Meditation and yoga are often viewed as something only a certain type of person craving spiritual life does. It is just not seen as something to do in the bustling thrust of our modern go-getting world.
However, it is increasingly being realized in the West that both meditation and yoga might well be a basic human need for not only spiritual growth – but also for our emotional, mental, and physical well-being too.
Meditation reduces anxiety, stress and depression. It has been shown to help get us in the now as well as gain mental clarity and maintain emotional calmness.
Both practices have also been seen to boost empathy, brain power and help with quitting unhealthy habits and addictions.
In fact, it is even included in Step 11 of the Twelve Steps, which has proven so effective for several decades now. This is in helping hundreds of thousands of people recover from alcoholism and other addictions including behavioral addictions such as to shopping, relationships, sex and work.
Meditation is also physically beneficial as well. For some people, this is in a life-saving way.
History of meditation and yoga
Known as dhyana, meditation was originally written in the Hindu Vedas texts from 1,500-700 BC. Meditation remains a strong part of Hinduism, as well as a part of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Celebrated psychiatrist Carl Jung and esteemed psychologist Erich Fromm both looked at meditation as a way to boost overall well-being. “Meditation” as a word derives from Latin meditari. It means “to concentrate”.
Yoga’s origins can be traced to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization of northern India from more than 5,000 years ago. It was mentioned in the Vedas texts as well.
The word “yoga” is from Sanskrit and means “union”. Sanskrit is still the language mostly used in yoga, such as for the name of certain postures.
From these ancient beginnings, starting in the 1960s, many Westerners – often connected with the hippy movement – travelled to India and other nearby countries, where they discovered yoga and meditation. They introduced them to the West on their return.
They are probably more popular than ever now in the Western world. However, if more people knew just how remarkable their overall benefits are they would certainly be even more widespread.
Meditation and yoga could save your life
It has been shown that people who meditate regularly lower their blood pressure, boost their cardiovascular health, and improve their immune system. So meditation will lower the chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
In fact, American Heart Association research revealed that a group who meditated regularly had around 50 per cent less chance of having a heart attack or stroke. They also reported less anger and stress.
Consultant cardiologist and author of the bestselling book A Statin-Free Life, Dr. Aseem Malhotra has looked into this in great detail. Dr. Malhotra discovered that in the world’s regions of greatest longevity – areas where there is virtually no heart disease – that people “were not running marathons or pounding away in the gym. They were just not being sedentary; they were simply moving all the time.”
In addition, many people’s heart problems Dr. Malhotra explains are caused by poor sleep, unhealthy diet and stress. “Stress increases chronic inflammation – so part of the immune system essentially attacks the body and the lining of the heart arteries.
“Reducing levels of stress by including 40 minutes of mindfulness meditation may be the most important factor in heart disease reversal. Even more than diet, more than exercise. Meditation, yoga or something else that reduces your stress levels will have a major impact.”
Another study, from the USA in 2011, discovered that taking part in an eight-week meditation program led to positive results regarding how the amygdala reacted to stress and anxiety. The amygdala is a part of the brain involved with our emotions and is known to have a key role in stress and anxiety.
This was found to be the case even when someone from the meditation program was not actually meditating at the time.
“By practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain – and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” explained psychologist and neuroscientist Britta Hölzel, first author of the study paper. “Other studies have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms.”
Meditation gives pain relief
Recent research also discovered that meditation means less physical pain. Researchers used MRI scans to reveal that mindfulness meditation interrupted the transmission between areas of the brain that process pain and the neural network that gives someone their sense of self.
Published this year in the journal PAIN, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain, it was reported how pain signals still move from the body to the brain – but that if someone is meditating they feel much less pain.
For the study, 20 people took part in four separate 20-minute mindfulness meditation training sessions. A control group of another 20 people listened to an audiobook for 20 minutes.
Afterwards, researchers put all 40 people in an MRI scanner. They also placed a plate on the back of their leg that produced painful heat sensations
The heat pain from the plate was given for 10 episodes of 12 seconds on followed by 12 seconds off. Those who were taught meditation used the practice to try and lessen their pain.
