As Dr. Hedy Kober of Yale University so eloquently put it, meditation does ‘to [one’s] mind what going to the gym does to [one’s] body- it [makes] it both stronger and more flexible’. If you’re currently missing out on mind day, then perhaps this article will convince you to hit the meditation cushion or yoga mat and start working on building that grey matter!
Meditation and the concept of living mindfully have long been relegated to the hippie realm, located (conveniently) somewhere just behind the Forum (its exact whereabouts are a closely guarded secret). Thankfully, those days are long over and meditation has very much become a popular phenomenon with the public at large. We even have our very own Meditation Society (subtle plug is subtle), which is comprised of more than 300 members!
One of the most popular forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation, which has long been the focus of extensive research. According to a publication released by Harvard in 2011, a mindfulness meditation programme of as little as eight weeks is said to cause ‘measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress’. With benefits such as these, is it really a surprise that interest in meditation has seen such a huge surge in recent years?
a mindfulness meditation programme of as little as eight weeks is said to cause ‘measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress’.
Meditation has also been shown to have a profound positive impact on those suffering from mental health conditions, such as depression. Just this year, the NHS released an article on their website detailing how mindfulness is ‘as good as drugs for preventing depression relapse’, a conclusion based on research led by Oxford University and the National Institute for Health Research.
As an aside, it also seems that meditation generates a great feeling of passion in its practitioners. I had originally asked Meditation Society Co-President Emma Grindrod for a quote summing mindfulness up in her own words, but I instead feel that the following picture explains it best.
Mindfulness generates a sense of love. Love for oneself, love for others, love for the concepts of mindfulness and meditation, just love in general. Do we sound like a bunch of hippies yet?
Despite meditation’s health benefits and general allure, a common complaint from would-be meditators is that they don’t know how to start, or what to do. A simple and beginner-friendly form of meditation is breathing meditation, which, very succinctly, essentially involves closing the eyes and focusing the attention on nothing but the act of breathing. We don’t attempt to change the way in which we’re breathing, or pass judgement on it, we act only in the capacity of an observer. Each time the practitioner becomes distracted from the breath, they must redirect their attention back to it. At first, this might seem pointless but the idea is to foster awareness of what our body is doing and even more importantly, of what our mind is doing.
Despite meditation’s health benefits and general allure, a common complaint from would-be meditators is that they don’t know how to start, or what to do.
Over time, meditation practice fosters a heightened sense of awareness. One practical use of such an awareness is being conscious of actions or tendencies that might have a negative effect on our health, or on our social relationships, for example. We can use this knowledge to avoid doing things we perceive as being unhelpful to us and do more of the things we consider as being of use.
As a parting note, partially because I have a duty to represent everyone’s views in their entirety (and not at all because this piece was supposed to be over 600 words long), I’ll finish with Emma’s original quote, ‘Mindfulness is the deceptively simple challenge of noticing the physical feelings, thoughts and habitual behaviours we have become accustomed to within ourselves. By being with these non-judgementally and compassionately, we are able to work out which of these are unhelpful, unskilful or just not preferable. As a consequence of mindfulness, we can’t help but learn how to live a more joyful life’.
If none of this convinced you to get down to the brain gym (Queen’s MR1, 2 and 3 on Mondays and Thursdays from 18:30 to 20:00) then I don’t know that anything possibly could!