By Charles A. Francis
“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” ~ Victor Hugo
You’ve probably noticed that talk about mindfulness meditation is much more common today than it was just a few years ago. Nowadays, I hear about mindfulness meditation from a variety of different sources: on the news, television talk shows, online, and most often in conversation.
It wasn’t long ago that people who meditated were considered to be on the fringes of society. In the 60s and 70s, they were called hippies. In the 80s and 90s, they were called new-agers.
Today, people who meditate are seen as progressive and open-minded. Whatever term we may use to describe them, they are generally loving, kind, generous, insightful, and willing to help others achieve the same rich and fulfilling lives they have.
Mindfulness Meditation Migrates to the West
Though mindfulness meditation has been around for a long time, its migration to the West has been slow, but that has changed over the last few years. There are several reasons for this:
- Changes in the social and political environment. The end of the Cold War has enabled more communication between Eastern and Western societies.
- Advances in communication technology. The rise of the Internet has made communication between cultures much easier, which previously did not interact very much.
- Prominent figures active in diffusing the practice. Most notably, the Dalai Lama has been quite active in engaging the West. Interestingly, a great deal of his interaction has been with the scientific community, to encourage scientists to conduct research on the practice.
- Compatibility with Western values. Since mindfulness meditation is practice, and not a religion, practitioners don’t have to abandon their current spiritual faith in order to avail themselves of the benefits of the practice.
- Effectiveness of the practice. Mindfulness meditation is proving to be extremely effective for all-around personal development. Practitioners are improving their relationships, and cognitive abilities, such as abstract thinking, creativity, and memory.
The Scientific Evidence Is Compelling
The mindfulness revolution is being fueled by the scientific research being conducted on mindfulness meditation. Researchers are finding a wide variety of health benefits of the practice. For example:
- Stress reduction. Research has consistently shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and negative mood states, and also improves mental and emotional well-being. It does this by reducing the levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. Patients are more serene, so they don’t experience stress-related disorders.
- Lower blood pressure. Several studies have revealed that meditation leads to lower blood pressure. A one-year follow-up showed that patients continued to experience the positive effects.
- Prevents stroke. By reducing the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), we can reduce the risk of stroke.
- Decreased risk of heart disease. A recent study published in the American Heart Journal showed that mindfulness meditation led to significantly better symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure.
- Treats mental health. Mindfulness is becoming so widely accepted in the mental health community that it’s becoming an integral part of the treatment of various psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, and more.
- Improves immune system. Mindfulness-based interventions also improve the functioning of the immune system. One study showed that it improved the function of the flu vaccine, and another study showed that it increased T-cell production in males with HIV.
Research has also shown that the practice even slows the aging process. People who meditate tend to look and feel much younger than their actual age. The practice also helps people tap into their creativity. It even helps them enhance their leadership and social skills, so they can advance their careers.
Mindfulness Meditation and Social Issues
The practice is also being used to deal with the rising costs of health care. It is a natural healing practice that is safe and effective and can complement standard medical care. It’s already widely used in the treatment of various psychological conditions.
Organizations worldwide are beginning to realize that the practice can help dramatically lower their health care expenditures. Companies such as Google and McKinsey Consulting are already incorporating the practice into their health and wellness programs. They are even including it in their leadership training.
The mindfulness revolution is a movement whose time has come. Conditions are just right for the acceptance of the mindfulness meditation practice. As Westerners gain a greater understanding of the practice through continued scientific research and personal experience, they will see how the practice is compatible with their spiritual traditions and their general understanding of the world. Mindfulness meditation is bridging the gap between science and spirituality.
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