It’s thousands of years old, but it’s making a comeback thanks to scientific proof that it really works.
Buddha was on the mark when he began practicing meditation and mindfulness, and now you can too!
Meditation driving mindfulness is now seen and promoted by medical experts as potentially one of the most effective forms of stress reduction. It enables you to focus on the present moment rather than dwell on the past or future and it can be practiced in whatever time frame you have.
Gen Kelsang Nyingpo, a Buddhist and meditation teacher from the Drolma Center for Meditation and Modern Buddhism, spoke to The Newsroom and says the purpose of meditation is to make our mind peaceful and calm. “If our mind is peaceful we shall be free from worries and mental discomfort and so we shall experience true happiness,” she explains.
Gen says by training in meditation, we can gradually learn to stay peaceful all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
“If we practice meditation we will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fade away,” she says. “Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed towards other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.”
For meditation skeptics, this may sound like gibberish. But neuroscientist Sara Lazar has researched the effect meditation has on the brain and the findings have been impressive. In her TED talk on the matter, she explains that as you continue to meditate your brain physically changes, which activates the rest and digest part of our nervous system, which then helps reduce symptoms of stress. Considerable research has been conducted over the past two decades. One of many findings is that after just 11 hours of meditation, practitioners had structural changes in brain connectivity, enhancing focus and self control.
The University of Massachusetts’ Centre for Mindfulness, where the founder of mindfulness, John Kabat-Zinn, integrated the teachings of zen Buddhism with scientific method, runs an eight-week program teaching mindfulness. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program Kabat-Zinn devised teaches participants how to consciously work with stress, pain and illness. It includes guided mindfulness meditation sessions, stretching and mindful yoga, group instructions and tailored take home assignments to help participants practice outside of class hours. Mindfulness is now promoted by medical practitioners around the world.
But you do not have to enrol in a mindfulness program to draw on the benefits of meditation. Buddhists have been teaching the practice for 2500 years, helping people achieve an inner calm and focus their thoughts, with all the benefits that brings, including making study easier.
Hair-dressing student Emma Kuzilni found meditation is a great escape for her to step away from her study, work and busy social life. “It has benefited me with being more calm, collected, focus and relaxed,” she says. “In any stressful situations I tend to focus on a calming glow to keep my mind at ease.”
Now, I know what you’re going to say: But I have no time!
Ms Nyingpo says a typical meditation session can last anywhere between just 10 minutes right through to 40 minutes or more, and it’s completely up to you how much time you want to spend on it a day. “You can meditate anywhere by trying to keep a positive mind and your mind free from negativity,” she says.
Emma said it’s not easy for her to find time with her busy schedule but she tries to meditate whenever she has a chance. “Now that my Tuesdays have been filled up with sport or study, I try to meditate on Sunday morning just as I wake up or before I go to sleep. Or I try to do it when everything is getting hard in life and I can’t handle the stress,” she said.
Ms Nyingpo said there are two types of meditation: guided and non-guided. Guided is when someone else guides your meditation session, which most people find easier. “Self meditation is harder. It’s generally best, especially when starting out, to have someone guiding it,” she says.
For Emma, it is as simple as listening. “Sometimes I go back to the beach and use the sound of the waves to focus and know when I should breathe.”
If you want to give it a go, there are several guided and non-guided mediations that you can download. We tested some.
The Relax Melodies – Free on iPhone and Android
What is it: This application plays gentle tunes and relaxing sounds, which will help either lull you to sleep or calm you down.
Verdict: This is one of my personal favourites. It’s fully customisable, there are numerous sounds you can choose from as well as layering up to make the perfect background music to fit your scene, be it study, sleep, or meditation. It gives you a calming score to adjust your breathing to. Plus, if you like a track you’ve created you can save it for future use.
Take a Break! – Free on iPhone and Android
What is it: This app offers two meditation sessions, and don’t worry, neither one is too long. You can choose between a seven minute work break meditation session and a 13 minute stress relief one.
Verdict: Set up for this application is easy, you choose which session you want to do, the background music (ocean, stream, rain or soothing music) and hit play. The soothing voice takes you through breathing exercises and encourages you to just close your eyes and let go of your thoughts as to become aware of your body, relaxing each muscle group one by one until they all become heavy and relaxed.
The seven minutes is just enough to calm you down and settle your mind for work again, while I found the 13 minute session is best first thing in the morning when I set my alarm earlier.
Breathe2Relax – Free on iPhone and Android
What is it: When you first open this application you can personalise the settings to make your experience more pleasing. You can select the scenery, background music, and most importantly how many seconds you want to inhale and exhale each breath for.
Once you’ve customised everything, you can move on to the practice. Once you hit start you are asked to rate your stress levels and then begin the meditation. The voice prompts you to breathe in and out while the soft music lulls you into a calm state of mind.
Verdict: What I liked about this app was that they had fact sheets on how to breathe properly, the biology of stress and the effects stress has on the body.
So next time you’re commuting, don’t get on Facebook. Instead, spend some time relaxing. Soon enough you’ll be well on the way to a happier, healthier mind! – Jessica Heckley
Top photo from Mitchell Joyce’s Flickr photostream.