Pico Iyer, most notably known for his adventurous narrative of the Dalia Lama, unveiled the daily "information diet" his holiness partakes in with several hours of meditation, "traveling to the place where everything is connected...a form of self-empowerment in the journey toward shedding self-centeredness."
In his new TED Book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, Mr. Iyer paints the canvas for how each of us can, and should, learn to live mindfully. With our daily lives only becoming more and more connected and information driven, we find ourselves at a disadvantage: there isn't time for us to get caught up and see the bigger picture. Pico explained it best: "it is precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break."
With over a third of companies nationwide adopting "stress-reduction programs", meditation is quickly becoming noticed as a necessary and vital exercise for mental wellness.
Reasons to give your Brain and Zen a chance...
You'll live longer - Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn at UCSF published results from the $4 million funded Shamantha Project that meditation has a role in the cellular aging process. People who were a part of a meditation retreat had significantly higher telomerase activity than normal. Telomerase is the enzyme that builds, and repairs, the cells that are associated with our lifespan (telomeres). People with lower telomerase activity and shorter telomeres are at high risk for cardiovascular diseases, cognitive disorders, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
You'll procure natural super-powers - A study out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that subjects who practiced mindful meditation reduced their physical pain by 27%, and their emotional pain by 44% compared to other controls. Even the strongest opioid - morphine - only reduces physical pain by 22%. You know what that sentence just stated, right?! YOUR BRAIN IS MORE POWERFUL IN CONTROLLING PAIN THAN ONE OF THE STRONGEST KNOWN PAIN SUPPRESSANTS!
You'll build intelligence - fMRI studies (images of brain activity) display that just less than an hour of meditation a day increases cortical structures, or greater grey matter thickness. Attenuating the emotional and cortisol barricade in your thoughts allows your mind to be more open to contextual influence, or fluidity (also known as neuroplasticity - the rewiring and growth of the brains circuitry to adapt and learn).
You'll master unshakeable self-control - A study conducted out of the Waisman Lab for Brain Imaging at the University of Wisconsin in conjunction with the Department of Religion at Emory University observed the effects of two types of meditation having long-term impact on the brain and behavior. The types are classified as: FM (focused attention) and OM (open monitoring) meditation. The difference between the two being that the former involves sustained attention moment by moment on "localized sensations" (aka your breathing), while the latter describes clarity with each moment without focus on a specific object--an effortless state.
Here's what they found:
FA Meditation = activation in three brain regions that regulate monitoring, engagement, and auditory processing
(pretty cool...but not really surprising)
Cool part: concentrative meditation reduces your overall emotional reactivity to perceptual stimuli. Just 20 minutes of FA type meditation will decrease your emotional reaction to negative stimuli.
5. You'll have a mind-blowing sex life - Meditation works directly on the F4 region of the premotor cortex, which plays an important role in sensory guidance of the space around you. As you can imagine, meditating focuses your attention on your outwardly experience and less on the "ME" factor. This, in turn, activates the ventromedial premotor cortex which has a bundle of brain cells called mirror neurons, which activate during observation of actions/behaviors of those we most admire and think we are similar to. Have you ever heard the saying, "you are the average of the five people you are closest to". Well...that stems from these mirror neurons. The more this part of your brain is activated the more intuitive you become of another's needs and wants. Hence, another description for empathy. When you are more emotionally aware of what satisfies your partner, the more you can enjoy the experience with them.
I know it's hard to find time to yourself. I also know that when the going gets tough, all we want to do is just wash away our stressful days with mindless activities like watching T.V. But, I promise you this will only perpetuate the pain, the numbness, the lack of self-healing. We want to be the best versions of ourselves, and it's difficult when life is moving at a million miles a minute with every kind of distraction waiting to steer you to the next advertisement; or, even worse, tell you how you should feel.
This is for you. Take back the time lost each day to unwind by being present with yourself.