Meditation stills anxiety and calms the spirit and the mind – what better tool to teach young adolescents to help them cope with the social and academic demands they face today?
‘Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.’ Christina Rosetti
Meditation was originally developed in Eastern cultures with its history going back thousands of years. The term meditation has been defined in various ways and in Western culture can be conceptualised as a distinct psychological practice from its original religious and cultural roots and philosophers. This practice can be explained as the deliberate self-regulation of attention in the present moment. According to Wright¹ it is one of the major self-directed approaches people use for relaxation and calmness. Meditation and relaxation are currently used successfully in clinical practice for the treatment of anxiety and is today considered a universal health promotion modality.
THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
According to David Fontana and Ingrid Slack in Teaching Meditation to Children,² the benefits of meditation can be summarised as follows:
It involves a letting go, a progressive ability gently to relinquish physical and mental tension. It re-educates the body out of the bad habits of physical tension and unnecessary over-exertion.
Meditation helps to develop concentration.
More control over thought processes
The meditator is less dominated by unwanted thoughts. Unwelcome thoughts will have less power to pre-occupy or disturb the mind.
Increased tranquillity and the ability to deal with stress
Thoughts and emotions have less power to dominate the meditator. Although the meditator is aware of sadness or anger, these emotions are distanced, because the meditator feels an inner peace and tranquillity in spite of their improved mindfulness. This means the meditator is aware of what is happening around him/her and develops the skills to turn their attention from one thing to another as it makes its appearance, rather than being lost in distracting inner thoughts and dialogues.
We often live on the surface of our inner lives, aware only of conscious thoughts and oblivious of what happens in the deeper levels of the unconscious.
Improvements in creative thinking
This means opening up to the unconscious levels of the mind where original ideas are born.
Improvements in memory
Much of our forgetting is due to our failure to concentrate upon what is happening and thus to share it in our memory banks. Meditation helps to still these inhibiting emotions and allows us to recall the things we need.
Enhanced spiritual development
One doesn’t have to be religious or even interested in religion to find meditation of value. Yet meditation is inseparable from spiritual development in many of the world’s great religious traditions.
MEDITATION AND RELAXATION
Meditations not only bring psychological and spiritual benefits, but also benefit the health. This includes lower blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and other benefits that arise from relaxation and reduced levels of stress. Meditation is not difficult. Benson, in his book The Relaxation Response³ makes it so simple that if a person can close his or her eyes, breathe and count, meditation is possible. It is to be seen as a lullaby that you sing to yourselves. The same one you will sing to a baby. A lullaby is simple and has the two essential elements of meditation – relaxation of the body and distraction of the mind. He has experienced that adults try too hard to meditate perfectly, kids do not think of perfection or of a competition. They see it more as an action with a function. There is no way to get it wrong. Meditation is meant to change the body’s chemistry and make it peaceful. The point of meditation according to Wright¹ is that when you open your eyes from meditation the world will not be different, but you will.
The change is simple and easily missed, but very profound. Meditation, like the wind in Rossetti’s poem, cannot be seen but its effects are unmistakable peacefulness. If young adults are taught the appropriate techniques of meditation and the obstacles to its practice are removed, meditation quickly becomes a health habit with a profound effect on the body, mind and spirit. Meditation does not cost anything and has no side-effects.
When you begin to train the brain through meditation, new possibilities open up. Not only do you become more familiar with the patterns of your mind, but you discover that it’s possible to free yourself from them. As we become more mindful, we are actually laying down new neural pathways in the brain. It all takes time.
Meditation is one of the 10 most commonly used complementary medicines. It is one of the major self-directed approaches people use for relaxation and calmness. Long-term practise can also assist with concentration and attention alertness. Meditation interventions have been increasingly implemented among youth. Research has found that meditation has beneficial effects on physiological, psychosocial and behavioural outcomes.
- Wright L.D. Meditation: myths and misconceptions. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2001; 7(2): 96-97.
- Fontana D., and Slack I. Teaching Meditation to Children. Element Books Limited: Boston, USA. 1998
- BensonH. The Relaxation Response. HarperCollins: New York. 1975.