5,000 B.C. to 3,500 B.C.
The oldest evidence of meditation, cave art on the Indian subcontinent.
1,896 B.C. to 1,716 B.C.
Evidence that Judaism inherited meditative practices through its own traditions from Israelite antiquity. In the Torah, the patriarch Isaac goes out “lasuah” in the field (Genesis 24:63)—an unusual term, understood by many commentators to mean “to take a meditative stroll.”
1,500 B.C. to 1,200 B.C.
The oldest documented evidence of meditation is in the “Vedas,” but these contain only the oldest “written” account; for many centuries prior, the “Vedas” were memorized and passed down through oral tradition.
600 B.C. to 450 B.C.
IndiaSiddhartha Gautama left his princely life and set out on a journey toward enlightenment. It is understood that he learned meditation and philosophy from yogis and gurus of his time. This was the beginning of Buddhism, for which meditation is still a core component to this day.Jainism, a transtheistic religion founded by Mahavira, also began in India at this time; it too includes meditation.
ChinaIn China, Lao Tzu founded Taoism, which emphasizes balance and understanding of the Tao (the Way) and incorporates meditation as a fundamental of the practice.Confucianism, founded by Confucius, focuses on morality and community life as a foundation for the practice. Its meditation concentrates more on self-contemplation and self-improvement.
“In the oldest texts of Buddhism, ‘dhyana’ (Sanskrit) or ‘jhana’ (Pali) is the training of the mind, commonly translated as meditation, to withdraw the mind from the automatic responses to sense-impressions, and leading to a ‘state of perfect equanimity and awareness.’”
—Wikipedia, “Dhyana in Buddhism”
499 B.C. to 100 B.C.
The epic “Bhagavad Gita” was written. It’s a treatise on various aspects of spiritual life, including meditation and yoga.
20 B.C. to A.D. 270
Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, left writings on “spiritual exercises” related to what we would today call mindfulness and meditation.
By the third century, Roman philosopher Plotinus wrote in “The Enneads” about his three principles, “the One, the Intellect, and the Soul.” Regarding henosis, he wrote, “you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One.”
596 to 667
Daoxuan took the concept of “ding” (concentration), a form of meditation, as a method that both Buddhist and non-Buddhist practitioners could use for different spiritual purposes.
653 to 700
Buddhism took root in Japan, and the first meditation center was opened. By the eighth century, Buddhism was firmly established—it truly flourished in the 11th century and beyond.
1000 to 1399
Christianity developed its own version of meditation during this time. Practitioners would vocalize the same word or phrase repeatedly, chanting while contemplating their relationship with God.
Shortly before the 13th century, Carthusian monk Guigo II wrote about meditating on Bible passages, in his book “The Ladder of Monks.”
By the 14th century, another meditative practice, hesychasm, had become a tradition within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based upon an interpretation of Bible scripture, hesychasts seek to still themselves and quiet their senses, such that they might become closer to God.
1760 to 1899
Meditation spread to the West as the Industrial Revolution made intercontinental travel more accessible to everyone.
The first English translation of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was published, increasing awareness and interest in Eastern meditative and spiritual practices.
1960s to Present
Interest in meditative practices has increased in the West. A cofounder of Contemplative Outreach and an American Catholic monk, Thomas Keating wrote: “The rush to the East is a symptom of what is lacking in the West. There is a deep spiritual hunger that is not being satisfied in the West.” Keating helped pioneer a meditative method of contemplative prayer known as Centering Prayer.
These days you can find apps to help you begin, train, or improve your meditative habits and practices. There are meditation classes inspired by and focused on traditions from all over the world. People also gather to meditate together at a variety of locations on a regular basis.
Meditation is as old as civilization: it was around long before any formal writing system, as evidenced by cave art dating to 5,000 B.C.; it has for millennia been practiced in almost every culture and country in some way or another; and religions typically make some form of meditative practice available to their adherents.
Meditation requires us to be present in the moment, not focusing on the past or future. It’s a way for us to center ourselves, let go of the inconsequential trivialities of day-to-day life, and reconnect with what’s important in our lives—reaffirming our lives’ purpose.
Take a moment to clear your mind. Let go of the chatter of doubt and obsession, and just be still.
Meditation is a simple idea, yet challenging in practice. In a world brimming with distractions, developing the ability to maintain a clear mind for any stretch of time takes dedicated effort. But those who practice this mysterious discipline say it’s worth the effort they put into it.
Enlightenment has long been the goal of meditation, but the bar doesn’t usually start so high. Today, meditation is often promoted as a drug-free way to relax, reduce stress, and improve mental focus. A number of studies validate the health benefits of meditation. Some doctors recommend it.
But the drive to meditate goes far beyond the scope of modern science. For Nicole Fiene, a sales representative from Massapequa, New York, meditation spoke to a void deep in her soul that she had never been able to fill.
