Today is world meditation day, so sit quietly and reflect with us on what it is and what science has to say about it.
Meditation has a long history, with various practices, but four things seem to transcend all variations; quietness, comfort, attention and attitude.
These are achieved by being undistracted in quiet surroundings and making yourself comfortable, be that sitting, lying down or walking. Focussing your attention brings you firmly to the present, and this can be done in silence, by listening to mantras, music, speech or sounds, such as birdsong or rain. Some people choose to focus inwards by feeling the sensation of their breath entering and leaving their nose or noticing the chest rise and fall with each inhalation. Obtaining the calm and open attitude is the hardest part. Freeing your mind of thought is difficult, as the mind will continue to wander. Streams of unconscious thought will undoubtedly be a distraction, but the aim is not to expel energy and stress on casting them aside as quickly as possible, it is to gently acknowledge that you have been distracted, let the thoughts come and go naturally and without judging or chastising yourself for them occurring.
Meditation’s aim is to increase calmness and relaxation, balance your mind psychologically, help you to reflect and better understand yourself, your actions, your emotions and the world around you, whilst providing another avenue to cope with illness and enhance well-being and overall health.
Of course, with anything that claims to benefit so many areas of life, science wants to understand whether there truly are implications from meditation, and how to get the best out of it.
Various studies have found some evidence that meditation is useful in easing anxiety, depression, anger and increases the ability to cope. It also is said to help with insomnia, alongside reducing blood pressure, the severity of symptoms of IBS and the rates of ulcerative colitis flare ups. There have been studies that suggest meditation activates areas in the brain that respond to pain, and interestingly does so without using opiates that are naturally occuring in the brain. Further research into how meditation affects the brain itself shows that, perhaps, meditation may slow the changes that occur in the brain due to the normal aging process. Finally, people who have practiced meditation for many years seem to have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This leads to the belief that they may have increased their abilities of processing information, which is conducted in that area.