Should You Buy Into The Meditation Hype?
Updated: Jun 17, 2019
Although meditation is not something new at all, it has grown more and more popular within the last couple of years. It used to be something reserved for the spiritual such as the Buddhist monks, but now you can find it even in schools and businesses. It continues trending and I see pictures of people sitting in lotus position on social media every day and it seems like almost everybody meditates. However, if you are not a regular meditator, you might ask
Should I buy into this? Or is it just a temporary trend that is going to disappear? Is it something that has become popular because it is hip or is it actually good?
In this post, I want to give you some answers.
First of all, everybody can meditate and there is no wrong way to do it. You do not even have to sit in lotus position when you meditate. It is a common position but not a requisite. There are people who sit on a chair, lie down, etc.
Second, although some people might meditate because it is trendy, I believe that most people meditate because it benefits them. Research has shown many positive mental and bodily effects of meditation, such as:
Increased focus and attention
Increased compassion and self-compassion
Personally, I have had periods in my life in which I meditated regularly and other periods in which I did it occasionally before stressful situations. I have now incorporated meditation into my morning routine and aim to do at least once throughout the day additionally. Let me tell you my reasons for this.
A couple of months ago, I had an interview to work for a University. I prepared everything that I thought I needed, drove there and parked my car. I noticed that I was nervous. My breathing was shallow and fast, my concentration was a bit all over the place, and I probably did not seem very confident.
Luckily, I noticed. I decided to just sit in the car and take the next five minutes to meditate. This was probably the best preparation for the interview I could do at this moment: After the five minutes my breathing was slow and deep, my thinking clear and organised, and my body felt relaxed. I walked confidently into the University to have the interview.
In this example I used meditation as a tool for relaxation and clear thinking. However, I also meditate without having a stressful situation coming up. Meditating on a regular basis empowers me to “be more me” and allows me to behave more in the way I would like to behave.
Whereas without meditation I might react automatically and responsively, I now respond thoughtfully and intentionally. It also calms down negative emotions and feelings as well as facilitates being grateful and in the moment.
Yes, without reservation, and based on personal and scientific observations, I believe you would benefit from “buying into” the meditation hype. If you are interested in starting, continue reading…
Starting to Practice Meditation
It can be challenging starting any new habit and we might feel awkward or do not know whether we do it right. This can also happen with meditation. It can be uncomfortable to find out that your mind is actually racing and throwing new thoughts at you all the time. Do not let this discourage you! It actually indicates that you would benefit a lot from meditation!
The solution of a racing mind is not to control but to “not control”, to just let be, to allow. Allow all those thoughts to come in…. and also allow them (and invite them) to fade away as quickly as they appear. Meditation is a place of letting go of control, of accepting what is present, and simply contemplating.
Andy Puddicombe of Headspace explains it as if the thoughts were cars and we are standing on the side of a highway. We can try to look at each car, try to find patterns, guess where they are going, etc. (which to some degree might happen automatically) or just realise they are there but not give them any attention in particular. The same goes for the thoughts: you can realise they are there without giving them any particular attention… you can just let them be without engaging in them…
Types of Meditation
There are different types of meditation. We can categorise them into those in which you “just meditate” without any mantra, chant, visualisation, focus, etc. and those in which you do have a particular mantra, visualisation (for example, of progressive muscle relaxation), or focus (for example, on your breathing). The second category includes any type of guided meditation or meditation music.
For me personally, the second category is easier and the first one seems to be more rewarding. So, my suggestion would be to try both, see what you enjoy more, and keep an open mind about it.
If you do not know where to start, find a comfortable position, put on a timer on your watch or phone and set it to 5 minutes. Once you start the timer, allow all your thoughts to come in and out of your mind without paying particular attention. It will very likely happen that you find yourself engaging some of the thoughts – that is fine. Once you notice, be present and simply allow them to fade away again (I sometimes find myself engaging in thoughts for an estimated amount of 80% of my “meditating” time, so do not worry if that happens to you).
Summary of Meditation Benefits
There is a wealth of research on the benefits of meditation in clinical, non-clinical populations in many different indicators including biological/physiological, psychological/emotional, and social factors. Here is a list, mostly adapted from Goyal and colleagues (2014).
More or improved:
Focus and attention
Compassion and self-compassion
Self-directedness, cooperativeness, and self-transcendence
Sense of coherence
Performance under stress
Depression and depression relapse
Anxiety and panic disorders
Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of marital and family therapy, 33(4), 482-500.
Desteno, D., Lim, D., Duong, F., & Condon, P. (2017). Meditation Inhibits Aggressive Responses to Provocations. Mindfulness. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0847-2.
Economides, M., Martman, J., Bell, M. J., & Sanderson, B. (2018). Improvements in Stress, Affect, and Irritability Following Brief Use of a Mindfulness-based Smartphone App: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness. doi:10.1007/s12671-018-0905-4.
Gong, H., Ni, C. X., Liu, Y. Z., Zhang, Y., Su, W. J., Lian, Y. J., ... & Jiang, C. L. (2016). Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 89, 1-6.
Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., ... & Maglione, M. A. (2016). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 1-15.
Noone, C., & Hogan, M. J. (2018). A randomised active-controlled trial to examine the effects of an online mindfulness intervention on executive control, critical thinking and key thinking dispositions in a university student sample. BMC Psychology,6(1). doi:10.1186/s40359-018-0226-3.
Rosenkranz et al (2013). A Comparison of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and an Active Control in Modulation of Neurogenic Inflammation. Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, 27, 174-184.
Goyal et al (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-68.