Updated: Mar 17, 2022
Meditation has been practiced for many years in many religions. The Bible mentions meditate 23 times, and there are 31 verses in the Bible about meditation. For example, Psalm 4:4 "search your heart and be silent." However, as more scientific evidence emerges praising meditation's health and wellness benefits, it is becoming increasingly more popular.
With research, we can now do extensive studies to compare a group of people who meditate with a similar group who do not. We can even control the people enrolled in studies, so we do not compare people in New York with religious monks on a mountain top. We can further take a group of people who have had no prior experience with meditation, teach them the basic steps I will teach you, and then compare the outcome to the group of people who did not start the practice. Having all this information is great, because it does not only show the benefit people experience when they meditate while living as a monk (and the benefits are indeed great and well documented), but it also show benefits to you and me living a fast-paced ordinary life.
Benefits of meditation:
Here are some of the benefits of meditation backed by science and research:
1: Meditation promotes better sleep
2: Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
3: Reduce pain, especially in chronic pain syndromes, chronic illness, migraines, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
4: Meditation boosts your memory, protects against cognitive decline (ageing of the brain), it sharpens focus and concentration, it improves creativity.
5: Improved cardiovascular health. One study showed that after meditating for only 5min a day, the participants showed an improvement in heart rate variability after only ten days. Other studies have shown meditation
decreases blood pressure and improves blood cholesterol levels.
Our minds race at 200km/hr during the day and often at night. It does make sense to teach your brain how to become calm and focus on one thing at a time. First, it helps to become aware of your thoughts. Take notice during the day of your thoughts and what you are thinking. We can use different things to help our minds to focus. This is often a mantra, bible verse, prayer, image, or focusing on your breathing. To explain why we do this: there is a folklore of this shopkeeper in Africa who owned a monkey. Unfortunately, her monkey was very disruptive and created complete havoc in her shop. The monkey would open food containers, take bites out of fruits supposed to be sold, sometimes even push shelves full of inventory over. The poor shopkeeper was at her wit's end and made a trek for three days up a mountain to ask for wisdom from their tribe leader. The leader patiently listened, performed a ritual, then said: "Hang a rope from the middle of the roof." The shopkeeper was disappointed that she has made such an arduous journey for such a strange one-sentence answer. However, when she got back to her store, she did hang the rope as the tribe leader recommended. She was utterly astonished to see her monkey happily climbing up and down that rope, leaving her store merchandise alone. The rope is the mantra/sentence/word/bible verse that helps us center and keeps our thoughts from running around between our to-do list, past events, and thoughts about the future.
I work as a Hospitalist doctor, caring for patients admitted to the hospital with a heart attack, stroke, cancer or covid. Hospital Medicine is generally a fast-paced environment. Over my more than 15-year career span, I have established small rituals to allow my mind to let go of all the thoughts running through my head and become clear to focus with 'presence' and empathy on the patient in front of me. One such practice is when I wash my hands, I imagine how I wash all the thoughts and dialogue in my mind away, and I linger a second or two longer when drying my hands until my mind is clear. A couple of times during the day, I will make myself a hot coffee/ tea. While holding the mug and inhaling the aroma, I would escape to my own little world in the middle of an often-bustling Physician Lounge. For these five minutes, I would focus on my breathing only and not allow any thoughts to run around. This practice, however, took practice and came easier with years of doing it. Initially, when you take your 5-minute breaks, you will start repeating your mantra to yourself. That rope that your mind can hold on to, to help it not to run around.
Our brains consist of billions of nerve cells called neurons. These neurons talk to each other. This communication is called electricity. When millions of neurons are communicating simultaneously, this generates a significant amount of electrical activity. In the hospital, we can measure this electricity with an EEG machine (electroencephalograph). This combined electrical activity in the brain is known as a brainwave pattern. It is called a brainwave because when we record it, it shows a wave-like pattern. Scientifically, we can sort brain waves into four categories based on wave frequency measured in cycles per second (Hz).