Is meditation just for hippies?



When people say the word meditation, what do you imagine? A woman in white linen pants sitting cross-legged on the summit of a mountain? A monk standing on one leg saying ‘Ohmmmm’ as the sun rises? What about the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, sitting in the corner of his office with eyes closed, just listening to his breath?

Yes, it’s true. The secret is out. Meditation is not just for hippies - it’s for everyone, including ordinary people like you and me.

In fact, 2013 saw the outbreak of meditation as the secret weapon of choice for many highly successful people. “CEOs started coming out – not as being gay, but as being meditators”, Ariana Huffington, well-known media personality and founder of the Huffington Post, tells Business Insider Australia.

Execs like Mark Bertolini, the CEO of insurance heavyweight Aetna; Ray Dali, the founder of the mega hedge fund Bridgewater Associates; and Chip Wilson, the founder of yoga-inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon, all claim to regularly practice meditation.

After a skiing accident in 2004, Bertolini did a mix of yoga, meditation and acupuncture in recovery, and loved it so much that he made meditation and yoga workshops available to the 35,000 Aetna employees across the U.S.A. Amazingly, when Aetna brought in Duke University to study the impact, the researchers found decreased health-care costs and increased productivity!

This and other evidence of the power of slowing down has convinced Ariana Huffington that in order to be productive, creative and innovative, you need to take care of your psychological life.

So, do you want to be more successful in your career? Wish you could be more present with your kids? What if all it takes to get ahead in your life is to actually just slow down and simply listen to your breath?

What are meditation and mindfulness?

It’s interesting to marvel at how something that appears to be so simple can be so beneficial. Meditation is purely the art of sitting still and just ‘being’. That’s just it. Sitting down, focusing on your breathing, and continuing to do so for about an hour. Sounds simple, but having the mental discipline to go beyond the reflexive “thinking” mind and into a deep state of relaxation is a challenge, to say the least. 

What about “mindfulness”? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of the University of Massachusetts' Centre for Mindfulness and an authority on mindfulness from a medical perspective, defines mindfulness as "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally." It's a broad definition but captures the experience nicely - the ability to be always ‘present' and keep a cool head.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Over the past 40 years, dozens of universities in the United States, Europe and India have conducted hundreds of studies on the effects of meditation on human physiology and behaviour. The research shows that meditation is effective in decreasing stress and anxiety levels, lowering blood pressure, increasing productivity and improving the ability to focus. And if that's not enough to spark interest… 100% of insomnia patients reported improved sleep and 91% either eliminated or reduced their sleeping medication use, as published in The American Journal of Medicine.

A similar series of studies on mindfulness have also proved its effectiveness for dealing with stress and anxiety. Even if you're feeling fine it will help you concentrate and improve your working memory capacity, according to research from the University of California.

So how does one learn to meditate?

There are many different techniques of meditating to suit different personality types. Some techniques involve focusing on a particular object that's outside of yourself (i.e. a mantra the sound of an instrument or a candle's flame) whereas other techniques involve a broader focus (i.e. the breath and internal body states). It's really up to you to work out which technique suits you best.

Vipassana meditation is particularly popular. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body.

Ten-day courses in this ancient meditation practice are offered in every state of Australia and throughout the world, and if you're serious about wanting to integrate meditation into your daily life I highly recommend it.

However if ten-days of total solitude is more than you're ready for, your local health food store will most likely have flyers and business cards of meditation classes available in your local area. Or you can purchase a meditation CD that will guide you through a practice.

Maybe you'd like to jump right in and start practising on your own! Here are a few tips from our Springday sleep & relaxation expert Sam Sample has learned over the years:

  • Set aside a time when you will not be disturbed and turn your phone off (or on silent mode)
  • Find a comfortable place to sit cross-legged in lotus position
  • Close your eyes
  • Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose
  • Avoid the urge to move itch-scratch or adjust your clothes
  • Simply sit and observe the breath and the sensations that are showing up throughout your body
  • Don't fight the painful sensations hoping that they go away and don't hang on to the pleasurable sensations hoping that they stay. Accept that any of the sensations (pleasant or unpleasant) you may be feeling will indeed pass. Just as any cravings or aversions you have in life pass also.

The practice of mediation is a mental training. Just as we use physical exercises to improve our body, healthy meditation can be used to develop a healthy mind.

A final word: Please don't be discouraged by the frustration of trying to still your mind. Starting anything new is difficult at first. Meditation is a life-long practice. Take baby-steps. Try at first to meditate for just 5 minutes a day. Then 10 minutes and so on. It's far better to practice for a short period of time every day consistently than longer durations less frequently.

This ancient practice has been used by people for centuries to engage in the present moment and keep a cool head in the midst of stress. So why shouldn't it be relevant now?

Written by Natalie Saar.


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