May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes it a necessary time to introduce meditation as a modality to help manage mental health and well-being. Meditation has an array of health benefits. But, first, it's necessary to debunk the common misconceptions around meditation:
What is meditation? Meditation is a practice of mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular thought object activity. It trains attention and awareness to achieve mental clarity and emotional calm. Although it is practiced in many religions, it is secular and can be done by everyone regardless of belief system. Meditation can be stated as focused attention on things like your breath, a mantra, a prayer, or a positive affirmation. It quiets the mind and clears the thoughts. I like to refer to it as taming the drunk monkey inside our heads.
In a recent 2020 study, researchers estimate that we have more than 6,000 thoughts per day. Some experts go as far to say up to 50,000 per day!* We may not even be aware of the thoughts we're having. Falling victim to the intoxicated monkey can keep you spinning your wheels about decisions you need to make, replaying old arguments you had with your spouse, or playing out stories and assumptions about yourself and others that aren't even true. But once we start meditating, we bring awareness to thoughts, which can bring great transformation to our mental and physical health.
I learned meditation as part of my yoga practice and studies in Ayurvedic medicine. In this context, meditation practice is related to the Vedas (ancient Hindu scripture) However, the science of the technique, or the "How to do it," is agnostic, and the "Why" is unique to everyone regardless of their belief system.
According to Ayurveda, dis-ease starts in the mind and the gut. In other words, we get physically and mentally ill when toxic thoughts and digestion accumulate and take over our bodies. Our tensions and harmful behaviors repeat themselves and what starts as an episode becomes a habit. Unchecked habits become a dependency (negative thought cycles, unhealthy eating, etc.). The dependence left unchecked becomes a deep-rooted deformity in our being. Meditation offers a conscious process of reversing the habit. As meditation becomes a regular practice, it can remove the pattern and deep-rooted deformation. It can help transform our cells and our being. Medicine offers only a band-aid for what lies beneath and within. Meditation goes deep so our mental energies can be renewed and rejuvenated.
Ayurveda aims to harmonize the body and life force to make mind control easier. Mind control begins with physical movement. Therefore, exerting your physical energy helps prepare the body for meditation. You don't have to do yoga to prepare for meditation, but some physical release is recommended.
Why Meditate? The Benefits of Meditation:
In addition, research has shown meditation to release acute and chronic muscular tension around the heart and digestive organs. It dramatically reduces emotional and nervous anxiety. It improves detoxification through increased exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Finally, it calms the mind and integrates mental and physical balance. *Studies have shown meditation slows the metabolic rate of aging. The biological age of meditators is five to ten years younger than average. (**https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full)
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