“I was in a constant and seemingly neverending cycle of feeling unfulfilled with everything I did,” Fiene said. “I lived a beautiful life full of fun adventures and special friendships—always traveling to new places, meeting new people, and trying different things. But on the inside, it was never enough; I always wanted more.”
Fiene says that instead of feeling inspired, her constant search for stimulation left her feeling depleted. She relied heavily on multiple substances just to get through the day.
But when COVID-19 hit last year, Fiene was forced to change her routine. Under lockdown, all the activity and distraction she had grown accustomed to was no longer available. As a result, she could no longer hide from the painful feelings she had previously pushed down.
“Part of me knew that the reason I was going through such pain was because what was about to be next for me would be so extraordinary,” she said. “I knew that if I was going to fix this, I had to get to the root of it, and I knew whatever I was experiencing was spiritual.”
Fiene had no idea where to start, but direction came a day or so later. Speaking to a close business colleague over the phone, Fiene confessed to her emotional and spiritual unraveling during lockdown, and her search for something to cope with it. Her colleague recommended that Fiene try a meditation practice called Falun Gong. Fiene found instructions for the practice on the internet. She tried it and soon felt better.
“I felt a circulation of energy all through my arms, and for the first time in such a long time, I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and safety,” Fiene said. “I didn’t know anything about the practice, but in my heart I knew this was what was going to pull me out of the mental darkness I was experiencing.”
Roots in China
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition. In addition to the classic seated meditation, it also includes four slow, meditative standing exercises. The exercises are simple to learn, but those who practice them say they bring profound peace.
“Sometimes after meditating, I feel this buzz of soothing energy all around my body and mind, and it’s coupled with kindness and calmness,” Fiene said.
Today, Falun Gong is practiced in more than 80 countries, but it started in China—a place with a long tradition of slow, meditative exercises known as qigong (energy practice).
Either at parks in large groups or at home, Chinese people have been practicing various kinds of qigong for centuries. Tai chi is perhaps the best-known. Falun Gong was virtually unknown until the early 1990s, but it is said to have been around since ancient times. According to Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, before he modified it slightly and introduced it to the public in China, it was a lineage-type practice passed from master to student.
Li gave lectures on Falun Gong in a handful of Chinese cities for a few years, and interest in the practice spread—mostly by word of mouth.
In fact, it grew very popular very fast. By 1999, Falun Gong had grown to become the largest and fastest-growing qigong practice in China. The Chinese regime estimated that 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong, including some high-ranking members of the regime. The appeal was clear: Classes were free and open to anyone, and testimonials of positive experiences increased people’s interest. Many reported significant improvements in their health and state of mind from practicing Falun Gong.
Jane Pang remembers first learning Falun Gong back in China 25 years ago. Today, she’s a 45-year-old school principal living in Toronto. Back then, she was attending a Chinese university, where she would occasionally practice qigong with a group of fellow students in her free time. When one of her qigong buddies introduced her to Falun Gong in 1996, Pang knew she had found something special.
“I practiced qigong, but it didn’t feel anything like Falun Dafa,” Pang said. “[Dafa] gave me a lot of inner peace immediately.”
The biggest change Pang first noticed from the practice was that it calmed her down. She was a very dedicated student, but extremely stressed from all the pressure she was under, and full of anxiety. Falun Gong meditation helped her get her anxiety under control.
“Meditation helps me physically,” she said. “I have more and more control of my physical body. I can calm myself down and relax myself. I’m not worried about the results. I think that’s a big change for me.”
At first, the Chinese regime was pleased with the beneficial results people like Pang experienced with Falun Gong. Some officials even noted how it could save money on health care costs. An official from China’s National Sports Commission told U.S. News and World Report that Falun Gong’s influence could save each person 1,000 yuan per year in medical fees, and the benefits could add up.
“If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion yuan saved per year in medical fees,” the official said.
But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) changed its tune. Top officials suddenly became concerned that Falun Gong was becoming too popular, and feared the influence of such a large segment of the population involved in an activity outside communist control. Perhaps most serious of all, Falun Gong was deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, something the CCP had worked to destroy since the regime’s founding in 1949. Socialism and atheism effectively became the state religion.
Falun Gong books were ordered burned, the exercises were forbidden, and a major propaganda campaign to demonize the practice was carried out by virtually every media outlet in the country—all of which operate under tight state control.
Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners went to the Chinese capital to appeal what they believed was a misguided decision by the CCP. In 1999, Pang made her way to Beijing to convince the authorities that Falun Gong was good, that it wasn’t political or any kind of threat to the regime. It was something to be celebrated. Like many other practitioners in China at the time, Pang thought that if people in power could hear her positive experience, it would change their minds.
“We wanted them to know there shouldn’t be any concerns,” Pang said. “I thought if I went there and shared my story, it would help them to understand what Falun Gong is.”
However, these types of appeals seemed only to intensify the regime’s determination to stamp out the practice. After they arrived in Beijing to appeal, Pang and other practitioners found themselves incarcerated. Pang says she was abducted on the street, put on a bus, and taken to several detention centers over the course of the next few days. She was tortured, starved, and denied access to a restroom. She also had no idea where she was.
