“Benches” by Toby Melville/Reuters
How many of you, when you read the above headline for this blog, thought it said “medicated” instead of “meditated?” It’s not surprising but what is surprising is how different the two are and yet how they can often have the same results: better health.
Meditation has been around forever but I am new to it. So new in that I went to an introductory fundamentals class yesterday and it was the first time I’d ever officially meditated. I loved it. And if you can get past all the misconceptions about it, I think you will too.
How have I discovered this ancient form of relaxation? Long story short, but I had lunch with a friend and one of our long-time mentors a few weeks ago. Come to find out our mentor has opened “The Meditation Bar” and she swears by the practice. Trust me; this is a woman who I would consider the last person to take the time to not only slow down, but to meditate. She is highly accomplished and is a living breathing mover and shaker. She’s likely an avid reader too and stumbled upon Dan Harris’ bestseller, “10% Happier,” which details his life in network TV news, panic attacks, and pressure beyond his control and how meditation helped him. Naturally I picked up the book and am sold.
It didn’t hurt that author Gretchen Rubin of the “Happiness Project,” who I love, is quoted on the cover of “10% Happier.” It may all sound too “crunchy” and “so 1960s,” but as Harris says, he wrote the book to demystify thoughts just like that and to let readers know it is totally doable, regardless of your situation, religious beliefs, or skepticism.
The Meditation Bar calls it “minding your mind.” Officially, meditation is simply a practice of training the mind to promote relaxation; build internal energy; and develop compassion, patience, generosity, and forgiveness. When practiced regularly, it induces a mode of consciousness that helps you acknowledge benefits rather than struggles. Most importantly, it doesn’t replace religion, it enhances it.
Yes, it was big in the wild and crazy 1960s, when Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi encouraged admirers to “search for the hero inside yourself,” but as much as we may have made fun of the Beatles during their “weird” years, maybe they were onto something.
Even Britain’s “The Independent” is loosening its stiff upper lip, admitting that TM, as its followers call it, is rapidly moving from kooky to mainstream thanks largely to a burgeoning body of scientific research that shows regular meditators can expect to enjoy striking reductions in heart attack, stroke, and early mortality. And, as Harris writes, many think of meditation as a technique just for “bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.” (Yes the book is both educational and entertaining!). It’s anything but though.
“Meditation has a PR problem,” Harris admits. “But, if you can get past the cultural baggage, you’ll find that meditation is simply exercise for your brain and in my experience it makes you 10% happier.”
Okay then, what’s not to love? Meditation class, here I come.
In the class, which was led by a wonderful woman named Stacy, I learned that a regular practice of meditation is indeed scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and depression, and will even make you sleep better. A good night’s rest is when our bodies release tons of stress and I’m proud to say that I meditated before going to sleep last night using an app Stacy recommended ((Insight Timer) and I slept like a baby!
Turn down the lights
Turn down the bed
Turn down the voices
Inside my head
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt
The goal of meditation is to lower those voices inside your head. That inner chatter we all have creates all kinds of trouble and keeps us from remaining cool, calm, and collected. Meditation can help bring peace of mind and will enable you to respond to things rather than react to them. Yep, I need that in a big way! This Latin girl has a Latin temper and a quick mind that can snap on a dime! I’m also a great worrier and hyper planner…both of which cause me grief and stress.
A proven technique that literally rewires your brain, meditation uses your senses to ground you and direct you. But, contrary to many a belief, you don’t have to turn your brain “off” to benefit from it. As Stacy so eloquently put it, “Your brain is an instrument of thought and telling it to not have thoughts is like telling your eyes, which are instruments of sight, to not see.” While meditating, you mind will roam but you will learn how to redirect those distractions.
Meditation is not about sleeping either. I was of the belief that you would be somewhat incoherent while meditating, but you are anything but. Surprisingly I have done mediation all my life through prayer. Many of us have.
Although not a religion per se, all religions have meditation in common. Hindu is probably the one most commonly associated with it and is what many believe started it all, but Christianity is right there with it. Back in the 6th century, Benedictine monks practiced a method of reading the Bible called “Lectio Devino,” and Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila further developed the method, which is still practiced today. Plus, who hasn’t heard of the Holy Rosary or prayer beads? They are both most definitely mediations methods.
And what about Yoga? How many of you enjoy a class of Downward Dog and Warrior 2? I’m right there with you and have come to realize that Yoga is also a form of meditation. In fact, the two are so intertwined that my meditation class ended with a “Namaste.”
If you’re like me, monks and Hindu gurus immediately come to mind, as do their chants. We kinda all do that though, in that we use “mantras,” which are basically the repetition of a significant word or words to help boost concentration. Mantras are done quietly and internally but once they are spoken out loud, they are chants. “Be the ball” in sports. “Thy will be done” in prayer. “3, 2, 1” in dance. All mantras. All common.
Another misconception about meditation is that it will mellow you so much that you become unmotivated and way too chill for today’s fast-moving world. Nope, those who meditate regularly don’t lose their edge but are said to be more likely to come up with new ideas and an increased sense of doing. Much like exercise for the body, this exercise for the mind increases your enthusiasm and clarifies your actions.
As The Meditation Bar explains, you will be happier, more creative, and even healthier through meditation. Happier in that your brain physically changes the more you meditate; healthier in that meditation improves immune function by boosting antibodies, develops a positive mental environment and reduces stress; and more productive in that a calm brain is a creative brain.
We all strive to “defang the voice in our head,” and we all struggle with inner and outer realities. It’s an never-ending circle of “am I good enough?” doubts. Even Harris, a big-time network TV reporter, admits that meditation helped him balance the image he presented to the world with the complicated murmurs in his head. Been there, done that.
It’s catching on. Executives, athletes, and the U.S. Marines are using meditation to improve focus, curb addictions, and stop being “yanked by their emotions.” The journal “Military Medicine” reported that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after eight weeks of TM.
It’s not a magic pill by any means and takes both practice and patience, but it just may create space in your head so that your anger, intolerance, and frustrations can and will decrease…not go away, but lessen.
I plan to enroll in more classes and to join my husband on his long-time meditation journey, but it will never replace my faith. That’s not what it’s supposed to do. It will simply allow me to experience all my blessings even more vigorously.
So if you want to improve your mindfulness…the art of hearing and listening but not reacting, only responding…give it a shot. Harris vows it will give you a real advantage and maybe even make you nicer! The world certainly needs more of that, right?