Although people around the globe have meditated for centuries, a growing awareness of its associated health benefits has made meditation an increasingly popular activity in today’s fast-paced world.
As its growing number of proponents will tell you, meditation is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, enhance focus, boost creativity and productivity, ease anxiety, improve self-discipline and achieve greater compassion By all accounts, meditation can actually make you a better person.
Researchers investigating how meditation works have found that it does more than stimulate a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, it also rebuilds our brain’s grey matter. MRI scans of individuals who regularly meditate have revealed increased density in the brain’s hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in neural structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
While these physiological benefits are cause enough to take up meditation, the number one reason you should try it may surprise you. Hint: it’s nothing something you will gain, but rather something you will lose. Meditation will help to reduce your own suffering, by easing those feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and of wanting what you do not have.
“When you look closely at what’s happening when you are ‘not happy’, it always seems to relate to wanting or longing for things to be other than what they are,” explains Dr. Stephen Liben, a Professor in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, and the Director of the Montreal Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Palliative Care Program “It’s this wanting or craving that is at the root of your suffering. By helping you accept what is, meditation facilitates the shift to more positive and proactive states, such as gratitude, curiosity and compassion.”
While the existential/spiritual domain is known to be an important determinant of quality of life, there has, until recently, been little emphasis placed on these issues in health care education. The McGill Programs in Whole Person Care seeks to integrate the physical aspects of personhood along with the psychosocial and existential/spiritual ones, and to better understand how to respond to suffering.
As a faculty member of this unique McGill program, Dr. Liben teaches a “Mindfulness-Based Medical Practice” course that is mandatory for all McGill Medicine students. This innovative program, created for physicians and healthcare professionals, teaches participants how to better manage stressors that arise in the course of daily life, and how to improve both patient care and physician wellness by enhancing communication abilities and increasing empathy – skills that are not easily taught through traditional means.
“Rather than simply telling student doctors the importance of listening and caring, we use well known contemplative practices, such as the guided awareness practices found in basic meditation, to help them be better listeners and more caring and compassionate doctors,” he explains.
If you are (finally) ready to give meditation a try, there are several notable apps and resources to help you integrate this practice into your modern life. Check out Headspace.com and Calm.com or the guided meditation practices of Jon Kabat-Zinn.