One of the major medical advances in recent decades has been the importance of lifestyle choices. Your body's cells eavesdrop on everything you say, do, and think, along with the food you eat, the sleep you get, and the exercise you take. Coursing through the bloodstream is a superhighway of information in chemical form. We are just beginning to understand that lifelong wellness comes down to everyday messaging that keeps cells healthy.
Daily meditation sits at the heart of an optimized lifestyle. It is a superior form of holistic care whose beneficial effects have been known for decades, but which keep increasing with every new research project. As with other good advice, just as not smoking, eating a balanced diet, and participating in regular exercise, daily meditation must compete with everyone's busy life and its endless demands. Too often it goes by the wayside and becomes, at best, an add-on standing in line behind other priorities.
How Can We Make Daily Meditation Easier to Adopt?
One way is to expand the definition of meditation. A considerable body of research centers on the benefits of sitting for 20 minutes, twice a day. with eyes closed doing a traditional practice like mantra or Vipassana meditation. That's still the core of regular meditation practice, but there are other routes to the meditative state. I'd call anything meditation that does any of the following:
- Quiets the mind
- Settles the mind's restless activity
- Brings a sense of inner peace
- Offers inspiration
- Relaxes the body
- Relieves stress
- Normalizes biorhythms
- Taps into a deeper source of physical and mental energy
This list provides a wide range of options, and it is worthwhile to sit down and write out the favorite ways you can achieve the meditative state. Reading poetry or painting a landscape might not qualify as traditional Yoga, but the creative state affects a person's consciousness very much like the meditative state. Be careful not to mistake this for a vegetative state that occurs while sitting on the couch watching TV—the mind is simply turned off then, in a state of unawareness. The meditative state is one of heightened awareness.
The reason that "relaxes the body" appears on the list is because of the mind-body connection. Most people do not grasp that their nervous system, after years of adapting to everyday pressures, demands, deadlines, and rushing around, has gone into overdrive. Stress doesn't respect the boundary between mind and body that we have imposed. A cell makes no distinction whether a molecule of a stress hormone like cortisol was generated mentally or physically. Being fired and being rear-ended in traffic have the same potential for triggering the stress response.
Having formed the habit of adapting to low-level daily stress, the bodymind makes it seem that everything is normal, but it isn't. Returning to a tension-free, relaxed state that is also alert and energized is actually normal. Psychiatric Daniel J. Siegel has worked on therapeutic ways to heal the mind-body connection, and he offers some simple advice. In your daily routine, set aside 5 to 19 minutes for play time, down time, and alone time. Each of these activates a different aspect of brain function.
Even with no time for meditation practice, anyone can fit in a few minutes of sitting quietly with eyes closed, taking a few deep breaths, and centering oneself. Play time is anything that makes you laugh and smile. Down time is any interlude from daily busyness.
Paying attention to your inner life is at the core of meditation, which means that moments of contemplation and self-reflection are meditative, as is prayer for those who are devotional.
Consciousness is an abstract word, but it stands for the ground state of both mind and body, which is the source of intelligence, creativity, peace, love, and evolution. When we value those things, meditation becomes immediately attractive. It is a joyful addition to anyone's life and should never be considered incidental or a chore.