Meditation, Yoga and Mindfulness: Ancient Practices are the Hope of our Future

“I can’t meditate.” “ I can’t sit still.” “I can only do my best to clear my mind by ‘meditating in motion’ when I run.” “And I like yoga, but only if I can get a good sweat on and the music is just right.”

Sheesh! Just reading that list is enough to drain one’s energy!

Yet those are just a few of the many examples of the chatter that used to go on in my mind when I’d think of being still, silent…undistracted.

There was a time when I never would have discussed it; after all, I figured I’d sound as though I were completely nuts!

I learned, luckily, though, that I’m not the only one and in fact nearly half, 47%, of the typical American’s day is spent thinking about things other than what they’re actually doing, according to a Harvard Study[1].

If I’d feel anxious, stressed, worried…anything unpleasant, I’d go for a run. Or do any sort of physical workout during which I’d have a chance to think through whatever it was that seemed so awful at the time and I’d always come back feeling better.

And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with relying on exercise as a stress-reliever, it cannot be the end all.

For one thing, there are times when you simply can’t get out and move around. What if you’re the type to get so stressed out in traffic that you jam on the brakes to teach the person tailgating behind you a lesson, while giving the steering wheel such a death grip, your knuckles turn white?

And for another, running away (or whatever your choice of exercise may be) from a problem is actually just the opposite of what needs to be done to address it.

So what do we do, then?

We go in, and sit with it.

We become stronger and relaxed.

And this is not just anecdotal; research is showing quantitative evidence that mindfulness, or resilience, training, can help improve the connection between the emotional amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, and this is measureable by using MRI images to measure activation.

In a study conducted at UC San Diego[2], Marines who underwent an 8-week mindfulness course had MRI results indicating lower activation in the part of the brain associated with emotional reactivity. Researchers also found that they were able to return to normal heart rate and respiration after exposure to a mock war setting faster than their counterparts who had not taken the course.

In The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges[3], psychiatrist Dennis Charney reviews over a dozen ways in which we can increase our capacity for resilience, and with 80% of Americans self-reporting they’re feeling ‘stressed out[4]’, this is clearly something we all need to implement…now.

If we take a moment at the end of the day today and review, just for arguments sake, some things we may have done differently if we’d taken a moment not to snap at the kids bark at the assistant or mope around the gym with a scowl.

This wouldn’t be an exercise in futility insomuch as we cannot change the past, yet we can use past experiences to shape the now.

And how do we prevent being reactive?

We breathe.

It sounds so simple, but it’s really quite hard.

And this is where both yoga and mediation come in.

Moving around in different shapes as I’ve learned when I did my teacher training a couple of years back is only a small piece of yoga.

It’s the breath, the inner focus and the mental stamina and courage to walk right into what feels uncomfortable and just be there, not reacting.

Even if we start with something as simple as a mere five minutes of mindful breathing each day when we first rise, we can begin our day with a better sense of calm.

And the more we do it, the better we will be at being able to do the exercise for longer periods of time, more frequently and begin to experience the benefits, which are numerous.

But what’s the big deal with being stressed out? Why not just have an extra glass of wine at dinner or focus on getting more email done?

Being in a state of presence and calm is the exact opposite of “fight or flight” or known as the stress response, which is what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges but trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.

An article published by The Harvard School of Public Health[5] showed that being in fight or flight can lead to:

  • High blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • Suppressed the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses.
  • Anxiety and depression.

Take the time to breathe, often, and start a yoga practice.   While I may have said a few years back that I think the world would be a better place if we all ran, I get it… not everyone likes to run, or can run!

But we can all breathe. We can all learn to focus.

Imagine the amount of positive energy we can pay forward if we do this together!

Fortunately, things are looking good, as roughly 50 million millennials interviewed by the Pew Research Center[6] shows that this generation is more tolerant of a wide range of nontraditional behaviors than adults in other generations including mediation. The report stated that 95 percent of millennials believed that stress was an important issue and 25% of adults under 30 say they meditate on a weekly basis.

Go get your OM on!

[1] “Wandering Mind Not a Happy Mind.” Harvard Gazette. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016

[2] Hruby, Patrick. “Marines Expanding Use of Meditation Training.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016

[3] Southwick, Steven M., and Dennis S. Charney. Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print

[4] Gregoire, Carolyn. “Work Stress On The Rise: 8 In 10 Americans Are Stressed About Their Jobs, Survey Finds.” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016

[5] “Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response.” – Harvard Health. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016

[6] “Mindful Millennials.” Mindful Millennials. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016