress-reducing exercises, etc., can be one of the reasons behind the therapeutic model of meditation.
Most of us are aware that meditation helps improve concentration, focus, memory (to an extent) and significantly helps in relaxation. Recent brain research shows the ability of meditation to create additional folds in the brain’s outer layer (a process called gyrification) that improves an individual’s capacity for information processing. Another review study indicated the role of meditation in reversing cognitive decline as a result of aging. Research also suggests the role of meditation in emotion regulation and processing. Emotion regulation is mediated by meditation by activating the amygdala (brain region responsible for emotion processing). Practicing meditation also helps cope with psychological distress, anxiety, depression, anger/hostility, blood pressure, and insomnia.
So, the question is not how meditation helps maintain our mental health anymore (thanks to the extensive research on meditation and mental health!), but why do we rarely practice meditation despite knowing its advantages?!
From my experiences, I can list the following reasons:
No time for meditation due to the busy schedule
Concentration issues while meditation
Getting constant distractions
Thinking about work and other errands to run
Dozing off to sleep while sitting continuously with eyes closed, and the list can go on and on!
“I have no time” is the most common reason people give to justify why they are not meditating. We, humans, give time to activities that we think is of value. We attend online lectures, read books, exercise, eat, socialize, sleep, etc. because we believe that these activities will add value to our lifestyle. So, an underlying reason of not having time for meditation may arise from our belief that meditation does not add any value to our daily routine. Mahatma Gandhi who was busy freeing India from the British colonialization once said, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
Also, most of us are outwardly driven people. That means, we measure our productivity by ticking off activities from our check list. For us, fulfilment and life satisfaction come from what we do (our accomplishments) rather than how we are inside (our sanity). What we often forget is that there is a direct relationship between our inner wellbeing and productivity. Meditation need not be considered as an escape from our real-world problems but a way to channelize our energy better to manage our daily errands.
That said, some people over-expect from meditation without practicing it the way it is supposed to be. Statements like “I tried meditation, but it just doesn’t work for me”, or “I am not good at meditation” reflect such expectations and the fact that most people are not practicing it the right way! Knowing how to meditate is the key to be satisfied after a meditation session. Guidance from an experienced meditation trainer is a must if you want the results. Over-expectations come when we keep thinking about the benefits of meditation instead of practicing it efficiently. Also, because we know meditation is supposed to calm our minds, we sometimes end up trying too hard to calm ourselves which just adds to more stress and concern (definitely not an ideal feeling after meditation!). Learning how to meditate with a trainer and practicing it without getting concerned can put us on the right track.
Another reason why some stay aversive to meditation is because they think life is good, why meditate! This is like saying I am not sick at the moment, why eat proper food or get proper rest! Meditation is a way of life. It does not guarantee us a good life, but it prepares us to handle our stressors well through neurological, psychological, and even biological means. Our hormones, neurons, and other bodily conditions are at play during an efficient meditation session.
Now when I look back at the reasons I had listed from my experiences, I see that they indicate the underlying challenges like attention problems, time mismanagement, stress, etc. These issues, as previously discussed, can be swiftly managed by just ten minutes of meditation every day!
You can start by experimenting with various meditation techniques to know which meditation suits your lifestyle the best! It can be a simple relaxation procedure or a breathing technique. Once you are comfortable with your existing techniques, you can then explore other practices that require higher concentration levels. Taking such small steps can leave a significant impact on your lifestyle, and thus your overall wellbeing. From research and personal experiences, I can affirm that practicing meditation makes a lot of difference in life—be it work, personal, or social life. From my experience, I can confidently state that practicing meditation every once in a while, helps me become more manageable with my emotions, thoughts and keeps me calm throughout the day.
I am trying to make meditation a part of my regular routine, and I hope that after reading this blog, you will too!
“Your goal is not to battle with the mind, but to witness the mind.”
~ Swami Muktananda
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