451 Health, Wellbeing and Meditation

How important is health & wellbeing? It's paramount; so how can we achieve this central-to-our-lives state of being well? The short answer, of course, is eat well, exercise, don’t abuse your body with toxins (un-authorized drugs, alcohol, tobacco). A no-brainer, we all know that. But there is a long answer too (and that is even before adding ‘regular sex’ into the equation ... that topic will be another blog [promise]) … an important aspect of attaining health & wellbeing is that it’s a trinity, not only a matter of a well-nourished, nimble body, but also a well adjusted mind. How do we adjust our mind so that it contributes to our well being? With meditation.



this is one photo in a series


This week the Minimalists had a blog: Health is a Vehicle, not a Destination, where they say, "... I must take care of the vehicle I have, providing it with regular tune-ups: Daily stretching, regular exercise, occasional chiropractor visits as well as a good diet, adequate sleep, and daily meditation."

I have written extensively about mediation myself, in many contexts. If you're new to the subject, you may ask: What is meditation? The answer depends on who's asking ... but for a beginner it may suffice to be told:

Meditation is staying in one place, for a stated amount of time, 

moving the body as little as possible, thinking as little as possible.

This basic principle gets expanded with these directives: Not moving the body is achieved with a millennia-old seating position - the lotus, or half-lotus - where we sit upright, with crossed legs, and thus lock-in our limbs to discourage any movement ... that position - with an erect spine -  also facilitates deep breathing. 

Not thinking - or stilling, even emptying the mind - is the hardest part ... some meditation masters say it's not possible to stop the mind from thinking; the mind - they say - is an organ like the heart or liver and can't be stopped from being active. So, for now we concentrate on the breath and observe our thoughts, but not get involved in them; Guru Maharaj Charan Singh Ji said, meditation is fighting the mind.

How much time a day should we allocate to meditation? Some say twenty or thirty minutes is sufficient and to begin with, probably just five minutes. Others say we should meditate for two hours or more, before daybreak. Serious students may meditate for many hours a day, indeed monks may be compelled to meditate most waking hours. For the rest of us, here is a clue: It is said if you can't find the time to meditate for twenty minutes a day, you need to meditate for an hour a day.

Meditation can help us to a peaceful disposition, with a clear mind, with which we are more able to withstand the onslaught of daily stimuli than non-meditators ... mindfulness meditation is found to improve anxiety and depression. That is the promise, and it has been proven to be true by many practitioners, especially people like the Dalai Lama, et al. Please note also that meditation is not a religious practice ... rather, it is a way of life.

When talking about meditation as a way of life, one can consider an alternative ... additionally to the traditional meditation - in a sitting position, the lotus or half-lotus - we can engage in movement meditation, where we may walk in a prescribed manner (monks may walk in a circle or from one end of the hall to another), or even just as we walk to the bus or to work ... myself, I employ a walking meditation daily for about half an hour as I get home from the gym. Indeed, we can meditate even when engaging in an activity, such as washing the dishes or vacuuming the house. 

But what are the benefits of meditation as regards physical health? Now-a-days there are many studies that confirm tangible health benefits of meditation. I have listed many of them on my THE SCIENCE OF MEDITATION page. Here are some highlights:

For a study 201 people with coronary heart disease were asked to either (a) take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or (b) take a class on transcendental meditation. Researchers followed up for the next five years and found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death (Time).

Researchers at UCLA studied the brains of people who had been meditating for years, versus those who had never meditated or who had only done it for a short period of time. They took MRI scans of 100 people - half meditators and half non-meditators. They were fascinated to find that long-time meditators showed higher levels of gyrification (a folding of the cerebral cortex that may be associated with faster information processing) ... the more years a person had been meditating, the more gyrification their MRIs revealed (UCLA Newsroom).

Can meditation help people deal better with stress? Scientists at the Universities of Washington and of Arizona recruited 45 human resources managers, gave a third of them eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training, a third of them eight weeks of body relaxation training and a third of them no training. All groups were given a stressful multitasking test before and after the eight weeks. The study showed that the mediation group reported less stress as they performed the multitasking test than the other groups (Washington.edu).


The benefits of meditation have received newfound evidence from neuroscience. Scientists had participants take an eight-week mindfulness meditation program. Subjects practiced for about 30 minutes a day. Scientists found increases in gray-matter density in the hippocampus - an area responsible for learning and memory. And they saw decreased density in the amygdala - which is responsible for our anxiety and stress responses (Scientific American).

I find the most stunning of these examples is the first one: Meditation alleviates the overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Here is some anecdotal evidence: In our Unity Gym Yani has confirmed the above findings with the Sydney heart specialist Dr. Ross Walker, to whom he sends his at-risk clients for a heart check.

Meditation is one of the central subject I deal with in my book with no title, instead three definitions for the term en.light.en.ment ... I have three essays on meditation, one ... two and three