The Unknown Origins and Benefits to Meditation

Photo+Courtesy+of+Neuroscience+News.+

Photo Courtesy of Neuroscience News.

Amidst frantic day-to-day obligations, it isn’t easy to make a conscious effort to take a moment of stillness. As a result, most people stray away from the act of meditating as a method of relaxation, claiming that doing “nothing” inhibits productivity. This occurs due to misconstruing the principle of meditation—an ancient practice now primarily adopted by Western cultures to consolidate the hectic, modern lifestyle. Today, scientific studies and personal testimonies favor meditation to bolster physical and mental health and provide several other benefits to the occupied mind. 

The oldest documentation of meditation is in the Vedas, a religious Indian text dating back to 5000 BCE to 3500 BCE, according to PositivePsychology.com. In Hinduism and other older cultures, people meditated as a gateway towards spiritual enlightenment.

However, it has been nearly impossible to trace down the “creator” of meditation. Other regions, including China, contain records of its practice. 

Today, many people closely associate meditation with Buddhism, a philosophical religion originating in India. Although the practice of meditation in Buddhism entrusts equally on spiritual enlightenment, the basis of achieving this Nirvana emphasizes the many aspects of meditation Western cultures have now used in their practice: breathing steadily and maintaining consciousness. 

The practice of mindfulness broadly defines meditation. Though an unjustified generalization, it adheres to the physical state of stillness and the mental state of maintaining presence and keeping neutral thoughts. 

Still, Western cultures have generally set aside the religious facet of meditation, and many individuals now use the practice to reap particular physical and mental benefits. According to a survey conducted by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), “the number of U.S adults’ use of meditation in the past 12 months tripled between 2012 and 2017.” 

A trial funded by the NCCIH using 298 university students suggested that a particular type of meditation, known as ‘Transcendental Meditation,’ can lower blood pressure, especially among those with increased risk of high blood pressure. 

In another study funded by the same organization, 75 women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were monitored for eight weeks as they meditated. According to the scientists conducting the study, results suggested that meditation “may reduce the severity of IBS.”  

As a modern practice, individuals practice yoga in conjunction with meditation. Yoga bears its own benefits, but the controlled breathing involved in the exercise draws to meditative practices. Known as Pranayama breathing, this method encourages circulation flow and lung capacity. 

Possibly the most interesting finding is that researchers have found meditation to enhance mind-processing. For example, a 2012 research study compared brain images of 50 adults who meditated to 50 adults who didn’t. The former sample, those who meditated, had more folds on the outer layer of their brain, which indicate a greater capacity to hold and process information. 

Although the scientific data used to support the physical benefits of meditation seem relatively weak, the help of the practice on mental health is far clearer. 

In-depth research at the John Hopkins University on several studies on the benefits of meditation conducted 47 trials that proved to be well-conducted studies. The final consensus suggested that meditation can help anxiety, depression, and pain.  

An article written in 2014 by Harvard Health Publishing interviewed psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Hope, in which she supports the sense that meditation benefits “unproductive thinking.” The article quotes her saying, “Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.’” 

Quite amusingly, Western thought has implemented meditation to increase productivity. Beneath the comments of the Harvard article and in Dr. Hope’s beliefs, meditation discourages unproductive thoughts that may cause excessive stress, increasing one’s productivity. 

Several philosophers have argued against meditation as a purposeful action to benefit the physical and mental being. In their perspective, meditation should have no goal at all. Perhaps this is the bridge between the ancient monks of India and today’s modern practitioners. To quote English writer and philosopher Alan Watts, “Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”