with us for thousands of years, but lately it seems like everyone is getting all excited as though we’ve just discovered something new. That’s because we actually have. Thanks to advanced brain monitoring technologies and DNA research, scientists have discovered a way to measure some of the remarkable changes in our bodies that result from meditation. Thousands of clinical studies now confirm what yogis have been telling us for millennia: meditation is extremely good for your mental and physical health and practicing regularly is one of the keys to both effectiveness and happiness. In an era when science rather than traditional wisdom is the universally accepted authority, this new research based perspective is a huge deal.
With science lending it respectability, meditation is quickly going mainstream. No longer the exclusive domain of yogis and mystics, you can find meditation being practiced in schools, hospitals, prisons and businesses. Enthusiastic advocates include many high profile movie stars, athletes, politicians, and executives from global brand corporations.
The Benefits of Meditation
So how will you benefit if you meditate regularly?
If you exercise physically every day, you tone up your whole metabolism. As a result, you have more energy, you sleep better, you get ill less often, and you know you’re probably going to live longer, and enjoy doing it. Think of meditation as a fitness program for your mind. If you meditate regularly you will handle stress more easily and you’ll experience less anxiety, better concentration, increased resilience, improved confidence and greater creativity. Because you’re more relaxed and generally in a happier mood you’ll get along with people better, which will impact your daily life both at home and at work. It is hard to think of an area of your life that will not benefit from a regular meditation practice.
Until recently psychologists believed that each adult has a kind of default happiness level that we keep returning to. A salary raise or an argument will induce a period of increased or decreased happiness, but after a while we tend to return to this default.
Meditation can change that. It can actually shift the needle on your default level of happiness. As American ABC newsreader, Dan Harris, put it, “Meditation suggests that happiness is a skill. Something you can train for like you train your body in the gym.”
What is Meditation?
So what does this mental training consist of? We all know pretty much what it looks like from the outside: someone sitting straight with their eyes closed, apparently doing nothing. The important thing is what is going on inside your mind.
Meditation is a form of concentration. When you are sitting there you are trying to focus your attention on a single idea. It might be your breath, or a word or mantra, or you might be simply trying to remain aware of the present moment, rather than allowing your mind to drift towards past regrets or future speculations.
At first you may not experience the peace of mind you were hoping for. Most of us have restless minds plagued by uncontrolled thinking. In the beginning your thoughts may scatter like leaves before a storm. But as you practice you will experience moments of controlled attention. Gradually the inner storm will calm, and you’ll discover a peaceful safe haven within. It just takes a little patience. The mind wanders. You bring it back. The mind wanders. You bring it back. It’s a bit like training a dog.
One way to make meditation a lot easier is to use music to get into the right mood. That is why a lot of meditation traditions start with chanting or singing before sitting to concentrate. Once you set the emotional tone with music, focusing your attention inward feels like the natural next step.
Practice Makes Perfect
The positive effects of meditation can come with surprising speed. In a famous 2012 experiment at Harvard University researchers observed visible changes in the brain structures of new meditators in as little as eight weeks.
Like most new skills, meditation becomes easier and more enjoyable with practice. And as you begin to notice an increased sense of well being, greater clarity, and more positivity you begin to look forward to your practice time. And if you continue still further there comes a time when your meditation, rather than feeling like homework seems like falling in love.