Meditation is another practice with origins that predate documented history. It is thought that meditation was initially practised by Hindu rishis (spiritual masters) as early as 1500 BC. Around the 6th to 5th centuries BC, other forms of meditation developed within teachings of the Tao religion in China and through the teachings of Buddhism in India. These Buddhist practices were transmitted across China through the Silk Road trade and introduced the concept of Zen to China. Between the 3rd and 12th Centuries, elements of meditation found its way into Judaism, the Japanese culture, Sufiism and Islamic practices as well as into variations of Eastern and Western Christianity.
In modern history, meditation made its way into America and the Western societies through the creation of Yoga schools by the Indian guru, Swami Vivekananda and other such Hindu spiritualists. While its origins were religious, like many practical lifestyle tools from history, more secular forms of meditation evolved for non-Hindus. One such form is called Transcendental Meditation, which rose in popularity in the 1960’s in the US and UK through Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who form a famous friendship with George Harrison and the Beatles.
In contemporary terms, I like to think of meditation like ‘Facebook of the Soul’. To understand what I am saying, first you have to be a facebook user. You see, when you log in to Facebook, one of the main pages you visit is your ‘News Feed’. In this feed, you get to see the posts of everyone in your social network, streaming into your presence. Some of likeable and some are complaints, but you don’t necessarily interact with them. All you do is observe on your Facebook page. The same is true of meditation. When you are sat in silence and reflect internally, your thoughts become like a ‘news feed’. Whether your thoughts and emotions are positive or negative, your soul can observe them as if they are a third party ‘news feed’. Your soul can remain calm, detached and watch them go by, understanding what you are truly feeling deep in your consciousness.
Although there are many meditation methods available, the calm and focused feeling you get afterward is a common factor. The way in which meditation improves your focus fosters creativity, promotes problem-solving skills and decreases the stress associated with handling several tasks simultaneously. This is often a challenge in a society that with increasingly short term attention spans and emphasizes multitasking, particularly with the advent of smartphones and their propensity to provide us with immediate distractions – some of us are just not comfortable with our own thoughts and being intimately connected and centered with ourselves. This is a unhealthy state to be in as this instability worsens in the face of life challenges. Meditation therefore also helps achieves this balance without the need for any complex therapies, drugs or sophisticated personal development methodologies.
Meditation has been subject to rigorous scientific analysis since its introduction to the West. Western scientists still have difficulty explaining how it works, although energy based philosophies are much clearer. Much has been studied in relation to productivity, where David Levy and his team of researchers from the University of Washington found that meditation helped workers focus better, recall their work details and stay energized. The study involved three groups of managers who were trained in either mindfulness meditation, body relaxation or nothing. Those in the meditation group reported that they experienced less negative emotions than those in the other groups. Those in the meditation and relaxation groups also showed improved memory for work details while multitasking. In addition, those trained in meditation were less fragmented in their work; they switched less between tasks and were more efficient – it was clear that meditation improves our performance. Certainly at my organisation Energesse, we practise a quick group meditation before meetings and find that those meetings are more efficient, there is better cooperation and there is a general sense of inner satisfaction and enjoyment.
Studies show that during meditation, our brainwave patterns actually change in various stages. In normal consciousness, our brainwaves are of the beta type. However, during a meditation, we experience more alpha waves, gamma, theta and delta waves. Alpha waves are the commonest and they tend to calm our overall nervous system. If practised regularly, meditative brain wave patterns also lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones in the body. Stress hormones like cortisol can increase weight gain over the long term if continuously elevated, so meditation is powerful preventative tool to maintain wellness.
Scientists have also found increased gamma brain waves in experienced meditation practitioners. These high gamma waves appear in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with decreased fear, anxiety, sadness and more positive emotions. The theta waves open the brow (third eye) chakra, which illuminates wisdom, creativity, problem solving and memorisation. It also promotes deep relaxation. Interestingly, theta waves are high when we are doing things that are ‘automatic’ and can’t remember doing such as driving home from work (highway hypnosis), brushing teeth or ironing clothes. In meditation, we also access the subconscious mind as delta waves also increase which can help you integrate newly learned tasks. Not surprisingly, Amy Barnfield in her long term study called Project Mediation, stated that delta waves are normally found in deep sleep, which is why it is sometimes good to ‘sleep on it’, when we want to absorb something new.
The hard science is very conclusive on the overall benefits of meditation to our performance. It is also a great way to embed the benefits realised from energy techniques. So how is it done? Well, the goal of meditation is to focus on one thing and allow all your other thoughts to pass by. This may not come naturally for you if, or if like most people, you have difficulty paying attention on just one thing, then just find a quiet space and sit comfortably on a chair or even on the floor. Meditation can include visualization, walking, counting breaths, music, silence, darkness or candles. There is no single correct way of meditating; with any of the hundreds of thousands of methods that now exist, you should see improved focus, clarity and stronger intuition over the long term.
What type of meditation do you practice and why?