Updated: May 23
The benefits of meditation are profound and far-reaching
Those of us who don’t know how to meditate remain willfully ignorant of the benefits and consistently ignore this practice with dire consequences. Meditation originates in India and predates 3,500 BCE; the practice itself has been adapted and changed, and these days it transcends spiritual beliefs.
“Meditation — because some questions can’t be answered by Google.” — Wandering Yogi
The benefits of meditation are espoused by spiritual leaders and corporate leaders and even occasionally prescribed by the medical profession. There are many resources and endless scientific studies proving the benefits of meditation.
In 2011, Dr. Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard University found that mindfulness meditation could actually change the structure of the brain, improving concentration and attention, increasing learning and memory, creating more grey matter volume and forming new connections throughout the brain.
In my experience, what each person gains is largely dependent on the person, why they chose to start meditating, what they are dealing with, and what they hope to draw from the practice.
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The Four Pillars
Stephen R. Covey writes about four principles of balanced self-renewal, but I have always known them as the four pillars of health — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
In recent years I have stringently built habits to incorporate the four pillars, being physically active, mentally stimulated, and emotionally connected every day. I had always believed the fourth pillar of spirituality was elusive to an agnostic person like myself, but meditation was the missing link.
Meditation has become a pathway to fulfilling that spiritual pillar, enabling me to enhance all four pillars in tandem.
Physically it has taught me to focus on my breathing, to be present in my body and in the moment
Emotionally it has brought about patience, calm, and balance, giving me the emotional strength to withstand stressful moments
Mentally it has reduced my worry and stress exponentially and opened my mind to more creative pursuits
Spiritually it removes me from my surroundings and the pressures of everyday life to a peaceful inner sanctum
The benefits of meditation are as varied as the methods of meditation and can improve the four pillars of health in a variety of ways.
More efficient oxygen use and energy
Decreased blood pressure
Lower cholesterol levels
Pain management and stress relief
Restful sleep and reduced fatigue
Reduction of anxiety or fear
Increased clarity and focus
Strengthened brain function
Mindfulness — being and living in the present
Clarity and commitment to your values
Connection to enlightenment
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is clear the benefits can be diverse and far-reaching.
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“In meditation, I can let go of everything. I’m not Hugh Jackman. I’m not a dad. I’m not a husband. I’m just dipping into that powerful source that creates everything. I take a little bath in it.” — Hugh Jackman.
Here again, are my six tips for successful sitting meditation:
Get comfortable. Wear comfortable clothes, place a pillow under the sit bone if you are sitting on the floor to create a straighter posture, and rest your hands on your knees.
Close your eyes. Obvious but necessary to state!
Breathe calmly. A good method to induce calm is five seconds in through the nose and five seconds out of the mouth.
Keep focus. Repeat a mantra or any positive affirmation to create focus. This is the one my ashram used, “Om aim hrim klim chamundaye vichche”, but a basic vocal “Om” can work if really stuck.
Acknowledge each thought. You can repeat the distraction three times, e.g. “dog barking, dog barking, dog barking”, or visualize touching the thought and letting it float away, but always come back to the mantra.
Don’t fidget! Acknowledge the pain or discomfort, but do not flex the foot, adjust, or re-cross the legs. This becomes an immediate distraction from the meditation and feels like starting afresh every time, which is exhausting and discouraging.
Practice makes perfect. The ability to find a moment in the day for ourselves, for stillness and peace, is going to be beneficial regardless of belief. The upside is that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from the practice of meditation.