Meditation is a hugely popular technique used daily in countries all over the world. Whether individuals partake in meditation for therapeutic reasons, for a daily dose of mindfulness, meditation practices are nothing new – oh, far from it, actually. But where did they originate from?
The origins and history of meditation
The history of meditation is actually hugely interesting (and impressive). Records of meditative practices date back to 5,000 BC, with clear ties with Ancient Egyptian and Chinese culture and traditions, and the techniques, especially in the early years of the practices, were deeply rooted in religion and religious practices.
As the techniques advanced and the benefits of meditation became clear following the medical study of meditation, meditation practices became less rooted in religion, particularly in Western countries, and has innovated into what we know as mindful meditation today, so that people all over the world could benefit from the advantages of the techniques.
The benefits of meditation
They’re pretty endless, actually. But here’s some of our favourites…
- Assists in the reduction of symptoms of addiction
- Promotes a positive mental attitude
- Reduces stress
- Minimises anxiety symptoms
- Increases your attention span
- Can decrease your blood pressure
- Can improve your emotional health
- Can reduce evidence of memory loss
- Can reduce instances of rumination
- Enhances your self-confidence and self-awareness
- Improves your overall quality of sleep
Have these benefits been proven?
Yes! Time and time again, actually. One great example is a study back in 1965, which found that of those studied during a meditative state, participants used 17% less oxygen than those that were not meditating, and also experienced lower heart rate levels and increased brain wave activity that were found to potentially help with sleep.
Meditation for anxiety
In terms of evidence in into the effectiveness of meditation practices when it comes to anxiety, a study by The American Journal of Psychiatry found that mindfulness meditation practices saw a distinct decrease in participants’ experience of anxiety and panic symptoms. Not only this, but this study found that prolonged practice of these techniques assisted in maintaining the reduction of these symptoms, too.
Mindfulness meditation for beginners with Niraj Shah
Now we’ve ironed out the origins, discovered the basics and got you up to speed with all-things meditation, to do a deep dive into the world of meditation, we thought it was time to rope in the experts and go straight to the source.
So, in true research-backed, Innermost style, we caught up with Niraj Shah, founder of Meditation: Unlocked and friend of Innermost, who explains why meditation is becoming increasingly popular especially in recent years on the back of a rise in stress and anxiety, and how you can get started
Anyone can benefit from meditation. It’s becoming increasingly popular with work hard, play hard city dwellers. I think that’s because of the rise of stress and anxiety in recent years that’s been attributed to the always-on, overstimulation fuelled smartphone and social media world we’ve created.
Let’s get into it…
Who is meditation for?
“The author Tim Ferriss recently interviewed 140 high achievers at the top of their fields for his new book Tribe of Mentors. He observed that 'despite the fact that there are people from tennis to surfing to cryptocurrency to fill-in-the-blank, any field you can possibly imagine, some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I'd say 90% of the respondents.' I got into meditation is because of a couple of stressful work and life situations.”
“It helped a lot and then I realised it could help me to sharpen my edge in business. I’ve been obsessed ever since.”
So, what is meditation to you, Niraj?
“We refer to 'meditation' in the singular because it's convenient, but it’s actually an umbrella term for a number of different mental practices. Different meditative techniques develop the mind in different ways, just like running develops the body differently to weight training.
Going centuries back, the traditional goal of meditative practices was to change states of consciousness. In recent decades it’s been repeatedly shown that some of these techniques help a lot with stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, creativity and happiness.”
“I’m not going to tell you why you should meditate; I’m not interested in trying to 'convert' you. I think you should do whatever makes you happy and what contributes something to the world. If - like I did - you want to do something about your levels of anxiety, overwhelm, stress and other modern-day mental issues then some meditative practices are clinically proven tools to help you manage and optimise your mind”, states Niraj.
What can mindfulness meditation do for me?
“One meditation session is as likely to change your life as doing just one exercise session. However, just like one exercise session, it will definitely benefit you and the key thing is getting started and making it a habit. At the most practical level, it will give you a break from the outside world and start turning on your body’s resting and healing systems by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system and inducing the relaxation response. In bygone eras this would happen automatically - now we need to do it on purpose.”
“Beyond that, with more practice and depending on the specific type of meditative you're doing, a whole host of benefits are achievable. For example, systematically training attention and focus so that we can get more done without distraction, changing our relationships with situations so that they’re less stress-inducing and anxiety causing, all the way to significantly boosting our creative ability”, Niraj explains.
“Most folks accept that to live an optimal, bolder, brighter life to some extent we need to get enough of the right physical movement, nutrition and rest in our life. Meditation can be movement, nutrition and rest for our mind.”
What can I do if I can’t clear my mind, even with mindfulness meditation?
“This is a myth that we bust in our live Meditation: Unlocked sessions - mind clearing is not necessary to meditate effectively. It’s actually nearly impossible to do! Another is that meditation is all about peace and calm. Those things may happen, but meditation is as much about changing our relationship with whatever’s going on in our minds and lives. From that position we can consciously choose our actions and responses, rather than be slaves to our subconscious programming.”
Can meditation be harmful?
“Good question. For most people, generic meditation is not going to be harmful. If you know you have a relatively healthy mind then there’s no need to be cautious, in the same way that generic physical exercise is fine if you are not suffering from an injury or condition. If you’re suffering from more than what would be considered typical urban levels of stress or anxiety then meditation can definitely help, but we highly recommend you have a bespoke programme created by a specialist, the same way you would work with a doctor and physio for a physical injury.”
“If you know anyone dealing with a mental health issue they can speak to the UK’s mental health charity Mind who offer lots of confidential and free support.”
Thanks Niraj. So where do I start?
Meditation tips for beginners
“There’s a lot of meditation around if you know where to look for it. There’s loads of apps and your local yoga studio or Buddhist centre is highly likely to have meditation sessions, otherwise an internet search should yield results”, says Niraj.
How to start meditating
“If you’re looking for a non-religious, science-backed, fully guided approach then come and see us at a Meditation: Unlocked drop-in session running in beautiful venues in Central London or join our online community to get sent the best of what we find on the web. Sign up at www.medunlocked.com and follow us @medunlocked to be kept in the loop.”
If you’re looking to start meditating yourself – perhaps you’re on the hunt for techniques in mindfulness for anxiety, guided meditation or even
- Time. 2021. How Meditation Went Mainstream. [online]. Click here.
- Peterson, L. G., & Pbert, L. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry, 149(7), 936-943. Click here.
- Khoury, B., Knäuper, B., Schlosser, M., Carrière, K., & Chiesa, A. (2017). Effectiveness of traditional meditation retreats: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 92, 16-25. Click here.