Meditation. Dhyana. Sitting quietly. Focusing. And then …
There’ve been so many times at the ashram, just in the first week alone, where I’ve thought to myself, “Wow, if some of my friends could see what I’m doing, I’m sure they’d ask the question, ‘And you’re paying them to do that!?’”
Like Karma Yoga, a practice meant to humble the aspirant and encourage transcendence of egoic motivations. The students of the teacher training (me and 30 others from around the world) are the keepers of the ashram, seeing to all its aesthetic – and hygienic – requirements.
Basically, we do the chores.
For one hour a day, we carry out assigned tasks like sweeping (to choice tunes, if I have anything to do with it!), gardening, scrubbing the bathrooms or administrative duties (lucky buggers). Selfless service, baby.
We also meditate twice a day for thirty minutes.
Pay someone so you can sit in silence for an hour? Say what?!
Or even if you are open to meditation or have had, at some point, some practice with meditation yourself, it may be a little tough to get going with a regular practice. Busy schedules, lack of discipline, or even a touch of skepticism may all be factors.
But with the right technique and a lot of practice, the benefits are truly priceless.
Check out just a few of the scientifically proven ones, as outlined by Rick Hanson, PhD and Richard Mendius MD in their book “Buddha’s Brain” (order/layout is altered slightly, and number 10 is not from the book):
1. Strengthens the immune system (Davidson et al. 2003; Tang et al. 2007)
2. Decreases stress-related cortisol (Tang et al. 2007)
3. Increases grey matter in the
- Hippocampus (a/b: Hozel et al. 2005, 2008)
- Prefrontal cortex (Lazar et al. 2009)
4. Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in prefrontal regions strengthened by meditation (Lazar et al. 2008)
5. Improves psychological functions associated with these regions, including
- attention (Cater et al. 2005; Tang et al. 2007)
- compassion (Lutz-Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2008)
- empathy (Lazar et al. 2005)
6. Lifts mood by increasing activation of the left frontal regions (Davidson 2004)
7. Increases the power and reach of fast, gamma-range brainwaves in experienced Tibetan practitioners (Lutz et al. 2004)
8. Helps a variety of medical conditions, including
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic pain (a-e: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)
9. Helps numerous psychological conditions, including
- Eating disorders (a-d: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)
10. Improves focus.
I’d been looking everywhere for a book that cites medical studies done to prove meditation’s benefits and after reading this last year in Abu Dhabi, it has to be in my top 10 non-fiction reads at the moment. A few months back, I blogged about Buddhist techniques to help you feel more alert – definitely handy for those days when you wish the alarm never went off!
If you’ve never tried meditation before, give it a whirl for just five minutes a day, and increase the minutes as your schedule and practice allows. Here’s a great website with several meditation techniques so you can choose how to get started! With some time and dedication, you’ll start to feel and see results that will help you live a longer happier life.
And that is definitely worth paying for!