Every mind needs a rest once in a while. On May 21st, we observe World Meditation Day to highlight the powers of this millennia-old technique. Meditation has established itself as a prominent practice in various faiths, but non-spiritual individuals can still benefit from its effects on the body and mind. Meditation can improve brain function and overall health when utilized properly, leading to positive outcomes for our mental and physical well-being.
At Integrative Healthcare Center, we’re committed to providing wellness therapies like meditation in our comprehensive services. The powers of meditation are real and palpable, and by highlighting the correct ways to utilize this technique, our patients can reduce stress and anxiety and find peace when they need it most. Check out some important information about World Meditation Day and how you can achieve your Zen.
The History of World Meditation Day
The first mention of meditation in written form dates back to India, around 1500 BCE, though some believe it may date back to 3000 BCE. Since then, the technique has risen to one of the most important aspects of various faiths, particularly Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern religions. Today, meditation has expanded to secular and nonsecular uses, holding significance in physical therapies such as yoga and gaining popularity through artists such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
In the 1960s, Harvard Medical School professor, Herbert Benson, studied the practice extensively and found that those who meditated used 17% less oxygen than those who did not. Popularity increased in the 90s as the technique became “trendy.” By the mid-2000s, nearly 10 million adults meditated annually.
How Does Meditation Work?
Meditation holds merit in many forms and has emerged into various integrated branches of practice, such as self-discipline, ethical restraint, mental focus, and physical exercise. These practices differ in their approach and consist of numerous techniques like breathing, sustained focus, or quiet contemplation.
While these practices were once uncorroborated and more theoretical, recent developments have tapped into the science behind meditation’s effects on the brain. Research shows that during meditation, our brains stop processing information as actively as they typically do. Scientists realized that meditation decreases beta waves in the brain, shuts down our frontal cortex (responsible for reasoning, emotions, and awareness), and slows down activity in the parietal lobe (responsible for processing sensory information and surrounding space).
Meditation also reduces activity in the thalamus (responsible for funneling sensory data into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks). Additionally, it dials back reticular formation (responsible for receiving incoming stimuli and putting the brain on ‘alert mode’).
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
Voluntarily messing with brain activity may seem risky, but these changes to the brain’s structure induce positive benefits after extended periods. Research shows that meditation can improve well-being and quality of life and present numerous physical and emotional benefits. These physical benefits can include:
- reducing inflammation
- supporting immune system
- improving sleep
- reducing symptoms of menopause
- controlling pain response
- lowering heart rate
Stress and anxiety reduction is another major aspect of meditation. By letting go of stressors and allowing your brain to be calm and peaceful, you can slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. The body’s “fight or flight” response in stressful situations declines significantly, and the adrenaline created decreases. With continued mindful meditation, you can learn valuable lessons to handle stress healthier when it does arise.
Meditation also lets us clear away the information overload contributing to stress. In turn, these reduced levels provide various mental health benefits, such as:
- increased information processing
- slowed cognitive effects of aging
- increased self-awareness
- stress management skills
- reduced negative emotions
- increased patience and tolerance
- increased imagination and creativity
Concerning stress, meditation also helps with various illnesses and medical conditions that may worsen with increased stress and anxiety levels. These include:
- Heart disease
- Chronic pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tension headaches
What Are the Types of Meditation?
An important aspect to remember on World Meditation Day is that meditation is an umbrella term for any technique that helps achieve a relaxed state. Each technique helps to find inner peace in its own right, and no method is considered superior. Here are some of the most popular forms of meditation around the world:
- Guided Meditation – This technique allows us to form mental images of places or situations that we find relaxing. Also called guided imagery or visualization, guided meditation utilizes various senses and textures to achieve peace and can be led by a teacher or guide.
- Transcendental Meditation – This natural technique uses ‘mantras’ or repeated words/phrases that guide someone toward relaxation. It allows the individual to enter a state of profound rest to achieve peace without concentration or effort.
- Mindfulness Meditation – In this form, individuals learn to increase their awareness and acceptance of being in the moment. Mindfulness exercises allow you to focus on current experiences and observe your breathing as you meditate.
- Yoga – Considered more of a physical activity than a meditative technique, yoga still involves various breathing exercises through various poses to create a more flexible body. Many yoga classes include other meditations such as mantra or mindfulness.
- Qi Gong – Part of Chinese traditional medicine, Qi Gong combines meditation with relaxation, breathing exercises, and physical movement to restore and maintain balance. Qi Gong may also utilize gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, and other devices to induce calmness.
How to Find Peace on World Meditation Day
Practicing meditation starts with finding what technique is most comfortable for you. Take the time to explore various options and how they’ll benefit certain emotions or physical ailments you may currently deal with. Once you find a viable technique, your best move is to practice daily to get the hang of the routine.
Consider taking classes such as yoga instruction or guided meditation with a facilitator to help progress. These professionals can teach you various skills to calm the mind more easily and allow your brain to clear. They can also assign you a mantra if that’s the technique you feel most comfortable with.
Find time to commit to practice, such as in the morning or before bed. Ensure that you have a comfortable spot to practice, free of distractions. If you wish to practice with a partner or friend, confirm that they’re on the same level and won’t take you out of the moment. Most often, practicing solo is more effective than pairing with another.
You can also practice certain breathing exercises when you’re not meditating. For example, try conscious breathing as you walk, sit at your work desk, or while driving. These also work great in natural environments like hiking or walking your dog. Be conscious of your thoughts and concentrate on what your mind’s telling you. Engage with your senses to further connect with your surroundings. You may also benefit from reading books and sacred texts focused on meditation.
Remember that World Meditation Day is to bring you peace and tranquility. Everyone has different reasons for meditating, so you should always start by focusing on what you wish to achieve through practice. If you’re dealing with a physical ailment, stress, anxiety, or depression, remember that meditation isn’t an end-all solution – but when paired with other useful therapies, it can bring you the relaxation you need when it matters most.
Heal the Body and Mind at Integrative Healthcare Center
Integrative Healthcare Center aims to fill a void in the healthcare landscape by providing comprehensive mental health services to those in need. Our patient-centered and evidence-based approach allows our patients to feel comfortable and confident in their healing process, regardless of ailment or condition.
We offer services such as psychiatry, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), biofeedback, mindfulness, and others to heal the entire person, not just individual symptoms. We understand how beneficial meditation can be for individuals, and on World Meditation Day, we wish to highlight how similar wellness therapies can profoundly impact overall health and well-being.