It is evident that meditation is becoming an increasingly popular activity at Western. However, it appears that this new hobby has the potential to serve as more than just a leisure activity; there may be psychological benefits as well.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation advocated by Buddhism. It can be defined as deliberately paying attention to your experience, in the present moment, without judgment or criticism. Mindfulness teaches people to think about their feelings, realize that uncomfortable feelings will come, and then those feelings will go.
Aleksandra Zecevic is a Heath Science professor at Western who specializes in health issues caused by aging. Zecevic also teaches meditation classes at the Western Rec Centre, and believes firmly in the benefits of meditation.
“I volunteered with the Rec Centre to start the meditation class because I became increasingly aware of the mental health issues with our students,” Zecevic says. “As a long term meditator, I thought maybe I could offer at least an hour for students to turn off all the engines and just be.”
Zecevic explains that there are different ways to meditate within the Buddhist tradition. One type of meditation is referred to “emptiness meditation,” in which the meditator clears their head of all thoughts. Another type is called “focused meditation,” in which the meditator concentrates intently on a certain subject.
“I started meditating in 1987. I meditated for a while, and then stopped for years.” Says Zecevic. “When I came back to meditation, it inspired me to learn more about holistic health and alternative energy healings.”
Zecevic practices transcendental meditation — another form popularized in the 1950s — for herself. However, she chooses to teach mindfulness meditation at the Rec Centre because it can be done without an instructor, and so students can continue to meditate at home, or on their own time.
Louis Charland is a Philosophy professor at Western with ties to the Psychiatry Department and the Faculty of Health Sciences. Charland sees the benefits in different forms of meditation such as mindfulness, in order to treat certain forms of depression.
In regards to milder forms of depression, Charland believes that meditation has the potential to work as well as prescription drugs such as anti-depressants. However, Charland does not feel the same when it comes to serious and more severe forms of major depression.
“In severe cases, depression requires anti-depressant medication and even sometimes other forms of medical intervention,” Charland says. “However, even with severe depression, I would say that meditation is also highly recommended and often beneficial.”
Charland believes that non-pharmaceutical treatment interventions for depression ought to play a more important part in therapy than they currently do. He says exercise, proper diet, adequate sleep, supportive relationships, along with stress reduction interventions like meditation can all play a very positive role in successful recovery from depression.
Despite the fact that Buddhism advocates meditation, it has only recently been utilized by Western society. Charland believes this is due to the fact that Western society often tends to look for a “quick-fix” solution to the problems that ail us, often in the form of a pill.
“Meditation takes time and requires a long-term commitment over months and even years,” Charland says. “But the benefits are equally long-term and there are no negative side-effects to contend with. Research in neuroscience shows how meditation works on the emotional and other affective systems of the brain to produce feelings of calm and serenity.”
How to Meditate
Step 1: Get Comfortable
Comfort is key to being able to clear your mind. Find a quiet comfortable spot, and wear clothing you feel relaxed in.
Step 2: Stretch
Stretching out the tense muscles of your body will help prepare for the relaxation of your mind. Meditation is beneficial as a whole body experience.
Step 3: Position Yourself
The traditional crossed-legged meditation pose isn’t the only stance you can have. Any comfortable seated position with a balanced spine will suffice.
Step 4: Controlled Breathing
Focus on slow and measured breaths when you meditate. This should help to clear your mind, as you focus on an internal and essential bodily process.
Step 5: Visualization
Imagine a serene setting, anywhere outside of your stressful day-to-day. Use this as a much-deserved mental vacation.
Step 6: Maintenance
Upon finishing your meditation don’t let your stress flood back in. Carry the peaceful feeling you have forward throughout you day, and it will increase your ability to face your stress-causers.