Meditation is the key to living a happy and fulfilled life. Meditation has eased my journey from childhood to adulthood and from the east to the west. It is my hope that sharing my unique contrasting experience with meditation will help the readers to also harvest the vast benefits of meditation.
Meditation is the practice of achieving complete relaxation of the body, and increasing self-awareness through contemplation on a single point of focus.
The latest in research shows that daily meditation for as little as eight-weeks can lead to positive structural changes i.e. increased grey matter density in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and self-awareness.
Additionally, daily meditation has shown to improve concentration, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and even slow down aging.
Is it a surprise that magazines focusing on meditation are taking supermarket aisles by storm?
A legacy that helped me through the ages
Meditation in childhood: Meditation was born in India and so was I. Growing up in the east, I received meditation as a legacy passed down through the generations. So I got introduced to meditation at a very young age. As a child meditation helped me develop patience and compassion.
Meditation as a teenager: Meditation migrated to the west and so did I. During early adolescence I carried my legacy with me to North America – the part of the world I now call home. During the teenage years I meditated to help with concentration at school, increase self-confidence, foster inter-personal relationships and help cope with life changes.
Meditation as an adult/as a couple: I continued meditating through my youth and now I meditate as an adult. I meditate alone to relieve stress and maintain great health. I also meditate with my husband and it has helped us develop a deeper connection, and enjoy enhanced intimacy.
Meditation has its roots in the East
The practice of meditation can be traced back 5000 years to the ancient texts (the Vedas) and traditions that shaped Hinduism in India, and later inspired Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
Ancient Hindu sages practiced meditation (or focused concentration) to gain insightful awareness of the divinity of self and one-ness with the universe/creator. Modern day Indians commonly meditate on sacred sounds (like the Om) or by focusing on mantras (short repetitive chants).
Meditation enriched the West
Vedic practices including meditation and yoga first enriched the spiritual consciousness of America and Europe in the late 19th century through speeches given by Swami Vivekananda (India’s “patriot prophet”) starting with the Parliament of the World’s Religions (Chicago, 1893). Vivekananda presented the Vedic philosophies as the foundation for a unified world religion: “…which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognize divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realise its own true, divine nature.”
The Beatles with guru Mahesh Yogi; India, 1968
In the post-war era meditation once again received wide-spread media attention when The Beatles attended a meditation retreat in India.
Thereafter, meditation came further into focus through the involvement of other notable figures, including Steve Jobs, Madonna and Oprah. Today, meditation is practiced by over 20 million adults and children in North America – myself included.
Hailing from the country of yogis I spent my early childhood in a space where meditation has been practiced for centuries to find inner peace and calmness and as means of realizing oneness with the creator/universe. My journey with meditation began at the age of seven. Growing up I was an incredibly active little tom-boy. I pulled stunts on my bi-cycle on my way to school, climbed trees and jumped down flights of stairs during recess, and played team-sports after school. There were a lot of things I was passionate about and I shared my ideas freely, even in the classroom. Needless to say my parents received one too many complaints. Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to have spent those early years in the East, because I was only prescribed meditation and not given medication.
What are the benefits of childhood meditation?
- Happy Children: Children who meditate have less anxiety, more resilience and are generally happier
- Boosts school performance: Childhood meditation improves concentration and memory and leads to better performance at school. It also boosts school attendance
- Emotional development: Childhood meditation also helps develop greater compassion for others, and increased ability to self-regulate in times of stress
- Helps kids with ADHD: In children with ADHD, mindfulness based trainings have shown to significantly reduce hyperactive behaviors in just eight weeks
Childhood meditation log
- First Day: “Just close your eyes and sit still for ten minutes.” Those were my first instructions. How did it go? I fidgeted, I peeked, and the minute mom was out of sight I ran off to play. With so much to do, sitting still for even ten minutes seemed like a punishment to me.
- Second Day: This time mom sat down to meditate with me. While I no longer felt it was a punishment I still had trouble sitting still with nothing to do. As having to sit still made me more upset than calming me down, we gave meditation a break for a few days.