There was a reported decrease in pain by 33 percent from the meditation group. Yet the control group reported that their pain actually increased by around 20 percent.
“It’s still going to be painful, but it’s just not going to bother you as much,” explained the senior author of the study Fadel Zeidan, associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “The significance of what it means for who you are as a person is being diminished.
“This is no longer my pain. It just is.”
Meditation for memory, empathy and creativity
A study in the Netherlands published in the peer-reviewed psychology journal Mindfulness revealed that meditation can enhance creative thinking. As well, Norwegian and Australian researchers found in a study that meditation enhances memory.
It also increases empathy: Northeastern University College of Science and Harvard University researchers discovered in a study in 2013 that people who meditated were much more likely to experience more compassion and love for other sentient beings.
It is thought that this could be since meditation increases spirituality. This means it helps people feel a connection with other people and animals.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation has been mentioned. But what is it?
Mindfulness is when a person puts their focus on the now, the moment they are in. Without judgment, they put all their attention on what they are sensing, seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling.
Although it has greatly gained in popularity in the past ten years, it is actually a practice that many of our ancestors were doing thousands of years ago. Most of the mindfulness techniques that are presently popular in the West came from Buddhism and Hinduism.
Writer, scientist and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn is seen as the main person who introduced it to the Western world. This was in the 1970s with his program at the University of Massachusetts for treating chronically ill patients, which he termed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Kabat-Zinn, now 78 years old, defines mindfulness as: “Awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.”
This can teach us to observe our thoughts. Most people don’t know that we have a choice over which of our thoughts we pay attention to – and that anything we focus on grows, whether that is negative or positive.
Negative and positive thoughts
Negative thoughts give us negative feelings, which then lead to more negative thoughts and feelings. This is what’s behind how we behave or react.
But conversely, positive thoughts lead to positive feelings. Then we are more likely to behave in a positive manner and respond rather than react to people and situations.
Not being in the now makes us more likely to suffer from anxiety, stress and depression. Thinking about the past, often regretfully or with remorse; or thinking too much ahead about the future – one cause of anxiety, stress, and depression – will most often steal our emotional and mental energy as well as our peace of mind.
A Johns Hopkins Medicine study in 2014 revealed that 30 minutes of daily meditation every day relieved depression. It also improved feelings of anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation has proven to help with many emotional, mental, and physical issues. These include:
• Eating disorders
• High blood pressure
• Sleep problems
• Personality disorders
• Boosts memory
• Enhances creative thinking
• Increases empathy
• Reduces stress, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
Yoga for mind, body and soul
Although perhaps thought of by most people as a physical practice, yoga strongly incorporates meditation. Yoga practiced across the West derives mostly from a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, which includes breath control, the adoption of specific postures and meditation.
“Yoga is an astonishing discipline that allows you to connect with your body and emotions,” says yoga instructor Marina Scateni. “During physical practice with the postures, you’ll be able to perceive tensions – and work on them through breathing exercises.
“Focusing on the practice slows the mind from excessive thinking. As breath lengthens, you can generate peace and calm. With this peaceful calm, it becomes easier to face day-to-day challenges and to reach the best decisions for your life.”
Yoga and meditation are practices we ought to consider essential ways to a healthy mind, body and soul.
As Tikvah Lake Recovery is nestled beside a beautiful tranquil lake, we are in the ideal place for meditation and yoga.
We are also fortunate enough to have a tranquil oasis here, beneath majestic palm trees. It is a world away from the stresses of modern life.
We are a family-run center rather than a big institutionalized clinic. This means everybody here is looked after as our guest rather than treated as a client. For every guest, we consider emotional well-being as their absolute priority.
Our friendly experienced team of experts always looks at every single aspect of any mental health or emotional issue. We offer a range of treatments that are proven to be effective. Everything is personalized for each of our guests.
To discover how we can help you or someone you know, please call us now for a chat in complete confidence.