Have you seen a meditation class pop up near you? Have you ever fancied doing a guided meditation but fear that it is just for the spiritual elite? 'New consciousness' is on the rise and everyone is talking about meditation. But it seems to be an odd practice that requires crossed legs and chanting. Could it be something you try in 2018? Well, the wonderful Naomi Light has shared with us this article to busts the myths and helps you decide whether a guided meditation class is something you could give a go.
Far from being simply a spiritual rite of passage; meditation has a recent history in the neuroscience world. Scientists are getting excited about meditation and its benefits. There is a wealth of information now available from researchers on what happens in a person’s brain during meditation. Also how mindfulness shapes a brain and what the physical benefits are. In The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel says:
A [mindfulness] study revealed an increased thickness of two parts of the brain: (1) the middle prefrontal area, bilaterally, and (2) a related neural circuit, the insula, which was particularly thicker on the right side of the brain. The degree of thickness in these areas was correlated with length of time spent practising mindfulness meditation.
This is breakthrough stuff. It is what is inspiring all the would-be meditation teachers to start classes near you.
The researchers tell us that mindful awareness and meditation change our brains. It is no surprise that behavioural studies are also showing the trend towards improved wellness.
In her book Counter Clockwise: a proven way to think yourself younger and healthier, Mindfulness expert Ellen Langer describes one piece of research into mindfulness:
In one study I conducted with my students, we explored the mindset most of us have regarding the excellent vision air force pilots have. All participants were given a vision test. One group of participants was then encouraged to role-play “air force pilots.” They dressed the part and, in uniform, sat in a flight simulator. They were asked to read the letters on the wing of a nearby plane, which were actually part of an eye chart. Those participants who adopted the “pilot” mindset, primed to have excellent vision, showed improved vision over those who were simulating being in the simulator and simply asked to read an eye chart from the same distance.
The physical benefits of meditation to mind and body are astonishing.
As a coach with an interest in mind science, I use this research to benefit my clients and encourage them to conduct their own ‘thought experiments’. A good place to start for how that could work for you is to download my free ebook with 8 self-help tools.
So how does it work? “I am not very good at sitting still for a long time” I hear you say.
Well, forget the image of the yogi on a hard floor with legs crossed. It is just very outdated. Today meditation is one of an array of psychologically beneficial tools for the self-aware millennial. There are tonnes of apps that teach you to meditate and Youtube is full of meditation guides you can watch.
My advice is to ‘suck it and see’. There are absolutely no rules. Make up your own flavour of meditation in a pick-and-mix kind of way and look for the signs of positive change. Be prepared to give the meditation tools a go over a few weeks (this is where the class is really handy as you are more likely to stick with it if you are with a group). The organic process of change is more like a plant flowering than a digital on-off switch. There are no overnight master meditators (without hallucinogens, of course).
Of course, I can’t write an article on meditation without mentioning it’s spiritual heritage. Many teachers of mindfulness are appearing in both western and eastern traditions of spirituality. Starting with the teachings of a particular religion, students of meditation learn to connect with the divine. This connection fosters peace and wellness. Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist meditation teacher, says this about mindfulness:
Training in meditation, we learn to be aware of our own mental states without being caught in them. This capacity for self-reflection is the key to Buddhist psychology. When we look at our own mind, we can notice the mental states that predominate, as if we were noticing the weather. Just as a storm can bring rain, wind, and cold, we can observe the clusters of unhealthy states that appear on our bad days. We may find resentment, fear, anger, worry, doubt, envy, or agitation.
The concept of harnessing our attention for spiritual benefit through meditation is an ancient principle. St Ignatius of Loyola wrote in his book of Spiritual Exercises of 1548 that “meditations were for the amendment and reform of one’s personal life and state”. N.B That’s old school speak for ‘inner zen’.
The conclusion from both science and spirituality is the practice of meditation has huge potential for change in our lives. We should all give it a go. You can expect to notice changes in your mind, emotions and body. Not only that, the changes in behaviour from being calmer and more centred can have a positive effect on your work, finances and love life.