“I was very, very scared,” Pang said. “I wanted to say goodbye to my family members. I felt that at any moment, I could be dead. And if they killed me, my family would never know how I died.”
After being processed at five or six different detention centers, Pang was eventually taken to a labor camp where she spent the next two years. The experience was designed to break prisoners like Pang of their adherence to Falun Gong. Ironically, it only deepened her dedication.
“Even if I just had a minute or two to myself, I would close my eyes and do the meditation. I tried to get some peace internally,” Pang said. “My physical body was deteriorating from the torture, but mentally I did not break down. Meditation helped me a lot in such a difficult situation.”
Better Health, Brighter Outlook
Falun Gong shares similar elements with Buddhism and Taoism, but it also has unique characteristics. In addition to providing methods to clear the mind and move energy through the body, it also teaches practitioners to elevate their character. This means doing their best to be a good person in every situation in life. The three guiding principles of Falun Gong are truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Those who live by these principles say they have the power to overcome virtually anything. Pang says that even today she feels a profound sense of protection.
“Whatever happens in your life, your heart cannot be touched. It can be an extreme situation, but you feel calm because you feel protected,” Pang said. “I’ve been able to go through so many difficult situations because of the meditation practice of Falun Gong. I’ve benefited from day one.”
Falun Gong comes from China, but the people who practice it today hail from all over the world. One of them is 45-year-old Tabitha Smile. In 2014, Smile was a single mother of two teenagers and working a corporate job when she decided she wanted to find a meditation practice.
Smile had some previous knowledge of meditation practices found in Asia because of time spent in the Far East. Many of her formative childhood years were spent in Japan, and she also visited Korea and Taiwan.
But she discovered Falun Gong in a room above a Whole Foods store in Portland, Oregon, where she met up with a small local group to learn the exercises. She says it was a casual atmosphere where she felt comfortable to go at her own pace. But she saw profound benefits right away.
“The first time I did the Falun Dafa exercises in the group, I could feel the gentle warmth and vibrations throughout my entire body. I felt very light and wonderful, and I knew I had found a true practice.”
“For weeks after my practice, I felt a rotational type of vibration all over my body,” she said.
Within a few months, Smile’s chronic back pain disappeared, and a persistent skin issue that had plagued her for years was finally gone.
“I also felt an increase in energy,” she said.
If you’re new to Chinese culture, much of the philosophy of Falun Gong may seem odd at first. Mystical talk of energy channels, the power of inner silence, and the accumulation of virtue as a real physical substance are all a part of traditional Asian culture. But interested Westerners can find a connection with these ideas.
Those who come to embrace Falun Gong often talk about finding it at a pivotal point in their lives. Joseph Gigliotti, a 29-year-old chiropractor, was first introduced to Falun Gong almost seven years ago while in chiropractic college.
“It was at a time when I was beginning to see that I had some serious work to do on my character. I was looking for an authentic spiritual discipline that could help me mature and be a better person,” Gigliotti said. “When a friend told me about this practice, I immediately knew this was unique, authentic, and very powerful.”
Gigliotti had previously struggled with anxiety and depression, but he says through Falun Gong, these issues simply melted away.
“I could never imagine then the changes that would take place in me,” he said. “Falun Dafa has left a permanent mark on who I am, and it has transformed all my relationships.”
Today, Gigliotti says meditation has become an integral part of his life. It has taught him to think of others first, and to look within whenever he faces any difficult ordeal.
“In many ways, this practice saved my life,” Gigliotti said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without it. It’s so nice to be able to sit and settle my mind.”
“While meditating, it feels like a shower to my mind and body. It can really be pleasant. It can also be challenging at times and helps me temper myself.”
A Treasured Discovery
Many Falun Gong practitioners say they treasure the practice because of the journey—the search they took to find it. But sometimes the practice finds them.
That’s what happened to a 63-year-old music teacher and photographer, Syl Lebar. In 2004, Lebar was researching information about a style of tai chi known as “wu,” but for some reason, his search results kept leading him to Falun Gong.
“Every time I searched, Google only showed me pages and pages of Falun Dafa. I had heard of it before, but that’s not what I was looking for at the time. I tried a second time, and the same thing happened. A third, and yet the same results,” Lebar said.
At first he was annoyed, but he decided to see what Falun Dafa was about. He found the main text of the practice, “Zhuan Falun,” online. After reading just a few pages, he was hooked.
“Before I knew it, I was in the third chapter. I couldn’t stop reading it,” Lebar said. “When I went to bed, it suddenly occurred to me—that was no accident with the results when I was looking for wu-style tai chi. Someone was guiding me there. I smiled when I realized what had happened. Dafa is what I was looking for all my life.”
Over time, Lebar saw benefits that he attributed directly to his Falun Gong practice. His health was improving. He developed a more positive outlook, and he found it easier to handle all the little challenges of life.
