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The origins of meditation, what it is, and how it can help your mental health

Case study by Radhika Ghosh

Practiced for millennia, meditation has helped millions of people throughout history to become more in tune with their mental health. On World Meditation Day, Radhika Ghosh delves into the history of meditation and how, if you haven't already, you can give it a go.

Every year on 21st May, a spotlight is shone on one of the oldest techniques known to man: meditation. It is a day in which we can educate ourselves not only on where the practice began, but also on how we can engage with it and how it can benefit our mental health.

World Meditation Day is also a call to all of us to slow down, step back from our busy and stressful lives, and enjoy moments of solitude and comfortable silence with ourself to help calm down our minds, helping us all to live a little bit easier.

The origins of meditation

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when meditation 'began', but we do know that people started practicing it thousands of years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests that forms of meditation were being practiced during the times of ancient civilisations, with ancient India its generally agreed-upon birthplace.

Over the next few millennia, meditation gradually spread its branches to different parts of the world, becoming a common practice for religions that continue to exist to this day, including Buddhism and Hinduism. And now, meditation is practiced in multiple forms – all the way from mindfulness meditation to transcendental meditation – by millions of people around the world, religious or not.

What is meditation?

To an onlooker, it's easy to presume that meditation is simply about sitting still with your eyes shut. And to be fair, that's what many meditation practices involve. But of course, there is so much more to it than that.

Image of woman meditating on World Meditation Day
Meditation isn't about what we can see from the outside, it's what's going on inside the mind of the person practicing it! (Image credit: Omid Armin | Unsplash)

According to Headspace, meditation is "about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective", which can be achieved through techniques that encourage focused thinking or simply 'witnessing' our thoughts and emotions.

Why should you meditate?

So what benefits can meditation actually provide us with? Here are just a few.

  • It improves concentration

When you meditate regularly, you will experience a remarkable change in your concentration levels. Your focus improves and you’re better able to direct your thoughts to bring about more positive and constructive changes.

  • It enhances attention span

In our technology-driven world, we’re hardly able to sustain our focus on one particular thing for long. We hop constantly from one stimulus to another and this makes it difficult to pay attention to a single thing. With meditation, the strength and duration of your attention is bound to increase.

  • It can help overcome addictions and cravings

Meditation brings about mindfulness. Research suggests that regular meditation promotes self-control and enhances self regulation, which helps us to control our cravings and dependencies on external things like food or social media.

  • It decreases stress

Our lives tend to revolve around deadlines, meetings, paying bills and all sorts of other professional and familial responsibilities. This can all add to our stress and too much stress can cause problems. Meditation is really helpful in bringing down stress levels; and with reduced stress comes less anxiety and more calmness.

  • It can help you become more empathetic

Humanity thrives on kindness and us being empathetic to one another. Meditation helps to develop more positive feelings and emotions. As you meditate regularly, you develop the feeling of forgiveness within yourself and others.

How can you meditate without meditating?

Yes, you read that right. Meditation doesn’t always mean a 10-minute session of closing your eyes and being still. Rather, you can participate in meditative activities and find peace of mind. Here are a few examples.

  • Write down your thoughts

Nothing is better than expressing your deepest feelings, desires or opinions through written words. Take refuge either in a white sheet of paper or a new word document. Don’t write — rather bleed your heart out. Free up your mind by putting into words everything that disturbs or bothers you.

  • Clean up

Bin those old newspapers and put away those unused and ragged clothes. Tidy up your closet, your work area and your entire workspace. As you slowly start removing the items you don’t need from your space (and life), you’ll feel freer; filled with a newfound and inexplicable peace.

  • Cook

Head over to your kitchen and pick up those vegetables. Gather your ingredients and chop them away as you completely infuse yourself into creating a new dish. Cooking promotes creativity and offers a sense of instant (and tasty!) accomplishment.

  • Move and groove

A healthy mind grows in a healthy body. Get up from the couch and move your body to the music in your headphones or to the sound of nature. Walk or run as your health permits. Be aware of how your body moves and the rhythm it creates.

  • Add a splash of colour

Liberate the child within you and pick up a pack of colouring pens. Start with doodling, free drawing or simple sketching. You can also go for adult colouring books or mandalas. Colouring in patterns is a great way to destress and get relief from anxiety.

Image of coloured-in mandala for World Meditation Day
Adult colouring books recently took off, and for good reason – drawing and colouring can do wonders for reducing feelings of stress and anxiety! (Image credit: Jayshree Sharma | Unsplash)

Follow in the footsteps of your ancestors!

Meditation is by no means a solution for mental health issues. In fact, some people can find meditation ineffective or even harmful to their own psychological wellbeing.

But if you haven't tried it yet, don't let that put you off. For millions of people throughout time, meditation has helped them become more in tune with their thoughts and feelings, in turn helping them process emotions that may be a consequence of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and many others. So why not give it a go yourself? There's surely no better day to do so than World Meditation Day after all!


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