Meditation, Mindfulness and Mental Acuity
(they’re not just for flower children anymore)
We outlined the present and foreseeable dangers to our health as a result of, and the ever-increasing stress levels caused by our own technological Frankenstein’s monster.
Our technology can cause a huge increase in stress!
We’ve created this marvel so that we can bask in its glory, and our own, and now we’re stuck with the consequences of a monster run amuck, and one not at all interested in our own selfish agendas.
And one of the heaviest, most insidious moment-to-moment consequences of our monstrous creation is, of course—constant, continuous, overwhelmingly addictive distraction!
Our ubiquitous technology—especially the handheld varieties—has created a limitless desert of cyber-quicksand that absolutely surrounds us with a 24/7 siren’s call to just dip our toes a little bit…and then we’re sucked right in. In moments we’re then lost down a mad rabbit sinkhole of distraction with no exit in sight or mind.
All too common examples of this dangerous level of constant distraction are familiar to all of us everywhere-
- The driver who texts/talks while driving through heavy traffic
- The pedestrian who texts/talks while crossing a perilous intersection
- The police officer/security staff who are too busy staring into their phone to notice what’s happening in front of their face
- The parent who talks/texts while pushing their baby carriage down busy streets
- The partner who actually checks their phone…during intimate adult bedroom activity! (and if that example doesn’t illustrate a dangerous tipping point for all of us, then we give up)
The point is that we are extremely unlikely to ever fully rid ourselves of our monstrous creation anytime in our near or far future, and so we must begin to learn how to peacefully, and healthily, co-exist in a world which is clearly no longer big enough for the both of us.
And so in moving forward towards a reasonable coexistence with our multitude of technological addictions, we might very well be best served to look backward.
Which brings us to meditation and the pursuit of mindfulness.
We must first emphasize the nature of meditation in all its many forms and iterations. In the US we may all be at least familiar with the practice of transcendental meditation, or yoga-based meditation, but the practice of meditation itself has been around for thousands of years and has been utilized in hundreds of cultures, as well as numerous religions.
But in terms of US scientific research, as far back as the 1970s, pioneering Harvard physician Herbert Benson developed a meditative technique called the "relaxation response".
This technique was then further developed into a widespread practice which later gained worldwide acceptance by physicians and therapists to effectively address symptoms in a plethora of medical conditions, and even included in cancer treatments.
Dr. Benson’s research identified our automatic "fight or flight" response whenever our bodies are exposed to sudden physical threats, including stress.
This auto-response is also referred to as an "adrenaline rush" because the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released, resulting in rapid breathing, rapid pulse rate, an increase in blood pressure and increased blood flow to the muscles.
His research then clearly indicated that the regular practice of Dr. Benson’s meditative “relaxation response” was discovered to effectively dampen all of these physiological symptoms—rapid breathing, pulse, increased blood pressure—thus leading to empirically measurable physiological changes in test subjects.
In short, mediation works.
More recent research indicates that the long-term practice of meditation—in almost any form—has the effect of creating permanent meditation-induced physiological changes in regard to heart rate, pulse and breathing control.
Research also strongly indicates that regular meditation practitioners demonstrate superior executive control, which translates as the ability to focus and accomplish goal-oriented behavior, using complex mental processes with the benefit of increased cognitive abilities that mediation offers.
But before we dive too deep into the science, let’s outline the simple, straightforward practice.
And in its most basic beginner form, meditation is simply the practice of sitting still (with eyes preferably closed to block out visual distractions) for a period of anywhere from 5-20 minutes while focusing solely on your breathing and/or a single thought, word, or phrase (often referred to as a “mantra”).
That’s all folks!
(Here we must point out that, as a matter of practical application, most of us should be able to find an extra 5-20 minutes in our day for this healthy pursuit, and so this is absolutely not some pie-in-the-sky, tree-hugging, hacky-sacking, hipster voodoo magic mountain of cotton candy woo-woo!)
And in addition to the immediate physiological benefits, you may enjoy that will lead to stress reduction—decreased heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure—one of the other major benefits of the regular practice meditation will be your increase in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness may be considered as one of the most direct goals of meditation.
We can consider the concept of mindfulness in many ways, but the idea of being, and remaining, laser-focused and locked into the present moment may be used as a useful definition of mindfulness.
This concept of being locked into the present moment also conveys the popularity of meditation/mindfulness throughout the world of athletics at every professional level and many of the advanced amateur levels.
Other than meditation, having the right vitamins and herbs can make a huge difference in everyday relaxation!