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Is Meditation just the latest Craze?

Meditation is the practice of stilling the mind, introducing mindfulness which is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or even, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. “ Isn’t this something we can all already do? Aren’t we aware of how we feel? I wouldn’t say I need to make any special effort to ‘focus my awareness on the present moment’ in order to be fully aware of the fact that I’m feeling emotional, angry, anxious, or scared, for example. My father however, who had a much more rigid upbringing than me and is now nearing his 60s, did say to me when I was about 12, “It’s amazing how you can pinpoint how you feel so easily!” I thought this was strange at the time, but as I grow up and meet with more and more people who seem a bit less in touch with their feelings, I am starting to accept that it may not be as straight forward for everyone to pinpoint what’s made them feel unhappy, whether it’s stress, anger, sadness etc. Is this a new popular craze? Meditation is becoming an increasingly popular option for both individuals and businesses, to train the mind, often in order to reduce stress. But this isn’t a new idea, just because it’s a bit ‘new-age’ to us Westerners. So where has it come from and what’s it really all about, other than calming people’s stress levels a bit? The first mentions of this state of nirvana and meditation are found in the Pāli Canon, which is the collection of scriptures from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, from around 29 BCE. The phenomenon first became publicised in the West thanks to a man named Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School, who conducted a series of tests on a variety of different Meditation disciplines, and later wrote a book titled The Relaxation Response where he outlined his own version of relaxation meditation. In the 1920s, an American physician called Edmund Jacobsen developed the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, and this is one of the most common forms of Mindfulness Meditation. This practice is simply the tensing and relaxing of muscle group by muscle group in a sequential pattern around the body, whilst focusing the mind on how they feel. This type of meditation will be so commonly used, for instance in higher education classrooms in many disciplines, that students may not even recognise that they’re participating in a form of ‘meditation’. The method has been seen to help people with many conditions especially extreme anxiety. Especially over recent decades, meditation has become increasingly popular in the west. What is Meditation? It could be explained simply as referring to a broad spectrum of practices of the mind, which include techniques designed to fulfil a variety of needs, from promoting relaxation, or building internal energy or life forces, to developing patience, generosity, forgiveness, love and compassion.

A particularly ambitious form of meditation, apparently, aims to enable the person practising the technique to enjoy an ‘indestructible sense of well being’ while engaging in any aspect of their life. I’ve just looked this up and it’s explained in terms of ‘nirvana’, which in many Indian religions is the term used to describe profound peace of mind – free from suffering and free from any other ‘contaminants’ of the mind, such as lust, anger, craving, desire, aversion, and allusion. Now, I can see that benefits of being able to control your levels of anger or lust, but I can also see the need on occasion to be righteously angry or attracted to someone. I wonder how easy it is to ‘jump out’ of this state of mind, if for instance your boyfriend is trying to rev you up into an argument about something, or if your best friend is asking you to show more of a concern for what she’s talking about! How do you meditate? Meditation will look like different things to different people, and will be achieved in different ways, and in accordance with a variety of traditions and religious beliefs. It can often be used to ease many mental health related issues, e.g. depression, and anxiety, and physical issues such as high blood pressure and panic attacks – both are a common in many people of all ages. It can be done sitting very still, or as an ongoing part of being more ‘aware’ of daily activities (as with Buddhist monks), or it can be done by repeating a particular mantra, to focus the mind on a particular solution. Also, church-goers use a variety of types of ‘meditation’ aides when praying, from prayer beads to focus the mind, or handheld crosses, to focusing on images/sculptures of poignant symbols at the front of the church. Traditions such as yoga also include an aspect of meditation, so they can be very physically active as well as very seemingly still pastimes. Some of the more common methods which have been used by psychologists and counsellors include setting aside time specifically for mindfulness meditation, using techniques like ’body scanning’ – letting thought arise and pass. Another method is to make the effort to be aware of everything in our daily lives, such as the taste and texture of the food that we eat. Is it all just hot air? There have been studies done by the likes of Harvard, Yale, and MIT which have shown links between meditation and increased intelligence through physical growth of the brain. Furthermore, studies have proven physiological benefits resulting from mediation, due to the changing of neurological processes! This is huge. It means that not only can meditation teach us to ‘control’ our behaviour; it can actually rewrite some of the mapping of our brain so that it becomes the new ‘norm’ for us. It’s also linked to improvement in: concentration levels, academic performance, perception, reaction times, memory, self-control, empathy, forgiveness and self-esteem, in addition to the aforementioned results which are more commonly sought, like the relief of anxiety, depression, headaches, pain, blood pressure and stress. These benefits are often due to the tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex instead of the left prefrontal cortex, which brings about the shift from negative feelings. Meditation is becoming more widely accepted by medical professionals as a real solution to many of life’s problems.

Bio: Karen has loved finding out more about Meditation, and has sought the advice from Mindfulness CIC for a more in depth introduction to the practice and benefits. When she’s not managing her two businesses, she loves to spend time outdoors with her grandchildren and taking her 3 dogs for walks.

What is Mindfulness?  

Meditation is becoming increasingly popular, find out how it could improve your life today!

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