Meditation provides several mental and physical benefits

5 May 2013

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I sit in my chair and close my eyes behind my sunglasses. All around me I could hear the shuffle of hundreds of feet, the shutter of hundreds of cameras, yet all I feel is an inner calm. I slowly let go of every thought in my mind. I’m in La Sagrada Familia, the most famous church in Barcelona, just experiencing it all. Twenty minutes later I stand up and stretch. As I look around I see dozens of other people sitting down with their eyes closed experiencing the inner calm.

Meditation is becoming part our social norm with more and more people practicing it daily. Approximately 10 percent of Americans said to have practiced meditation daily in a 2007 national survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Instead of being a mystical Eastern concept, people around the world are starting see the merits of meditation.

“It’s a state of peace that people go to,” said junior Olivia McCarthy.

“It’s the art of doing nothing but being awake,” says Andrew Nunberg, a meditation teacher with the Art of Living Foundation. Art of Living is a non-profit educational and humanitarian organization. Its programs focus on incorporating breathing techniques, yoga and meditation in daily life.

The different chapters across the world organize events such as meditation retreats.

Nunberg started practicing meditation 15 years ago after a friend suggested he attend an Art of Living course.

“It [meditation] is when our mind is completely in the present and the subtle aspects of who we are experienced effortlessly. I do remember my mind really going really deep inward. It almost felt like I was sinking. I had gone very deep into mediation; at one moment I lost all awareness. All of a sudden I was aware again. I felt so much calmer,” Nunberg recalled of his first experience.

Since that day, Nunberg has spent approximately 3,642 hours meditating. Every day he notices a difference after meditation. “I feel a sense of peace. I am not aware of any problems in my life. It’s not these problems don’t exist; it’s just not a problem anymore.”

Although meditation itself isn’t a religious practice, it was developed as a spiritual practice in ancient India. Meditation served as a means to increase self-awareness and knowledge in the Hindu tradition. Civilization across Asia adopted meditation — especially with the spread of Buddhism — so it is considered an Eastern practice.

Medicine defines it as a technique in which a person learns to focus attention on breathing or repeating a calming word, phrase or sound to slow the stream of thoughts that occupy the conscious mind, according to Kavita Prasad, a physician from the Mayo Clinic.

Researchers at University of California Santa Barbara examined the effect of meditation and a student’s level of focus. Students who are often faced with stressful situations can develop a tendency to let the mind wander when faced with difficult tasks. The study found an improvement in mental capacity and the ability to focus in students. Although it was only a two-week experiment, the researchers concluded that if the students continued to practice meditation, they would see the same benefits.

Graduate student Kelly Berkson used to experience extreme stress until she discovered meditation in an Art of Living Course.

“All my life I have been a procrastinator and I wait to the last minute to do things, and then I get incredibly stressed out to the point where I physically feel nauseated, can’t keep food down,” Berkson said. “Someone came into this class I was in one morning, and it was like every other day: I hadn’t done the homework the night before, I was cranky with myself not having it done. I was cranky with my teacher for wanting my work. And this person came in to talk about a breathing and mediation course that they were having that weekend. I was just so sick of myself. I just needed a new start. I thought, ‘OK let’s try it.’ Who knows, I’ll learn something.”

Berkson noticed an immediate change in her life after she started meditating for twenty minutes daily. Her mind calmed down and she felt stable and in control.

“I learned that I can discipline my mind. You aren’t just automatically good at sitting still with your eyes closed for four minutes or twenty minutes,” Berkson said. “At first your mind is going to wander like crazy and you are going to feel antsy. I was super antsy at first and ten minutes felt like an eternity. What I noticed is that after I opened my eyes after mediating for twenty minutes, everything looks sharper and clearer.”

Meditation can be frustrating at first because you may not know you are doing it correctly. Sophomore Noah McCoy spent a whole summer studying meditation rigorously. He checked out several books from his local library to learn how to meditate properly.

“I think the big moment where I knew it was something for me. I was in my room in the afternoon; it was kind of cloudy that day and I have a window in my bedroom. I was sitting on my bed; my eyes were closed. Suddenly I just achieved that point where I wasn’t thinking,” McCoy said. “It was a very strange out-of-body experience. As soon as that happened, the sun broke out behind the clouds and just shone in on my room. I felt this glow. It was really uplifting and amazing.”

Meditation is one of the top three alternative health methods in the United Sates. With approximately 20 million Americans practicing, researchers are beginning to discover meditation’s impact on health. The most commonly associated benefit is that meditation reduces the level of stress because it allows the mind to focus on what’s important in the moment.

Berkson notes that the mind is an instrument with which you study everything. Putting in few minutes each day to take care of that instrument allows your mind be more productive.

Researchers at Northeastern University published a recent study in which they found a correlation between mediation and increased levels of compassion. Participants were placed in rooms with several actors who feigned extreme injuries, such as a broken leg. Fifty percent of the people who went through a meditation course during the trial helped the injured person.

In comparison, only 15 percent of the participants that didn’t go through a meditation course offered to help. The study concluded that meditation affected the level of compassion by changing the moral standards. Through learning to let go, the participants were able to better focus in a challenging situation.

It may seem like a big commitment to incorporate meditation as part of a daily routine, but those who have can see the positive impact in their lives.

Sophomore Garrett Holm said he reflects on his day before meditation.

“I use mediation to organize my thoughts,” Holm said.

He started to meditate while in high school when he realized he needed to take time out of his day to reflect. Meditation helps motivate him to achieve his goals.

“I live by the rule that if you are too busy to meditate for 30 minutes a day then you probably need a hour,” Holm said.

Courtesy: The university of daily kansan