“Everything in my daily life seemed to be taking an unknown direction for the better. The meditation that goes with the teaching put me in a state of internal peace that I had not felt before, even with other cultivation systems,” Lebar said. “Relationships to my immediate and extended family were improving as well.”
Lebar says he got a lot out of other meditation systems he had tried in the past, but they didn’t compare to what he gained from Falun Gong.
Back in the day, it probably wouldn’t have been all that daunting to find more than a few skeptics who’d scoff at the very idea of meditation in the workplace.
Really? There? they’d proclaim, perfectly aghast. After all, it’s an environment typically far too rife with distractions like butting heads for partnerships and the coveted corner office to trifle with something as introspective as meditation, right?
But today, side by side with omnipresent spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, meditation has gained worlds more cachet in boardrooms. So, what’s with the about-face? Simple: companies themselves.
Many are combing for innovative ways to upgrade employee performance. Among many employees, mindfulness and mediation are emerging as staples in doing business, according to comparecamp.com.
Perhaps to show just how far the concept of meditation has come in corporate America, when most people think of perks, the usual ones like casual Fridays and Starbucks gift cards probably come to mind. Now, conventional perks are at least sharing center stage as meditation rooms have become all the rage at places like Apple, Salesforce, and Nike, according to CompareCamp.
No, it’s not merely because those Wall Street titans are trying to strut their softer sides. Ha!
Instead, consider this: Meditation improves critical thinking and creativity, studies have found. Studies have also shown that meditation steps up focus and productivity. Consequently, many employers have picked up on the power of meditation to reduce workplace stress, increase employee focus and productivity, and improve mental health.
CompareCamp reported the following:
Two weeks of mindfulness training results in reduced mind wandering for participants prone to distractions.
Meditation increases employee productivity by 120 percent.
Employers who implemented meditation programs for their employees saw an 85 percent decrease in absenteeism.
Businesses with meditation programs for employees experienced a 520 percent profit increase.
Of employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace, 60 percent showed marked improvement upon practicing meditation.
In 2017, 36 percent of employers offered meditation programs in the workplace; in 2018, it was 52 percent.
“[Meditation is] becoming more and more commonplace as large companies like Google role model their mindfulness programs. But there’s still a long way to go before companies allocate any budget to implementing company-wide programs,” said Lisa Wimberger, CEO of Neurosculpting Institute.
She believes mediation is hitting the mark in these hallowed halls because leaders need effective emotional regulation in order to access their brains’ “executive-command” center, which is the hallmark of good leadership. All of this requires a regular self-reflection practice such as meditation, neuroplasticity training, and exercise.” Wimberger added that it’s as vital to good leadership as any other leadership-based training program. “It helps leaders maintain equanimity, big-picture thinking, focus, and nonviolent communication styles.”
Dana Harper, senior director of People Services and HR Business Partnering at Anuvu, a provider of high-speed connectivity and entertainment solutions, said meditation has been very effective there for “getting leadership attention on the matter of stress management.” “It elicited excitement from our employee population [so] we are taking this seriously.”
The company began using meditation in May and then wound down the program, but its videos remain available on the employee portal for anyone to use at any time, Harper said.
Dan Globus, lead meditation and mindfulness instructor at the Meditation House, said that up until about 10 years ago, only the largest corporations had some type of meditation or mindfulness program for their employees. “Most employees interested in meditation had to visit local yoga centers or possibly a facility offering meditation, that is, if one even existed where the person lived.”
How times have changed. Today, small- and medium-size corporations offer meditation classes and programs to their employees, he said. Classes range from “well-being” or “mental heath days” events, where a corporation books one class as part of a one- to two-day well-being summit, to monthly programs where employees are offered access to classes that take place once a week or once a month.
Globus believes the evolution stems from the fact that human resource managers have witnessed the beneficial effects of meditation programs in the workplace. “They have seen how these programs help to reduce absenteeism, boost morality, contribute to overall employee happiness and satisfaction, and contribute to the overall health of employees.”
Whatever the case, the proof of the key role meditation has assumed in business is reflected in the positive feedback Globus has received from clients:
Hi Dan! Thank you again for such a wonderful session. I appreciate the time and energy! The feedback I received was very positive … comments such as: “That was a great meditation, Cindy! I hope we get the opportunity to repeat it again. Thanks for the initiative! —Best regards from Germany, Christiane”
Thanks, Cindy, for organizing! Born a Buddhist but it is always very interesting to learn about different perspectives/practices of mindfulness meditation. There is always more to learn 😊 Regards, Kushlani, GE Health
I met with students yesterday, and the response to your program was very positive. You should know that several students commented on feeling that they are in a better place to jump into exam week next week. A couple spoke of feeling a calmness they have not felt all year. One said that evening “was the first time I felt free from anxiety since March”! THANK YOU again for offering them [and me] such a positive experience. —Hunter College
And why not all the enthusiasm? After all, Globus characterized meditation programs as cost-effective solutions that contribute to employee satisfaction, happiness, and productivity: “Employees that meditate on a regular basis are typically healthy [and] happy in their positions; they look forward to their work, and they have good relationships with other employees.”
