23 May 2014

Meditation - The what, why and a little bit of how

Need some headspace?


Meditation is something that as I get older I hear more and more about. The reality is I probably haven't really 'heard' about it more, I've just become a lot more receptive to it. It's something that I become increasingly aware that I should do and would likely benefit from. Sure, meditation in some circles has become the hip and cool thing to do and its benefits have in recent years become more mainstream through it's amplification across digital channels, but let's not forget that in no way is it a new thing. Some of the earliest references of meditation date back to the 6th to 5th centuries BCE.

If the pure monetary size of the self help industry is anything to go by (apparently worth $11 billion in 2013), which includes books, seminars, life-coaches and endless guides to 'a happier life', it would be fair to conclude that a lot of people feel unsatisfied, overwhelmed and in need of clarity and a helping hand with their lives.  From the compounding and often damaging pressures of a hectic work and social life, it's easy to feel that we are 'always on'. We lack the mental downtime we so badly need and get caught up with being focused on focusing on everything; at once.

Think about it....when was the last time you deliberately sat on the floor still, closed your eyes and focused on a single minded thing as simple as the air moving through your nostrils for 5 minutes, whilst blanking every other thought from your mind. Could you even do this without getting bored or distracted? Most of us (including me) find this extremely difficult.

From ultra successful business leaders such as Steve Jobs, to sport stars like Lionel Messi who are at the absolute top of their game, to the average working Joe who against all odds seems to be successfully balancing work and life commitments. These people understand that taking some regular time out or 'headspace' is hugely beneficial to their quality of life and success within it.

For many of us training ourselves physically is quite easy and normal, and increasing knowledge aka learning is also pretty normal in work and life, but training our minds to consciously focus on something whilst blocking everything else out is something that is pretty new and alien to many of us.

Well, this is where meditation comes in. This post is a brief look at what meditation is, what leading authorities say it's benefits are, a few simple exercises to start you off, and a few tools that I have recently found. It is written from my perspective of a beginner.


What is meditation?

Here are some definitions from a few sources that gives you a bit of an insight into what it is:

    • Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth. Source
    • Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself. Source
    • Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. (Buddhist) meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. Source

    • Meditation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration 
    • Source
    Personally, I do find surfing, guitar playing and yoga very mentally (and physically) fulfilling in that I find myself focusing very much on the moment and forgetting about everything else - to that extent these activities could be loosely defined as meditating, however there are other more focused and specific exercises that further complement the above.

    What are the benefits of meditation?


    Now the good stuff - how meditation actually benefits us. Below are a few infographics that I think answer this question effectively.


    Source:

    Source:


    Benefits that compliment exercise and fitness

    I recently read an interesting article that included a case study by researchers in Ulleval University Hospital in Norway. Their case study concluded that sportsmen who used meditation after tough training sessions had a reduced rate of the production of lactate, which is the ache-inducing by-product of anaerobic exercise (and can cause cramp).

    After the training session had ended the athletes were split into groups to monitor the recovery phase and the physiological affect meditation may have on recovery. In these recovery tests researchers concluded that the blood lactate levels were significantly lower after exercise among the men who had been taught to meditate when compared to other groups.

    Andy Puddicombe who is the meditation expert with Headspace (mentioned below) comments “In meditation, one looks to develop a balance of effortless relaxation and applied focus,”. Andy cites Lionel Messi as a great example of someone with balance in abundance.

    Simple meditation exercises

    Source

    Source


    Something to watch

    Below is a brilliant Ted Talk by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe who is a former Buddhist monk and co-founder of Headspace (which is explained in more detail below).

    Andy explains the amazing transformative power of meditating even for as little (or for most of us as much) as ten minutes everyday. Inspiring. 




    Get some Headspace

    Check out the brilliant meditation app and service called Headspace. They have a cool and short animation that explains what they are all about.



    To conclude

    Unlike the hoards of self books out there, I am not suggesting that meditation is your magic golden ticket to a happier and more successful life. I just believe it's something that many people (such as myself) have neglected for a long time - be that through simple lack of understanding and opportunity. I believe meditation has a lot of positive attributes to offer us and should be used to compliment all of the other elements that help us be truly happy, healthy, content, and successful; like exercise, hanging with our friends, eating healthily, having a loving family, and generally having a purpose.

    I am new to the world of meditation and do not claim to be an expert in it, however in my short time of focused interest, I already feel that I am reaping its benefits and am excited to learn more about it. We should always make time to clear our minds - “It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.”

    If you have any useful meditation tips or exercises, I would love to hear about them.



    About the author
    Si Muddell is a Digital Strategist who has worked extensively both agency and client side. Si is fascinated about marketing, psychology & what motivates people, and loves guitar, surfing and travelling.

    Get connected with Si on TwitterLinkedIn &

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