Buddha was asked this question: “What have you gained from meditation?”
He replied, “nothing at all.”
“Then Blessed One, what good is it?”
“Let me tell you what I lost through meditation: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.”
People everywhere are anxiously working to be happier… and they are trying to buy happiness as evidenced by a quick stroll through the world’s biggest shopping center, Amazon. A search of Amazon inventory for “how to be happier” reveals over 100,000 things you can purchase to be more joyful.
But here, free to all, we are going to give you a valuable tool that is guaranteed to make you happier, and also improve your health. That’s right, nothing to buy. No elixir to take. No equipment to install. This gift comes without batteries and complex instruction manuals.
Meditation—the practice of training your mind to focus on a single point—is like sharpening the blade of a knife. It will sharpen your cognitive and emotional abilities and cut through to your true self. It reduces the noise in your life and provides a clear life signal. With meditation, we aren’t as cluttered or burdened, and we are able to show up as our best selves—full of purpose, enthusiasm, and compassion.
If life feels out of control, meditation is the way to get it back under control.
And here are the well documented scientific benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Slows breathing rate
- Improves rest and sleep
- Boosts immunity
- Lessens stress
- Increases telomere length
Note the last bullet! Meditation increases telomere length.
This is vitally important and scientifically documented. Telomeres are these little endcaps on our chromosomes that serve a protective function so that when cells throughout our bodies replicate they continue to do so free of error. The telomere endcaps keep the gene-copying process happening accurately. Moreover, how robust and long these telomeres are correlates with the length of one’s lifespan. This research earned Elizabeth Blackburn the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009.
Let’s say this again: How robust and long these telomeres are correlates with the length of one’s lifespan. And meditation increases your telomere length – the longer the telomeres, the longer the lifespan.
Research shows that people who are chronically stressed have shortened telomeres. Telomeres are longer in those who regularly exercise. Telomeres are also longer in individuals who meditate.
There are tremendous benefits that accrue over time. In other words, long-time meditators have different brains than everyone else. Harvard researcher Sara Lazar published a groundbreaking study that showed meditation produces measurable differences in the brain as a result of the repeated practice of meditation. What was compelling in this research, however, is that these differences revealed themselves with only two weeks of practice. Yes, only two weeks of practice showed impressive changes.
So how do you meditate?
There are many forms of meditation ranging from Transendental, Buddhist, Vispassana, loving kindness, Taoist, Mindfulness, and Christian. There are also a variety of guided meditation that can be found on apps and YouTube. They are all valuable and worth exploring.
If you are curious to begin, seek out a certified instructor. To get you started, however, we suggest you might experiment with what is known as Mantra meditation adapted from the Chopra Center. Here are six simple steps:
1. Choose your mantra. Select a mantra. This is a short word or phrase—such as peace or love—to repeat to yourself as you meditate. “So Hum” is a popular mantra. It is a Sanscrit, that translates to “I am.”
2. Find a place to sit. Sit comfortably in a quiet place.
3. Gently close your eyes and begin by taking some deep breaths. Try taking a few “cleansing breaths” by inhaling slowly through your nose and then exhaling out your mouth. After a few cleansing breaths, continue breathing at a normal relaxed pace through your nose with your lips gently closed.
4. Begin silently repeating your mantra. For example, if using “So Hum” as your mantra, you could silently repeat “So” on your inhalation and “Hum” on your exhalation. As your meditation continues, allow the breath to follow its own rhythm. The repetition of your mantra should be effortless. Imagine you are listening to your mantra being whispered in your ear.
5. Importantly, do not try and stop your thoughts or empty your mind. As you meditate, you will find that your thoughts appear and distract you. This is normal. Whenever you become aware that your attention has drifted away from your mantra to thoughts or any other distractions while meditating, simply return to silently repeating the mantra. This is the practice of your meditation emptying the trash in your mind.
6. After 20-30 minutes, stop repeating the mantra. You have completed your meditation, but be sure to spend a few minutes relaxing with your eyes closed before resuming activity.
You may want to begin by practicing this Mantra meditation for five minutes and then increasing it to ten and continuing to add time to your practice.
It’s quite remarkable! This single, simple practice is guaranteed to transform you into a better version of yourself. Mindfulness and meditation really do make us happier and healthier.
And here’s the most important advice we can give you: Meditate once a day, and if you think you don’t have time to do that you should meditate twice a day.