In our very busy world, there is an awareness of the constant assault on our psyche and demands for attention from modern society, such that the need for moments of ‘peace and quiet’ have become more imperative.
Mindfulness and meditation are not new to concepts to those who seek to find a sense of stillness in their everyday lives. Though the practice dates back years, there has been a rapidly growing interest worldwide to habituate meditation.
Despite the hype, evidence-based research shows that meditation has many health benefits. For instance, as part of an interdisciplinary approach to treating patients with cancer, meditation has been recommended to reduce levels of anxiety and chronic stress, increase energy levels and stabilise mood and sleep disturbances. It has also been linked to reduced blood pressure, and in other meditation-based research programmes, it has helped to reduce common menopausal symptoms (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health).
Being in meditation creates a unique hypometabolic state in which the individual is able to fall into a deeper state of rest than in some parts of sleep. During this state, oxygen consumption can drop between 10 – 20 percent. This deep rest, in turn, promotes better sleep which reduces inflammation, makes the brain more alert, and sharpens memory, and as we grow older this becomes beneficial to maintain our overall health.
As is seen today in an age obsessed with youth, it remains important to advocate for a narrative that promotes healthy ageing as well as the tools that reinforce this such as meditation.
The WHO defines healthy ageing as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”. The practice of meditation has shown to have a profound effect on three key indicators of ageing in that it lowers blood pressure, improves both hearing ability and the vision of close objects. With an increased state of health into later years, many more people are then able to be and do what they want and enjoy what they value.
Meditation My Way
The common notion is that meditation requires the discipline (and courage) to sit for ages with the stillness of a monk to engage one’s thoughts – the ‘noisy neighbour’ and inner critic – until the one who is loudest wins. Most people, a little too hard on themselves, feel bested by the voice inside their head.
More often than not, the inability to sit still it is not the failure of one’s own will and short attention span, it is simply a matter of finding what works best for them. Nowadays, individuals choose to sit, sing, hike and dance or garden as a form of meditation as long as the intention is to bring what lies within them into awareness and to become mindful of what exists around them into their sphere of compassion.
Generally, many people prefer the seated lotus (Zen) meditation which focuses on keeping the posture of the right pose. Others choose to focus on the breath or deep breathing (Vipassana) meditation which helps ground them into their bodies. In Loving Kindness (Compassion) meditation, the practice begins with self and with each wave and breath send love outwards; first to a good friend, then a neighbour, the community and world, and finally the whole universe.
Mind-body exercises promote this self-efficacy, self-care and emotion regulation (Harvard Health), and as a result, can also have positive effects on heart-healthy behaviours supporting an improved diet and more physical activity.
Fear Of The Quiet Mind
The shift towards a more conscious way of being in the world has meant that many individuals have turned to practices like meditation to dive deeper into themselves in the hope that in so doing, they will develop a better understanding of their place and purpose in relation to the people and society around them.
However, as we discuss the health benefits of any practice it is important to explore the conversations where some have reported having negative experiences with meditation. Alongside the benefits, researchers have also found that some meditators develop feelings of fear and distorted emotions.
Still, very little is known about why, when, or how such meditation-related difficulties occur with various individuals. More exploration is required to gather information on whether these experiences are “important elements of meditative development”, the avoidance of negative emotions being released, or if they are the result of a ‘bringing to the surface’ of any potential mental health issues in meditators.
Minding the Chatter
In the space of health and wellness, meditation primarily focuses on the benefits of the practice, yet studies should continue to expand on existing knowledge. That being said, people should not be quick to make conclusions around the potential negative effects of meditation when more still needs to be understood. We are sure to find greater peace and happiness focusing on the positives as the search to deepen one’s own understanding and compassion of mind, body and soul weighs more for the benefits of humanity as a whole, and is worth encouraging in the long run.