Is meditation useful or just a waste of time?
At a time when no long journey, commute or queue needs to be endured without the use of a smartphone; when many of us watch television while simultaneously emailing or gaming; while checking texts has crept into meetings, dinner dates, the breakfast table… who wants to meditate? After all, isn’t meditation doing nothing at all – stripped of all external stimuli? And isn’t the whole point of the modern world that we never need be without stimuli?
So why meditate?
According to liveanddare.com the many benefits of meditation include
- improved focus
- boosted immunity
- improved emotional well-being
- reduced anxiety
- reduced depression
- improved creativity.
These benefits can start to kick in after just 20 minutes per day for a few weeks. In fact, Andy Puddlecombe, founder of Headspace, tells us that meditation re-shapes our brain. According to neuroscientists as you continue to meditate the ‘rest and digest’ section of the brain is activated.
So why is it boring?
Meditation may be perceived as boring but it can be experienced as anything from boring to fascinating and everything in between. Like other disciplines in life – exercising, eating well, getting enough rest – it is something we may know works for us but we still find ourselves putting it off or not getting around to it. One way of understanding the value of meditation can be to do the complete opposite. Experiment by surfing on Facebook for an hour just before bed and then trying to sleep. As you close your eyes the leaps of your mind with the attention span of a gnat are almost tangible.
So how do I meditate?
In its most basic form, meditation can be done anywhere and anyhow. It generally involves stilling the body, the mind, the voice; but this can be done on a crowded train, in a bus queue, even at the hairdressers. You don’t have to be watching a beautiful sunset from a beachside hammock.
However, the quality of your meditation will likely be affected by the where-to-fore (what you do before you meditate).
Meditation has been practiced in the west for some years now. Its origins can be found in a number of cultural and religious setting of old, notably India. Yoga – meditation’s partner practice – is done to set the ground for meditation: to prepare the body and mind for it’s important task. Meditation experienced after a yoga session may have a very different flavour. So may sitting with your back against a tree after a walk in nature. Or a sunbathing meditation after a cold swim.
And yet there is no right way. Because you are not seeking a pleasure experience (or a pain experience) it is not a superior meditation because it feels nice. Each meditation has its value, because it is teaching you what is – bring awareness to your experience.
Instructions of precisely what to do can be found online. Those listed below are provided by synchronicity.org
How to meditate
- First, find a comfortable place where you can sit without distractions for at least 15 minutes.
- Sit comfortably with your back upright and without back support, if physically possible.
- Close your eyes and focus within.
- Focus your attention.
- You can focus your attention on your breath and breathing. Breathe in and out. Just watch the movement of your in and out breaths.
- You can repeat an affirmation (a positive statement about yourself and life).
- If you use an affirmation, try to feel what it means to you.
- You can focus on your heartbeat.
- You can use any other method with which you feel comfortable.
- If you notice your mind thinking, that’s okay, just bring your focus back to your technique.
- When you have completed meditating, it is a good idea to give yourself a few minutes to acclimate slowly back into the activities of your day.
I’m still wasting time though, right?
In our busy culture, where long work hours are the norm, sitting still and appearing to do nothing is one of the most radical activities we can undertake. We tend to equate proper use of time with a tangible outcome, a goal – usually the accruing of money.
When you stop activity and meditate you are joining thousands of people round the world doing the same thing. Some of this number will be dedicating their lives to this activity or non-activity of meditation. One such is Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, the world’s happiest man.
“Scans showed that when meditating on compassion, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves – those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – ‘never reported before in the neuroscience literature’, Davidson said. The scans also showed excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, allowing him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity."
So far from being a waste of time, meditation may be the most important thing you do for your mental and physical health each day.
About the author
Sara Todd works at New Road Psychotherapy Centre where she manages a collective practice of 20 counsellors and psychotherapists. She is a qualified integrative counsellor with an interest in creative forms of therapy. She is also a novelist.
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