For the longest time, I was sceptical of meditation. To be honest, I didn’t really know what it was. The things I used to associate with meditation were: yogis, hypnosis, levitation and some esoteric spiritual hippie movement. So I totally understood why my father once looked at me with a little suspicion and disbelief after I announced that I was going to take 10 minutes to meditate (sorry Dad)!
You see, I’m someone that needs to understand things in an evidence based context. Show me the proof. That’s not to say we can explain all things in life with science, evidence and reasoning, but it sure does help. Luckily, many aspects of meditation can be explained and measured with science.
The biggest breakthrough for me was when I read a book called “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade-Meng Ten. Now before you literally judge the book by its cover (like I did), give me a chance to explain a little further.
Meng is a former engineer at Google, who ended up switching roles within the company to run the Mindfulness Meditation Department (which was growing popular very rapidly). Trust a silicone valley tech company to have its own mindfulness department. Anyway, he writes his book in a scientific yet relatable language which is friendlier to sceptics such as myself. It was one of those books that after reading, I could no longer erase from my mind. My view of the world and what it meant to be “spiritual” changed.
Essentially, meditation can be seen as a breathing exercise. Just as you can train your muscles by lifting weights at the gym, Meng explains that you can also train your mind by controlling your breath, which creates a mental atmosphere where your thoughts can settle. But why would you want to train your mind, and what are the benefits?
Well, for starters, it can (measurably) increase happiness, promote a peaceful state of being, reduce stress, enhance your immune system (what!) and strengthen emotional resilience. Remember – this is all backed by science. If that wasn’t enough, think of how those things would influence certain aspects of your life. Your relationships would flourish, you’d be able to deal with stressful situations with more tact, excel in work situations (hello promotion), and be a healthier, happier and kinder person in general. Who wouldn’t want that?
I don’t want to butcher the concept of meditation by attempting to cover it in a single blog post, but what I can do is vouch for how it can make you feel. I’ve been practising on and off this year, and I can confidently say that when I have made the effort to take some time out to be mindful, I can noticeably feel the difference in my body and my mind. I say body and mind because all emotions physically manifest (whether or not we are trained enough to sense it) and a happier mind means a healthier body. That’s why I’m so grateful for functional medicine practitioners and clinics (such as Life Science in BGC, which I attend) that take into account mental wellbeing when looking at overall health. Optimum health is about feeling good in the mind, body and spirit.
I want to finish this post by saying that I truly believe meditation is beneficial for people of all backgrounds and can be practiced by anyone regardless of religious beliefs. I know atheists that were initially wary of meditation as they assumed it was a religious ritual. On the other hand, those who associate with particular religions steered away from mediation due to its roots and association with Buddhism. What I say is, it is simply a breathing exercise which helps you become more self-aware, and gain better understanding your thoughts and emotions (to view them with more objectivity and clarity). However you choose to express your spirituality is up to you. Some view spirituality as a state of heightened self-awareness, or being at peace with yourself and the world around you. Others might see this as their relationship with a higher power. Each to their own, I say.
PS – If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading Search Inside Yourself which I have mentioned above. Also, one app I use to guide me through meditation is Headspace. You can try the free version that gives you 10, 10 minute guided programs (and you can subscribe if you want to access the full library).