By now, the physical and psychological benefits of meditation have been well documented. From doctors and dermatologists to spiritual teachers and workplace productivity coaches, it is clear that being able to create a less busy mind is of enormous benefit to our bodies as well as our souls.
In the 1960’s, when the Beatles discovered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a meditation teacher from India, meditation hit the mainstream. The fab four became enthusiastic endorsers of Maharishi and his Transcendental Meditation technique, people turned to it in droves. After all if the Beatles could do it, why not us?
From doctors and dermatologists to spiritual teachers and workplace productivity coaches, it is clear that being able to create a less busy mind is of enormous benefit to our bodies as well as our souls.
Over the years, everyone from Madonna to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder have extolled the virtues of practicing meditation. Oprah Winfrey is such a believer that she brought in a meditation teacher to train all 400 of her employees at her TV studios in Chicago. She notes that the studio “shuts down” daily at 9:30am and 4:30pm so that her staff can practice.
As the decades have gone by since the Beatles and the Maharishi, contemporary psychologists, physicians, neurologists, and physicists have increasingly paid attention to the power of a calm mind to heal, reduce stress, and even reverse molecular reactions in our DNA. There’s no reason to dismiss meditation any more. It’s good for us.
Still, many of us just don’t try meditating, or, like New Year’s resolutions to work out or start a diet, we begin a meditation program only to quit a few days or weeks later, saying it’s just too difficult to shut off our brains for 5 or 10 minutes. An hour? Forget it. That’s for the swamis in India.
Thankfully, due to advances in neuroscience, it’s been found that two things are true about meditation. First, you do not have to do it for an hour, or even close to that, to receive amazing benefits. And second, the point is not to turn off your brain; that is not possible, notes virtually every contemporary mediation teacher. Rather, the goal of meditation is to train our minds to let go. When thoughts arrive, as they inevitably will, notice them and say inwardly, “Oh. Thoughts.” And then we turn our attention back to the breath, or the mantra or whatever meditation technique we are practicing.
But for the many people who do not identify themselves as religious, or even spiritual, there are lots of reasons to meditate that don’t involve ascending to a higher consciousness or achieving nirvana. It turns out that meditation, or calming the mind if you will, affects a lot of things in our day-to-day life, not just the state of our souls.
Two things are true about meditation. First, you do not have to do it for an hour, or even close to that, to receive amazing benefits. And second, the point is not to turn off your brain; that is not possible, notes virtually every contemporary mediation teacher.
A few years ago, while being interviewed on TV, the Dalai Lama noted that our culture is still focused on the often-heartbreaking pursuit of money, property and prestige. While His Holiness understands this is the way modern folk live, at least in first-world countries, at the end of they day, he stressed, material success will not create inner peace. He made the point that meditation is not for transcendence, or to get to heaven – but, he says, “for today’s well-being.” As one of today’s most trusted and authentic spiritual teachers, the Dalai Lama is probably right.
For example; when our minds are overloaded with racing thoughts and stress, we can get wound up and unable to see our options with clarity, thus reacting out of fear, impatience or anger. This can negatively affect our job performance, our family relationships, our romantic relationships, and of course, our health.
So now we know for sure that no matter what you call it, or what technique you use to get there, a calm mind contributes mightily to our sense of peace and serenity and health, and, as it turns our, even the health of our skin.
While there are many ways to meditate, the current trend in meditation is “mindfulness.” Long studied, practiced and taught by the University of Massachusetts medical school’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, an M.I.T. graduate, Kabat-Zinn teaches that mindfulness is a non-spiritual meditation technique that invites us to just sit in the quiet, and watch our minds. Kabat-Zinn has worked with thousands of ordinary people who are over-worked, chronically ill, depressed and anxious as well as people who just want to slow their minds. Mindfulness practice, they say, changed their lives.
So now we know for sure that no matter what you call it, or what technique you use to get there, a calm mind contributes mightily to our sense of peace and serenity, health, and, as it turns out, even the health of our skin.
Dermatologists explain that stress creates certain hormonal responses in our bodies – the flight or flight response, typically, which releases cortisol and adrenaline into our systems. Both those hormones are terrible for bright, healthy complexions. and can lead to three skin disasters; acne, dullness and wrinkles. So in additional to stress making us, well, stressed-out, it also makes us look tired. And who wants to look older than they are? Increasingly, physicians and alternative medicine proponents are recommending meditation for great-looking skin. Perhaps we have finally found the fountain of youth – on the meditation cushion.
So if you want to get started, there’s probably never been an easier time to learn and practice meditation in a way that works for your life and personality. In addition to the traditional mantra chanting, TM, and Zen Buddhist practices, thanks to technology, there are now hundreds of modern apps that can make meditating really effortless. We like The Insight Timer because it’s free, features many different teachers and types of meditation (guided and silent) and is easy to use any time that you need a little serenity. Grab your headset on the train home from work, close your eyes for 5 or 10 minutes, and The Insight Timer will get you in the right head space to get home and see your family without being grumpy. Or, choose a Sleep Meditation for those nights that you’re worrying; listen to a soothing voice guide you to relaxing every part of your body. You’ll probably be asleep by the time you get to your feet.
For those more adventurous, retreat centers like Esalen in Big Sur, Kripalu in the Berkshires, and the Omega Center outside New York City all offer classes in mindfulness and meditation year round. Trust your gut; see which course appeals to you, and sign up. With our newfound knowledge about the connection between meditating and good-looking skin, it’s no longer a mystery why everyone always looks better after they’ve been on a meditation retreat.
At work, before a stressful meeting, in the morning, before the house wakes up and we’re on the go, or at night as we prepare for sleep, meditation is a quick and reliable technique for shifting our perspective – and feelings and looking better as well!
Recommended Daily Ritual:
So here’s our challenge: sit down and be quiet. Gently close your eyes. Take a few deep, long breaths.
Try it for 5 minutes. Once a day. For a week. And then, do it one day at time for another week. See what happens to the brightness of your skin and your headspace.
We think you will be happy with the results!