Meditation’s life-changing impacts
April 4, 2023
“When I first started meditation, I knew that it would be helpful but I didn’t realize how much it would change the way I think and feel. I had some stomach issues and my doctor would just tell me what the problem was, not actually ways to help it. A few weeks after meditation I noticed big changes to my stomach and how it no longer felt the way it did. I felt more calm and relaxed.”
David Jacoby has been doing transcendental meditation for over 25 years. He feels that transcendental meditation shaped the way he thought about eating and helped him become even more conscious about eating food and its benefits.
“It was more of an unconscious decision that helped me understand my body’s needs… It helps you get in-touch with the inner-self that is more noticeable during meditation.” As he continued to meditate, he remembered, “dreams were more noticeable and helpful to me. They were also times where I was aware when I was dreaming, and I could deal with certain thoughts. Dreams were more meaningful and I felt I grew as a person.”
In our daily lives we are balancing a lot of things on an ever so changing scale. From balancing homework to the impacts from traumatic events, our brain is constantly providing for us. With the recent pandemic and lockdown lingering in the air, the harsh effects of climate change, wars raging and violence spurring, life could be a lot to take on. It is as if we are a pot about to boil or burst. You know how sometimes by tapping the pot, the boiling and bubbling eases down and the overflowing stops. Think of meditation as kind of a tap from a spoon. Through meditation, mindfulness and different breathing techniques, we could reduce stress levels, help our internal state, make overall wiser and better decisions, and help us find our inner peace.
To understand meditation, we first need to recognize mindfulness. The first step in benefiting our body is first recognizing it and becoming more aware. Mindfulness is a vast subject, not just as a technique but also a word that has multiple meanings and depth. According to [email protected], “Among the challenges researchers face is defining mindfulness itself. The word has come to describe a meditation-based practice whose aim is to increase one’s sense of being in the present, but it has also been used to describe a non meditative state in which subjects set aside their mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now, as in the work of Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer.”
Big changes in life are hard to adapt to. Imagine you just started your first year of high school. We have all experienced this in our lives, and we each have adapted to it in different ways. Mindfulness activities can help us make friends and help us adapt to our new environment.
Ms. Makeda Gershenson of Mosaic Life Coaching, a mindfulness teacher and a practitioner herself, says, “Mindfulness and meditation can help build relationships with one another and build relationships with yourself.” She continues, “it can help you feel more confident and comfortable with talking with others.” We always think of mindfulness as only helping yourself. We also can help others. One example of a mindfulness practice Ms. Makeda mentioned is, “Let us give Care Bear hearts to one another.”
A well known mindfulness practice is The Body Scan, which is “thinking about what your body’s doing at that moment, centering your mind on a specific action like walking,” says Dr. Justus, a science teacher at the NYC iSchool. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga all relate and benefit each other. Mindfulness is the foundation of yoga and meditation and they each benefit one other.
Marcus Velzquez, a senior at the iSchool, recaps how mindfulness practice helped him. He feels an instructor was helpful in guiding him through activities. In this case it’s the Dreamhouse technique. “Our vast amount of values would narrow down until we found”…“our core values…” He continues, “It really helped me ease my mind and kind of channel my thoughts.”
Thoughts help us reflect, reflections help us learn more about ourselves. We can learn about what our body is doing at the time. We can notice the different feelings, letting them pass through. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are really good examples of reflection practices.
According to Impacts of Yoga and Meditation “The word ‘yoga,’ derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, translates to “yoking” or “union” in English.” Yoga is about being in a group and connecting with the body and mind. “The practice is a union of the eight limbs of yoga, described by the scholar Patanjali, including pranayama (breathing), asana (movement), and dhyana (meditation).” Marcus believes that “Yoga is about putting poses into action.” Yoga and meditation combined helps both the physical and mental state.
In the Expanding Light Blog, it states that “Meditation and yoga are interrelated. They are both part of the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. They go hand and hand. They work together to unite our small self with our higher soul self. One cannot be present without the other. We need to be aware of the body in order to forget about it, in order to go inward in meditation.”
There have been many studies showing the importance of mindfulness on the body.
“In one study, people with pre-hypertension were randomly assigned to augment their drug treatment with either a course in mindfulness meditation or a program that taught progressive muscle relaxation. Those who learned mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive muscle relaxation,” according to greatergood.berkeley.edu.
Prehypertension is described as systolic- relating to the heartbeat when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from the chambers into the arteries.
Just like meditation, mindfulness can positively impact parts of the body that are already healthy. “Mindfulness may also be good for hearts that are already relatively healthy. Research suggests that meditation can increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia, the natural variations in heart rate that happen when we breathe that indicate better heart health and an increased chance of surviving a heart attack.”
This gives people who are already healthy a better chance in surviving heart attacks but also gives people who might not have such a healthy heart an improved chance of surviving. The heart is not the only thing that meditation and mindfulness improve.
According to CNN, “Meditation can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that’s responsible for regulating involuntary physiological functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion.”