Still, there are those nonbelievers, who Wimberger said are more difficult to reach. “There can be drawbacks depending on the kinds of meditation programs implemented. The ones that come with major lifestyle or dogmatic implications can cause some people to resist the methods. The programs that focus more on the physiology of the practices tend to have a more mainstream and pervasive appeal.”
What’s more, not all meditation styles foster focused attention, she said. “There’s more than relaxation at stake. Good meditation programs meet the user[s] where they are at and help them either create more relaxation if needed, or more focused attention if that’s what’s needed. It’s never really a one-size-fits-all.”
Naysayers aside, people’s views of meditation have changed. It depends on how it’s presented, Globus said. “It’s come a long way. Many people who would never have taken a meditation class outside of work have become the biggest proponents of corporate meditation classes. They quickly realize that the way that meditation is taught at corporations is completely different from what they may have envisioned.”
Chuck Green has written for a number of publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and others. He’s covered various topics, such as banking and finance, health care, real estate, food and beverages, and sports.
In this day and age, just about everyone associates meditation and mindfulness with improved well-being. Especially now, as people deal with COVID-19, there’s an invigorated interest in staying well—mind, body, and soul.
But many people aren’t sure where to start. In my experience, cultivating a meditation and a mindfulness practice that works for you is the most important thing to do, no matter where you are in your wellness journey. This approach sets a solid foundation for improved mental, emotional, and physical health. For me, meditation was instrumental in recovering from fibromyalgia, intense chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. It helped when nothing else did.
Since the key obstacle many people face in adopting healthier habits like diet and exercise is mental resistance, starting with a meditation or mindfulness practice is one way to improve your ability to break through.
Meditation and mindfulness practices have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being, and can improve willpower, focus, and clarity. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that they only work on your mental health. What happens in the mind has a direct impact on the physical body, too.
Meditation Versus Mindfulness
Meditation is about sitting still, and using at least a portion of that time to sit in silence. Meditation is a quiet and contemplative practice.
Mindfulness is more about tuning into your thoughts and feelings. It can include the active things you do to become more aware, or to train your mind.
Meditation is something you do to the exclusivity of other things. You only meditate. Mindfulness is something you can bring to everything you do.
For example, are you being mindful about your eating habits, or your breathing? Are you able to tune into what you are hearing, seeing, or feeling at any given moment?
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
Meditation and mindfulness do wonders for our health because they resolve one of the fundamental problems of modern living: an imbalance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
All too often, the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system goes into overdrive, not allowing the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system to do its work.
If this goes on for too long, you can get ill, stressed, depleted, burned out, or face a chronic condition. That’s because the hormones and physiological changes that come with an overactive fight-or-flight response deplete the body.
Meditation works to restore a healthy balance so that your body’s parasympathetic nervous system—its self-healing mechanism—kicks in. This ensures a strong immune response, better hormone balance, improved mood, better sleep, and so much more. Your body begins to regenerate and heal, working on many different aspects of wellness at once.
Mindfulness practices, meanwhile, can help us tune into our feelings of stress or anxiety and be more aware of what sets them off. That can help keep us from falling into a state of enduring stress that can occur when we are constantly revisiting stressful thoughts. If we are mindful, we can also take a break to meditate when needed, and that will help us to quickly calm down.
It’s now well established that improved mental health leads to improved physical health. Improved mental health is correlated with all those wonderful physical health benefits mentioned earlier, like improved immunity, better hormone balance, decreased cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), and more. People who identify with a sense of purpose and meaning in life also fare much better mentally, emotionally, and physically than those who don’t. Even people who are just happier on a day-to-day basis have improved health outcomes.
So knowing this, where do you start? If the mind impacts the body and the body impacts the mind, couldn’t you argue that doing anything good for the mind or body will improve your overall well-being? Yes, you can absolutely argue that, and you would be correct. But for those who want to make a rapid, noticeable lifestyle change for the better, my experience is that meditation is the fastest path to success. That’s because it helps the different branches of your nervous system work harmoniously together, which has a direct and nearly immediate impact on the mind and body.
Because meditation helps get your body into balance, it sets a very solid foundation for everything else. You’ll notice it makes creating a mindfulness practice easier thanks to increased energy, stamina, and focus. Without being mindful and intentional in life, it’s very difficult to make necessary changes that lead to sustainable health, happiness, and well-being.
In my many years of teaching meditation and mindfulness, the most common complaint I get is, “I can’t meditate, I can’t clear my mind.” There are so many reasons why you may think you can’t meditate, but I assure you, you can. Acquiring a life-changing skill isn’t like sitting in a hot tub. You should expect to put in some effort and improve gradually. There are some tips below to help you get there.
