Meditation come from the Latin ‘meditatium’ – ‘to ponder’ and it seems that whichever way you turn, meditation is being offered as the panacea to all our ills! Of course, I exaggerate but it would seem meditation is the new cool kid on the block and everyone from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga is doing it.
However, meditation is anything but new. The oldest documented evidence of the practice is through wall art found on the Indian sub-continent and dates back 5000-3500 BC. Meditation, as a spiritual and religious practice has been part of Hinduism for thousands of years and was passed down orally until its first written evidence in the Vedas (Hindu scriptures written in Sanskrit) around 1500BC.
The practice was then adopted by neighbouring countries through the spread of Indian Buddhism into China and from China to Japan. It spread to the West through the Silk Road and also influenced Judaism. I figure something that has lasted for 5000 years must have some merit to it, right?
Numerous studies have been carried out to examine the benefits of meditation and even mainstream medicine advocates for it. Meditation has increased in popularity as people discover the many ways it positively impacts them. So, what are the benefits of meditation, especially for us, as students and for young people in general?
Benefits of Meditation
- Improves memory and concentration and lengthens attention span
- Helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression
- Increases confidence and self-esteem
- Improved sense of self-worth
- Induces greater creativity
- Increases a sense of calm and inner peace
- A more positive body image
- Improves sleep
In ancient India, the warriors and yogis meditated to gain superpowers (studies showed yogis in such a deep trance whilst meditating, that when touched with hot iron rods they felt no pain) and deepen their understanding of life and its mysticism. Today, people more commonly meditate to relax and find calm in a world filled with increasing pressures, stresses and noise. In our world, while everyone feels pressure, young people experience an immense amount.
An online UK stress survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and carried out in 2018, found that a staggering 60% of young people (aged 18-24) have felt so stressed by pressures to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. 57% of respondents have felt so stressed because of fear of making mistakes they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, and 39% of young people said they had experienced suicidal feelings because of stress.
Given the current pandemic, pressures are greatly intensified, creating nothing but uncertainty for most of us. As a result, the need for a viable means of dealing with life’s stresses becomes of paramount importance. Over lockdown these stresses led me to explore the world of meditation, and I am amazed by the results and benefits I experienced. If there is one thing I recommend to other students in these tumultuous times, it is to endeavour in mediation. To help guide your practice, I have outlined some tips below.
The idea of meditation is to achieve a state of relaxed awareness with no motivation. You are simply observing yourself with no judgement or analysis. Sit comfortably in a quiet, clean and tidy space with your eyes closed. Start by simply focusing on your breath, your inhalation and exhalation (through the nose) to give your mind space. Thoughts will wander into your mind, just observe them without any judgement and let them go. Keeping your focus on your breath and the centre point between your eyebrows can help thoughts to diminish. Dawn and dusk are recommended as the best times to practice so try and keep as close to these times as possible. Start off with just a few minutes at a time as you gradually begin to get better at focusing on your breath and not thinking about anything. You will naturally find yourself increasing the time. Meditation takes practice and patience, and it’s not a quick fix. However, as millions of people have found, if you persevere, the benefits are life enhancing and bring peace and fulfilment as well as numerous health benefits. It doesn’t cost anything so give it a try – what have you got to lose?