- A week later: Mom wanted me to try to meditate again. “It’ll go easier this this time” she told me, “Just keep your attention on the OM”. I followed her gaze to find a shiny object on my desk..a brass OM. I was instantly transfixed. The beautiful palm sized structure intrigued me. As I ran my eyes over the smooth connected curves, I remember being transfixed. I was mystified by the simple yet beautiful design and the smooth curves. The desk lamp reflected off the shiny surface making the curves glow in ethereal beauty. For the first time, the ten minutes passed by rather quickly. I found it easier to sit still having something tangible to focus on. That was the beginning of real meditation for me. i
What is the OM?
- Often referred to as the “Yoga Symbol”, OM is considered a sacred syllable that resonates with the original vibration of the cosmos when it was created.
- It is also said that the shape of the OM itself resonates with all the states of our consciousness.
Derived from my own childhood experience with meditation, here are some pointers for parents interested in guiding their children along the meditative journey:
- It is not a punishment. It’s important to let you child know that meditation is not a punishment and it is not the same as time-out.
- Patience is a virtue. Let your children know first-hand what meditation will help them achieve. They will be more interested in sitting through those initial five to ten minutes when they learn it will improve their ability to focus, learn and remember. After all, which child does not like to be smarter than their friends?
- Focus on an object. Keep in mind that children do not have the same ability to focus as adults do. Thus it’s more effective to ask them to focus on a specific object, like a clock or a flower vase or even an OM statue.
- Start young. It is never too early to teach them to meditate. For younger children try having them start by focusing on an object for two minutes. As they get better that focusing increase the duration. The goal is to eventually be able to focus on something for 15 minutes.
Journey through meditation: surviving teenage years
My next interlude with meditation was as a teenager. It was five years since I left behind my country of yogis and immigrated to a new country I now call home. I had just started university and term exams were upon us. During one YouTube search for stress-relieving music I came across guided meditation tracks. After long days and sleepless nights solving calculus problems and chemistry equations, I was overjoyed at being able to escape to island paradise, if only for 20 minutes. However, I did not get to fully explore guided meditations as my new-found joy was soon overshadowed by something bigger – the magic of falling in love for the first time.
Make time for a quickie. No matter how busy you are, with school, work or life, make the conscious effort to make time for a five to ten minute breather.
The Five Minute Quickie Cheat-sheet
- Sit down comfortably. Sit on a couch, or try to find a chair with good support. You don’t want to fall off in case you fall asleep. Now drop your arms and keep your lips slightly parted.
- Breathe in with your nose. Close your eyes and take a slow and deep breath with your nose, while counting one till five (1-2-3-4-5) in your mind.
- Breathe out with your mouth. Let your breath out slowly through the slightly parted lips while counting one till eight (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) in your mind.
Meditation as as an adult.
Yes, it was around that time eight years ago that I met my wonderful husband ‘PJ’ (I will talk about our meeting story in another post). During that initial period we did briefly touch over the topic of meditation, but since PJ was not too positive about it we did not further explore the concept. You see, my husband had spent his early years in yet another part of the world. In their postcard-sized European town the concept of meditation was not only foreign but also taboo. In his words now: “When I first heard about meditation I was very adverse to it and had a lot of anxiety. It’s because I was led to believe that if you quiet your mind then it is susceptible to be filled and controlled by the dark side.”
Make the decision to meditate together. It’s very important that you both decide that you will start meditating from now. Else it starts to feel like a chore.
Choose a time you can both stick to. Although you can meditate at anytime during the day or night it is easier to stick to a routine when you set aside a designated time for it. Some people find early mornings to be their best time to meditate as your mind is worry free when you first wake up. For us nights work the best, right after our daughter falls asleep and all the chores are done. Also meditating just before bedtime helps us to release all the stress from the long day and make way for a night of enhanced intimacy and a great night of sleep.
Take care of important chores first. We wait till we are done with all our chores so that we are not bombarded with thoughts of what-needs-to-be-done while we are trying to quieten our mind.
Set a 15 minute timer. Meditation need not be too long to be effective. 15-20 minutes is all the time we need to let go of attachments and relax into pure focus.
Other variations. Focusing on each others breath, focusing on the ceiling fan, or even focusing on a candle flame
Meditation as a couple: How I convinced him to meditate with me.
We finally started meditating together a couple of months ago. It’s been eight years since we had that first conversation about meditation. We were at a point in life when we wanted to explore ways connect on an even deeper level with one another. Eight years later, our relationship has come a long way and my husband is much better informed about the benefits of meditation. They include letting go of stress, sleep better at night, reduce anxiety.
Benefits of couples meditation.