My Journey to Meditation
I had my first experience with meditation while living in Hong Kong. Seantay and I were living there for a few months teaching and coaching people to better health, mostly through nutrition. I had heard of meditation but thought it was only for, and practiced by hippies, monks, and kung fu masters from movies. Oh my ignorance!
Now if you know anything about Hong Kong, you know it is a huge city. 7 million people to be exact. And it ranks 4th on the list of countries with the highest population density per square mile. Imagine living in a city where there are 18,176 people per square mile. Maybe you live in Hong Kong and don't have to imagine.
Living in a city this large, it was extremely rare to experience a moment of silence. That first time, meditating brought a foreign peace and silence that I knew I was going to quickly get addicted to. I felt more calm, more patient, more understanding, even more kind to strangers. It seemed like each week I would descend to the city streets with a fresh outlook. A fresh emotional canvas as it were, not ridden with scribbles or smudges from my previous weeks experiences.
Think about your life! When was the last time you sat and emptied your mind? I mean really doing NOTHING. Not on your phone, not eating, not talking, just breathing. It's probably been a long time. Maybe it's time to give yourself that kind of peace.
How to Meditate
At it's most basic, practicing mindfulness meditation can actually be quite simple.
- Find a location. I personally prefer to be sitting in a place with at least some level of silence. that being said, you could meditate on a busy street corner if you really wanted to. It would just be a bit harder.
- Chose a comfortable position. You can sit or lay down. Some people even practice meditation while walking.
- Focus your attention. Spend a couple minutes focusing exclusively on one sensation in or around you. I like to have people first beginning, focus on their breathing. Being very mindful of the way your breathing feels, lengthening each breath. You could also focus on sounds, sights, or even tastes.
The point of this practice is to quiet the mind as much as possible. Few people can think about one single thing for an extended period of time without the "monkey mind" taking their thoughts somewhere else. When your mind wanders, be a witness to that fact, not a judge. Simply bring your awareness to that wandering thought, and redirect your thoughts to what you are trying to focus on.
If you need, there are some great resources to help guide you through the practice of meditation. Here are a couple that come highly recommended:
Now for those of you who are skeptical (I tend to be skeptical too) about the benefits of meditation. I've compiled below a list of 25 studies that have proven the amazing benefits of a regular meditation practice.
The Science of Meditation
*** NOTE - Many of these studies are preliminary findings and need further research. =)
1) Meditation Decreases Stress - This study performed on a group of health care professionals shows that meditation can be a very effective way of coping with a stressful lifestyle in a positive manner. Lets all decrease those stress levels and be a little friendlier.
2) Meditation Improves Memory and Test Scores - The University of California Santa Barbara found in their study that in having undergraduate students practice meditation inside and outside of class, their GRE verbal scores went from 460 to 520 in just two weeks. I wish I knew this a couple years ago.
3) Meditation Reduces the risk of Heart Disease - A study involving 201 people with coronary heart disease gave each person the option to take a training class on eating well and exercising, or a class on meditation. Tracked over the next five years, those that chose to learn and practice meditation had a 48% reduction in their risk of heart attack stroke and death. This was only an initial study, but it is a good look at the benefits a group received from meditating over an extended period of time.
4) Meditation Speeds up the Brains Processing Potential - An article published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Medical Journal tested 50 people who meditate regularly against 50 control subjects. There was a strong link found between meditation and something called cortical gyrification, which is the degree and pattern of cortical folding which helps our brains process information at a more rapid pace. Those who have spent more time in a introspective and contemplative state through meditation had more cortical gyrification. Literally it can change our brains!
5) Meditation Boosts Creativity - A study performed and written by the University of North Carolina found that "after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day" that "trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills, and performed significantly better in cognitive tests than a control group". Get your creativity on!
7) Meditation Helps With Weight Management - A Study performed by a group of researchers out of UC San Francisco found that in taking a group of 47 overweight individuals there were promising results with those who were taught to meditate. They were asked to have increased mindfulness when eating, and to meditate for 30 minutes a day. In the results, the women who did not meditate continued to gain weight, while the women who meditated maintained their past weight. Now let's add a hot yoga class or two into the equation and I think the weight is coming off!
8) Meditation Promotes Healthy Digestion - Harvard has linked meditation to reduced levels of stress and a healthy digestive process within the body. Check out the related study. Get that gut grooving.
10) Meditation for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - This study highlights the benefits and effectiveness of meditation for those who struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Think of how our soldiers could benefit. And all you moms out there!
11) Meditation for Pain Reduction - A study at Wake Forest Baptist University shows that meditation can reduce the perception of pain intensity by 40%. Compare this to morphine for example which only has a pain reduction of 25% and you start to realize how amazing this statistic truly is.
12) Meditation for Anxiety - In this Harvard study meditation is proven to be more effective than other general stress management techniques for dealing with anxiety disorders. Who doesn't need less anxiety in their life?
13) Meditation Improves Happiness - This study documents research showing that meditation can lead to higher levels of plasmatic melatonin and serotonin. In other words, it can help your brain be more happy. =)
14) Meditation Cultivates Compassion - Interestingly enough, one study found that in situations where the observed participants see someone in pain, those who meditated were 50% more likely to help the person suffering. This could change the world!
15) Meditation Improves Relationships - This study shows that practicing mindfulness actually improves the quality of intimate relationships such as marriage. Your spouse will thank you for it! Isn't that right Seantay?
16) Meditation Increases Focus - Research published on pubmed.gov documents how meditation can help improve the attention span. If you've made it this far into this post, you probably don't need this benefit!
17) Meditation Makes You Zen - Quite literally. The researchers of this study explain that meditation helps the brain better control the tendency to over process emotions and pain. The result is more calm, more peace, more zenness.
18) Meditation Decreases Loneliness - Ever get lonely? This study claims that meditation might help in "reducing loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults". Pretty cool stuff!
20) Meditation Improves Sex Drive and Increases Libido - Candace Pert the author of Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, and a neuroscientist and pharmacologist at Georgetown University showed in her research that meditation contributes to the release of endorphins, reduces stress, boosts DHEA and increases circulation and blood flow, all of which contribute significantly to increased libido and sex drive. (Hint: This would be an appropriate time to call your spouse over to read this post with you.)
21) Meditation Could Be Anti-Aging - This study is fascinating in that it talks about a benefit that is not yet fully understood. One of the new frontiers of anti-aging is the study of Telomeres, which are the protective ends of our chromosomes. The University of California have linked significantly higher telomerase activity to those who have a regular mindfulness practice. Can you say fountain of youth?
22) Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure - In research documented by Dr. Randy Zusman of Massachusetts General Hospital, high blood pressure patients who meditated saw significant drops in blood pressure in just three months.
23) Meditation Decreases Inflammation - Inflammation is thought to be the root of a lot of our health issues. This study shows that mindfulness meditation can help to decrease inflammation in the body.
24) Meditation Slows the Progression of HIV - A study at the University of California (Los Angeles) has shown that after eight weeks of meditation, patients that meditated showed no decline in CD4+ T lymphocyte content while those who did not meditate showed significant reduction in lymphocytes. Wow!
25) Meditation Will Save You Money - I know what your thinking, Seriously? Well, this study tracked the health care related expenditures of meditators and non meditators and found that those who meditate had seen a reduction in their health care related expenses by almost $45 per year. Most people spend more as they age!
If you're not convinced by now, I'm not sure even meditation can help at this point. =)
Share with us in the comments below what benefit you most need from meditation and what you're going to do to get it.