Transcendental meditation and meditation have many misconceptions, such as “emptying your mind” and forcing yourself to think. It’s really much more than that. “Meditation, a practice of mindfulness, doesn’t have a single universal definition. But as interest in mindfulness and meditation has grown, it has been summed up as “a mind and body practice focused on interactions between the brain, mind, body and behavior, containing four key elements: a quiet location with little distractions, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention and an open attitude,” according to a 2021 study.” According to CNN. meditation is a practice that utilizes the mind and the thoughts.
In a three month randomized control study where college students at American University participated, they found that transcendental meditation “Enhances an individual’s sense of ‘self’ by activating what neuroscientists call the ‘default mode network’ in the brain. (This is considered the natural ground state of the brain, glimpsed by neuroscientists during eyes-closed rest but more fully activated during Transcendental Meditation practice.)”
David Haaga, Ph.D., coauthor and professor of psychology at American University said how it is an important discovery. Dr. Haaga continues, “The finding of significant brain wave differences between students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique and those simply resting with their eyes closed is especially convincing because subjects were randomly assigned to conditions, and testing was conducted by a researcher unaware of the experimental condition to which the subject had been assigned.”
“Meditation lets you think those uncomfortable hidden thoughts, acknowledge them and prevent worrying. I think meditation will become as essential as brushing your teeth, it’s really important and something that humans should learn or continue to do,” said Mr. Whittaker, a Math teacher at the iSchool and meditatator for 15 years.
“It is an effortless process of attending to a mantra as it becomes progressively more refined, until the mind transcends the subtlest level of thought to experience unbounded (transcendental) consciousness,” according to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Meditation doesn’t only help us transcend into a relaxed state, but it also has important impacts on our brain.
Meditation and breathing impacts our internal and external environment. “Meditation carves neural pathways and affects the way our receptors work,” says Ms. Gray, a ELA teacher at the iSchool.
According to Britannica.com, “Receptors are biological transducers that convert energy from both external and internal environments into electrical impulses. They may be massed together to form a sense organ, such as the eye or ear, or they may be scattered, as are those of the skin and viscera.” Receptors are really important for making connections between the brain and important for our survival.
Ms. Gray continues, “Breathing and meditation helps with focusing. People who meditate have less stress activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala.”
The amygdala “is a roughly almond-shaped area of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere.” It’s a part of the brain “involved with the experiencing of emotions.”
Emotions are really important because they help us cope with life and let us express ourselves in our natural way. Meditation helps us deal with stress in a different way. Instead of letting thoughts pile up and get overwhelming, meditation lets us think about our thoughts and let them pass by easily and effortlessly.
When we are meditating, we are allowing ourselves “to take a breath and calm down. This helps us to get out of our head and accept whatever we’re going through,” Ms. Daly, a speech pathologist at the iSchool, says.
“Meditation is really important for people to learn and it’s a tool to calm yourself down,” says Ms. Thibodeau, a history teacher at the iSchool.
Leon Villagran, a sophomore at the iSchool, mentions how meditation really helps him if he feels overwhelmed and stressed in classes. “I use awareness meditation, it is meditation that concentrates around the moment. Concentrating on the moment and not thinking ahead of myself, being in the moment.” Meditation helps Leon think of the present and not let future thoughts get to him.
Leon continues, “I started meditating 6 months ago in the summer and I was drawn to meditation after I read a book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I feel meditation helped me countless times and helped gain my thoughts together, calmed me down mentally and physically. Meditation is so special and you don’t know what it’s like until you try it. It is a special thing and it feels good.”
Visualization is in many ways calming and interesting to the eye. Both for the audience seeing the work and the people, “Visualizing can center the mind and calm it down,” says Mr. Laurro, a paraprofessional at the iSchool and who is also an artist.
He continues, “Meditation can have many benefits such as helping take brain breaks help both physical and mental state and it could even help with visualizing things in your brain.”
Visualization also ties back to doing mindfulness techniques such as what Marcus Velzquez said about the Dreamhouse technique. He talked about how he had to “visualize what the instructor was saying in a corpse position, minimizing thoughts… just narrowing it down” until he found his most important values.
“When you visualize, it affects the part of the brain called the basal ganglia,” Ms. Gray says. “The basal ganglia (pronounced “bay-sal “”gang-lee-uh”) are a group of structures near the center of your brain that form important connections. These connections allow different areas of your brain to work together. The basal ganglia manage the signals your brain sends that help you move your muscles.”
Is meditation really worth our time? Yes, 100% it is worth our time. When people think of meditation, they think it has to be a set time. It does not have to be and instead it could be as long you choose. You could learn meditation from an instructor or you could teach yourself.
Mr. Whittaker feels that “Meditation will be as important as brushing your teeth.” and that it’s gonna become part of our everyday lives. As life gets more complicated and difficult to tolerate you might just want to start meditating.” Self-awareness and acknowledgement of your internal mental and physical state is key to growth.
This was just a taste of the many techniques that help relieve stress and help you become an overall calmer person. Meditation in most cases is overlooked as if you are “forcing yourself” to control your thoughts; it’s the opposite of forcing yourself. You are just letting your thoughts pass naturally without putting effort into it. Meditation is something we could use to our advantage, leading us to live happier and healthier lives, gaining more opportunities in life and understanding more about who we are. Meditation is special and worth trying.