If you’re looking for a magic pill to change your life, those don’t exist, but I can say that meditation gives you a way to reside more deeply in yourself and develop a sense of tranquility that becomes available in your everyday life. Your health, mindset, relationships, and more all improve when you develop a consistent meditation practice. And since meditation makes it much easier to be mindful, you’ll find it a win-win.
How to Begin a Meditation Practice
Tip #1: Slow your breathing.
Before you try to sit and meditate, work on lengthening and deepening your breath, which slows down your breathing rate. Your breath is directly connected to that hamster wheel in the mind, and the more you’re able to slow your breath, the calmer your mind will become. Take five minutes a day to work on your breath, and within two weeks or less, you’ll find your breathing has slowed down and meditation has become easier.
Tip #2: Meditate in a clutter-free space.
What goes on outside impacts what is happening in the mind, and vice versa. It can be hard to focus and sit still when you are surrounded by clutter. A clean and clutter-free space gives your mind space. You’ll feel calmer, more focused, and more open. This will make it easier to meditate.
Tip #3: Meditate every day.
Even meditating five minutes a day can change the neural connections in your brain. Daily consistency is key to establishing a new habit and rewiring the brain to be successful at something. Start with a few minutes a day, something easily attainable, and grow from there. You’ll find that this growth happens automatically when you commit and stick with your routine, even when it feels difficult.
Jaya Jaya Myra is a wellness lifestyle expert and go-to media expert on mind-body wellness, stress management, mindfulness, food for mood, and natural, healthy living. She’s a best-selling author, TEDx and motivational speaker, and creator of The WELL Method for purpose-filled healthy living. Visit JayaJayaMyra.com.
“We need to change the delusion that we need to burn out in order to succeed.” —Arianna Huffington
One of the biggest challenges to finding time for meditation—and balancing ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally—is the burnout complex. Many of us feel the need and pressure to operate at maximum capacity from the time our eyes open until we go to sleep. That doesn’t even make sense for a machine, let alone a human being. You wouldn’t expect a car to run at top speed 100 percent of the time without its engine exploding, so why do we expect it of our minds and bodies?
Why We Need to Slow Down
While real physical dangers in the developed world are rare today, most of us suffer from internal perceptions that create stress. Our brains register these as incoming threats, triggering our body’s fight-or-flight response—that jolt of energy you feel at the top of a rollercoaster, or when a barking Doberman starts charging toward you. This physiological response narrows our focus and energizes our body to deal with a physical situation. However, for most of us, the threat we might face is an urgent email, a heated argument with our partner, or bills piling up. These daily (or hourly) stressors trigger a biochemical shift in our bodies. The clinical explanation is that our brain perceives, our nervous system activates, and our adrenal stress systems change our biochemistry to prepare our body to react to incoming danger.
The problem for many of us experiencing this stress response on a regular basis—besides that it activates a survival mode not intended for the average workday—is that it performs a variety of short-term lifesaving actions that harm our bodies when triggered too often. Those actions include pumping extra sugar and insulin into our bloodstream, constricting blood vessels, directing energy away from daily bodily functions, slowing digestion, deregulating our immune system, interrupting fertility and more.
Meditation: Why It Matters
Those who meditate daily, for even just 10 minutes, immediately discover increased mindfulness, greater sense of purpose, better productivity, decreased stress and even decreased illness. It has been proven to improve health and relationships, and to help people find a connection with nature and the universe.
Besides directly countering our stress response, meditation helps us better regulate that response in the face of future threats.
Many of us are stuck in the rut of, “I don’t have time for ___,” even when that activity is essential for our health and basic satisfaction with life. For many, that activity is meditation. Fortunately, we often have more time than we think, especially when we reclaim time dedicated to nonessential activities like scrolling social media feeds and internet browsing.
Reclaiming this time leaves an opening to meditate. Instead of plopping onto the couch to scroll through Netflix, you can truly unwind.
Meditation contributes to a positive mindset and energy, both of which are invaluable to the health of your body and brain. Positivity has been proven to increase feelings of joy, contentment and love. These positive emotions increase our ability to solve problems, find opportunities, see the bigger picture of our lives and, ultimately, be the best versions of ourselves.
Two Ways to Find Time
Want to meditate but feel like you don’t have the time? Two tips to help get you that valuable opportunity are to set “no fly times” and to eliminate your “energy zappers.”
Set and Maintain “No Fly Times”
Build intentional downtime in your schedule where you make no calls and send no texts or emails. This could be in the morning, at the end of the day, during your lunchtime—anytime that makes sense for even just 10 minutes of a break for your brain and nervous system.
Find and Eliminate “Energy Zappers”
So many people waste their valuable time on activities, functions, meetings, etc. that make no real difference in their lives. Try spending less time on things that add no value to your life and leave this space available for more important things.
When you build in downtime and cut out nonessential and energy-zapping activities, you have more time and clarity for meditation.
Eight Meditative Exercises
Not sure how to meditate? There are many ways to meditate and different ideas of what it entails. Ultimately, meditation should help you quiet your mind and gain internal clarity.
