“Meditation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration.”
As a result of our time-pressed modern lives we are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. From an ancestral point of view, the tiger is chasing us and our bodies are preparing to get away or battle. White-knuckling your drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic with your jaw clenched for a two-hour commute each way. This is the modern tiger.
Unfortunately, what was designed to save you in an emergency will damage your body if you are exposed chronically. For example, having an elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, increased clotting ability, lowered digestion, lowered immune system is good in the short term. Allowing you to ‘fight or flight’ quickly and heal quickly and not wasting energy on the pizza slice you just had or being concerned with a bug, virus or cancer that can hurt you in days, weeks or months.
The opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ system is the ‘rest/digest/heal’ system. We should be in this other system all the time, except for emergency situations. Having skills like meditation and learning how to reduce your stress response are essential to living a longer and healthier life. This is one of the most important lessons you can teach your loved ones.
Watch this TED Talk from Andy Puddicome, creator of the Headspace meditation app for a quick overview:
Meditation is essentially the practice of being mindful. It doesn’t require you to sit in funny poses, burn incense or make humming noises. It only requires that you are present in the moment, thinking about “nothing”.
Most meditation practices don’t actually require you to think about nothing, but rather focus on something like your breathing. Your mind will naturally wander with other thoughts, and the idea behind meditation is to return to your center point (i.e. breathing) when you notice yourself beginning to wander.
Other things often included in meditation are body scans — scans of your body from head to toe. This body scans are often used to become more familiar with the sensation of ‘you’, as well as focusing on sounds, lights or feelings.
By ‘practicing’ meditation (it takes practice), you will find yourself better able to control your mind during day-to-day activities.
Meditation also has a large host of other benefits that are related to the mind but also many other aspects of life. Copious amount of research supports its efficacy in reducing cardiovascular disease and changing gene expression.
Potential Benefits of Meditation
- Improved focus
- Reduced feeling of stress, as well as reduction in chronic high cortisol (the “stress hormone”)
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Reduced blood pressure and risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- Altered gene expression in pro-inflammatory genes, leading to possible reduction in chronic diseases and increase in longevity