We’ve all heard tales of Yogis and sages meditating throughout history. While some meditated to gain knowledge, others did so to acquire strengths rivalling those of Gods. But nowadays, meditation is practiced for simpler benefits. Many are turning to it as a way to enhance mindfulness, reduce stress, or to hone their ability to concentrate deeply.
Aspiring musician Nischal Baidya has been practicing Quan Yin meditation since he was 14. At the age of 24 now, he says being introduced to meditation at a young age helped him in his creative endeavors. A student of ethnomusicology, Baidya says regular meditation helps him stay calm and create music. “It has made my skills sharper, and also motivated me to pursue other arts like sketching. It makes me more decisive in my day-to-day activities as well.” He doesn’t ever feel anxious now, he adds. Baidya reckons he even understands people better after he learned to meditate.
People are drawn to meditation for various reasons, including spiritual and health. Over the years, many medical studies—though not all—have shown the usefulness of meditation for people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, and for enhanced general well-being. Brain researchers say meditation, combined with proper behavioral therapy, may promote better psychiatric health. Certain forms of meditation are also helpful in fighting addictions. Besides these benefits, meditation has proven beneficial to the elderly suffering from memory loss and dementia.
The work of Marsha Linehan, who developed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is one example of the successful integration of mindfulness meditation with psychotherapy for the treatment of character pathology, depression, addictions and eating disorders. DBT has helped legitimize meditation as a credible component of psychiatric treatment. “The efficacy of meditation in psychiatric treatment depends on the disorder; it might work for some but not for others,” says Trishna Bhos Bista, a clinical psychiatrist currently practicing psychiatry at the Manoshastra Counselling & Research Center, Lalitpur. Usually, meditation techniques like Muscle Relaxation Therapy and Abbreviated Relaxation Therapy are used along with DBT to treat various anxiety-related disorders. But Bista also puts in a word of caution: “As a form of treatment though, meditation won’t be effective until the underlying causes of the disorder are properly dealt with.”
Baidya can attest to meditation’s medicinal benefits; he claims regular meditation helped him alleviate chronic migraine. “I was not meditating in order to cure my migraine, but I noticed that my headaches gradually became few and far between. Earlier I was worried that migraine was a lifelong ailment, but apparently not,” says Baidya.
Some even claim that meditation has cured serious conditions like cancer, but the veracity of such claims cannot be established. Nor can claims of otherworldly experiences—seeing the spirit of loved ones who are deceased, encountering godly beings, attaining a state of Samadhi, or escaping the Karmic cycle of death and rebirth—be scientifically verified. Yet that has not deterred dedicated meditation practitioners.
“I meditate daily, as much as I can, in the mornings or evenings. Even when I am busy, I usually find some time for it,” says Ghanashyam Khadka, 39, a senior sub-editor at the Kantipur daily. Khadka has been practicing Vipassana meditation for over a decade now. “Meditation is varied, and its effects largely depend on the practitioner and the type of meditation they pursue. For me, it was mainly about calmness and peace in the beginning, but now I’m moving toward a more spiritually transformative approach to meditation,” he adds.
To each her own
In the view of Pratikshya Kattel, a teacher at Madan Bhandari Memorial College and a striving writer, there are two types of meditation—passive and active. Passive meditation is when one sits down in a certain posture, usually with closed eyes, and focuses on something, such as one’s breath. Active meditation, on the other hand, is the state of constant mindfulness, in every activity. Kattel outlined the philosophy of mindfulness presented by Thích Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness. “I prefer active meditation, which entails being completely focused, engaged and mindful about one’s actions. That’s much tougher than passive meditation.” She also tried meditating at Osho’s Tapoban, but didn’t enjoy it. “Once you get the hang of active mindfulness, it quickly becomes orgasmic,” claims Kattel.
Whether and what kind of benefits practitioners derive from meditation is probably subjective, but what is certain is that meditation is steadily gaining in popularity. Both Baidya and Khadka enthusiastically recommend meditation for everyone. “I believe kids should be taught meditation from their school years. It will help them grow wiser and excel in their studies as well as in other interests,” Baidya adds.
Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and author of the bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has said in a number of interviews that meditation has helped him enormously to concentrate and write. In fact, meditation is one of the lessons for everyone to adopt in his recent book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. If you are interested, plenty of organizations with various religious leanings teach meditation for free. There is a lot of meditation literature online as well.