Traditional or guided meditation, with or without prayer
Exercise meditation (yoga, walking or stretching)
Journaling and self-reflection (just two sentences to start—anything that’s on your mind)
Quiet alone time (start with 5–10 minutes of mindlessness or mental relaxation)
Practice self-empowerment mantras (I am valuable, I love my life, I am connected to my life’s purpose, I am getting stronger every day, etc.)
Take a bath with calming essential oils like lavender, bergamot or chamomile
Walk in nature, or somewhere quiet and calm (try to do this daily if possible)
Breathing exercises (start with belly breathing instead of chest breathing[What is the difference? Explain] 10 times every time you go to the toilet)
Nisha Jackson is a nationally recognized hormone and functional medicine expert, lecturer, motivational speaker, radio host, columnist, author of “Brilliant Burnout” and founder of OnePeak Medical Clinics in Oregon. For 30 years, her approach to medicine has successfully reversed chronic problems such as fatigue, brain fog, depression, insomnia and lack of stamina.
It was an ordinary office—the couches and chairs were well worn by the patients who came before me. The therapist said, “Take a seat, anywhere you would like.”
My physician mindset thought, “I imagine my choice of chair or couch is already giving insight to this well-respected counselor.” When I mention this, he laughs and tells me “One’s sitting position, body language, and greeting all give me a sense of the comfort of the patient in the room. I want them to be comfortable.”
This was not my first visit to a therapist for the coat of depression I had worn. Most of the time it was light. On this day, however, it weighed on me. He was a new therapist for me but I expected a similar approach to what I’d known from previous therapists. I was wrong.
During this first visit, he began by showing me functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) pictures of control subjects without reported depression and comparison subjects who had depression. I sat up straight in the recliner (yes, I chose the comfy chair close to him). I could not believe the images displayed and the distinct differences of a healthy brain versus one that was trapped in depression. I was intrigued.
He then began to explain that the great majority of those who suffer from depression can be successfully treated through retraining or “re-wiring” how the brain processes negative emotions.
“It is not the negative emotion itself which causes depression. It is the struggle against it which can spiral an individual into negative self-talk, ultimately resulting in a sense of chronic depression,” he said.
I sat back and processed what he said. It was true, I could be having a great day and a fleeting sense of melancholy would occur. I have experienced significant depression in the past which felt as if I had been consumed in a “black hole.” I would then spend time focusing on avoiding that “black hole.” If you have ever had depression or anxiety, I am sure that you can relate.
He switched screens on his computer and said, “This is the good news. These are images after the development of mindfulness practice.”
I sat up again and was amazed at the differences which occurred on these fMRIs. I thought, “But, will this work for me?”
A New Approach
He must have read my mind because he stood up and walked over to the bookshelf. Turning back to me, he said, “I would like for you to read this book. It is called “The Mindful Way Through Depression: Free yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.” Also, there is a companion workbook to the book and part of an eight-week program which I believe will significantly help you. We can meet as you want while you complete it.”
I believe if he had not started with the images, I might not have been so willing to try this process of becoming mindful. I am so thankful he did. I went from skeptic to advocate during this time. It was a summer of change for me and a new way of thinking that benefits me to this day. I continue to share my story with those who suffer from fear, grief, anxiety, and depression. If I share my bruised authentic life, then perhaps I may be able to help others escape these emotions.
Each of these emotions has been exceedingly abundant over the past year and a half as the world grapples with a pandemic caused by a virus. The full impact on emotional health remains to be seen. These secondary effects are compounded by food insecurity, financial concerns, and loneliness. I have labeled this phenomenon, “The COVID-19 Second Pandemic.”
Many mental health care providers have made a rapid transition to phone and computer-based telehealth services. However, I realized the benefit of these services may not be in reach of those who choose not to see a therapist or are unable to do so. Perhaps, individuals suffering from emotional and mental health issues could find comfort in the combination of mindfulness and meditation as I did.
Definitions: Mindfulness and Meditation
W. Marchand in the World Journal of Radiology describes mindfulness as “the dispassionate, moment-by-moment awareness of sensations, emotions, and thoughts.” The important point to understand is that mindfulness is awareness of a thought or emotion without judging that thought or emotion. While this may seem impossible at first (at least for me it did), it becomes easier with training and practice. Success is linked to practice.
Meditation is not so easily defined, as we recognize that there are many different types of meditation. Cahn & Polich (2006) described it best: “Meditation is used to describe practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attentional set… the regulation of attention is the central commonality across the many divergent methods.”
When we put together the ideas of mindfulness and meditation we have what Cathy Wong, a former writer for the Verywell Mind, describes as “a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body.” The beauty of this practice is that it can be done anywhere and at any time.
While mindfulness and meditation are ancient practices once revered for their potent ability to transform human consciousness, the modern origins of this methodology began in the 1970s at The University of Massachusetts under the leadership of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Then, the UMASS Center morphed into a program entitled, “The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.” As other universities and programs adopted or built upon Kabat-Zinn’s work, additional studies were performed to reveal significant changes in neurochemistry, neuroimaging, and most importantly quality of life.
As I reflect on this previous time in my mental and emotional health, I can truly say that I was relieved of many of the issues that would periodically present themselves. Rather than perseverate in the brief sense of melancholy, I would recognize it, not struggle against it, and then proceed with what I was doing. I also have added gratitude in my conscious thoughts regularly as it is impossible to feel sad and grateful at the same time.
The workbook associated with “The Mindful Way Through Depression: Free yourself from Chronic Unhappiness” worked for my style of learning. However, there are many resources that may work better for your situation such as mediation apps (Calm has helped me navigate frustrations, stop my racing thoughts and sleep well), podcasts, and websites like www.mindful.org.
Even if you have come through the other side of COVID-19 unscathed, having this tool in your toolbox will one day prove invaluable. In our world, we need as many tools as possible. My hope is that these resources will bring you encouragement and relief as they did for me.
What most people know today as a Japanese “zen garden” actually predates the arrival of Zen Buddhism in Japan. In a place where there was no water or stream, one could build a stone garden and use sand to fill the void.
Known as a Japanese rock garden, these unique spaces drew their inspiration from an even older Chinese garden style that used arrangements of rocks to symbolize the mountain-island home of the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology, Mount Penglai.
Tending to these gardens includes raking the sand or gravel to represent the ripples of water. Over time these rock gardens came to be important places for meditation and their simple design was an aid in those seeking tranquility.
Unlike many other garden forms, Zen gardens have few plants, place emphasis on rocks, and are largely defined by their sand or gravel. They were frequently made at temples.
For people today looking to create a sanctuary in their backyard, this style offers several benefits. It requires relatively little water, is easy to maintain, and has a well-established pedigree helping people calm their minds in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
Meditation creates a “virtuous cycle” where the ability to calm your mind increases self-awareness and self-awareness makes it easier to calm the mind. But meditation isn’t the only way to access this positive feedback loop. In fact, in ancient societies it was known for centuries that certain activities have a similar effect and can act as an aid to those seeking self refinement.
One of those aids is the game of Go, which has long been held to offer those who play it meaningful parallels to understand important Buddhist principles like impermanence and interdependence. For modern people, who tend to be more interested in meditation for the pragmatic rather than the spiritual, the benefits of Go are similar to the benefits of that other strategy game more familiar to westerners—chess.
Both games have held similar places in their respective societies. Chess is known as the game of kings, an art as much as a skill and a far stretch from those lesser games of chance that intoxicate their practitioners with the possibility of unearned gain or various forms of trickery.
Chess and Go depend entirely on the players’ skill, though the opponent’s actions and reactions create fortune in some measure.
Benjamin Franklin’s famous essay, “The Moral of Chess,” captures some of the most well-acknowledged benefits of playing the game, though modern research has made its own attempts to catalogue chess’s cognitive benefits.
Franklin, before venturing into a list of warnings for those who lack civility in the game, celebrated what it offered. It gave those that played the ability of foresight, circumspection, caution, and resilience, he wrote. Foresight is that essential ability to look forward and anticipate the reactions to each action. Circumspection is the ability to mind the interactions and potentials of many different factors, while caution emphasizes taking no undue risk and being careful with each move. And finally resilience, which is in some ways the greatest benefit of chess because it is a game where losing a piece can sometimes claim your hope and lead to a reckless, hopeless gameplay that guarantees defeat.
Franklin goes on at some length about how chess teaches one not to become discouraged, about how “one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty.”
This is one of the great lessons of chess and offers an immediate and visceral opportunity to learn what modern psychology labels “emotional self regulation.” This idea is better known by many other names such as fortitude, forbearance, patiences, and self-mastery.
This is perhaps the greatest benefit that chess players gain and it comes in close parallel with those benefits gained by meditation. In meditation, one strives to still the mind, and in doing so comes face-to-inner face with a clatter of discordant thought that stirs a hundred whims and feelings. The effort of meditation makes one see themselves more clearly, and in doing so, gain some separation from the various mental barnacles that attach themselves to each one of us as we traverse this world and its endless bombardments.
In chess, this experience is played out in black and white, in the rise and fall of expectation of triumph. The challenge each chess player faces it their ability to maintain focus amid the expectation of certain victory or presumed defeat. If you can learn to see your reaction as the game unfolds, you can better attenuate the arrogance or despair that can impair your play by clouding your concentration with expectation.
So it is with life. The better we can see our expectations and emotions, the more likely we can escape their gravity. It is all too easy to chain ourselves with the thinnest thread of resignation when the board of life yet offers a hundred possible moves all in the direction of a better position.
Researchers will suggest chess has countless other benefits, from the potential to stave off dementia, to increased concentration and stronger cognitive processing (brain work like learning something new or figuring out a math problem).
But for most of us, the real benefit of games like chess and go, or meditation, is that they grant us larger access to our own minds, and the ability to control the potential that resides there.