By Nyk Danu
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
My personal meditation practice has helped me become more patient, loving and kind.
It has helped me learn to respond instead of react in tense situations. I’m more able to see the bigger picture of my life and not get as hung up on the details. It’s also allowed me to see not only my own triggers but when someone else is being triggered which enables me to respond to others with more compassion and empathy.
This got me thinking, if meditation has had a profound effect on me, could meditation affect others this way? Could that then have a ripple effect on the world around us? I think so.
Meditation can and does change our world. Practicing meditation changes us on an individual level by improving our physical and mental health, and increases our happiness and empathy. These changes then not only affect us, but also those closest to us and our communities at large by reducing violent crime.
Meditation For Stress And Pain
North Americans are stressed out. According to Statistic, 64% of North American employees report, “high levels of stress, with extreme fatigue/feeling of being out of control” (Statistic, 2014).
Meditation can help to reduce stress by teaching us to switch off from the worries that can plague us through the day. Spending time to focus the mind on the present moment can make us calmer. Meditation has also been shown to help reduce chronic pain by boosting endorphins. Endorphins are a category of neurotransmitters that the body uses as an internal painkiller. These compounds are also responsible for the all-encompassing sense of happiness we sometimes feel. (Grossman et al., 2007)
A Good Night’s Sleep
Melatonin is a hormone manufactured in the brain by the pineal gland. Levels of melatonin in the blood peak before bedtime and its function is to create restful sleep. Stress, however, significantly lowers melatonin levels. People who meditate are able to maintain healthy levels of melatonin by reducing stress and restoring the balance of this hormone. As a result, they sleep more soundly and wake up feeling refreshed each morning. (Tooley et al., 2000)
Meditation also increases the production of serotonin. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters in our brains and has profound influences on mood and behavior. Depleted serotonin levels are directly linked to depression, insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea. (Young, 2011)
People who regularly meditate have considerably higher levels of the neurotransmitter GABA present in their brains. (Guglietti et al., 2013) GABA is best known for stabilizing mood disorders like anxiety and reducing tension and insomnia. (Konkel, 2015)
Meditation Can Make You Happy
Meditation practices develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity and calm. With regular meditation practice, we can learn the patterns and habits of our mind, this then gives us the opportunity to cultivate new more positive ways of thinking. (Compton,1995) With an untrained mind, it is easy to get distracted by small irritations. Meditation then becomes an effective solution to become more focused, witness our mental habits and keep things in perspective. This, in turn, helps us become more relaxed, less reactive, which leads to increased patience and tolerance. (Roberts, 2012)
Meditation then takes us to the source of happiness which is found in our own peace of mind. When we focus our busy minds we can discover an unexpected source of happiness within, thereby showing us that happiness is not dependent on outer circumstances but on our inner attitude. (Young, 2011)
This Is Your Brain on Meditation
In a study by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after participants’ meditation session showed an increase of grey matter in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of grey matter in the amygdala, the region of the brain connected to anxiety and stress.
The control group that did not practice meditation did not show these changes. This shows that there are actual structural differences between the brains of meditators and non-meditators. (McGreevey, 2011)
In a 2008 study published in the journal PloS One, researchers found that when meditators heard the sounds of people suffering, they had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures, a part of the brain tied to empathy, than those who did not meditate. Therefore, meditation practice can increase our capacity for empathy. (Tan et al., 2011)
The statement that meditation can change our world could, at first glance, seem like a gross overstatement. It can often be challenging to see how small changes in our individual lives have an effect on our communities and society at large. It may be unclear how the microcosm of our lives affects the macrocosm of the world around us and yet studies show us it does.
Meditation Violence and Crime
A 1993 study conducted in Washington, D.C., showed how a group of meditators can reduce crime. The theory was that levels of violent crime in the District of Columbia would fall during the Demonstration Project as a result of the groups’ effect of increasing coherence and reducing stress in the collective consciousness of the District.
This study was reviewed by 27-member Project Review Board comprised of independent scientists and leading citizens approved the research protocol and monitored the research process.
Weekly crime data was derived from database records provided by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (DCMPD), which were used in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Other statistical analysis considered the effect of weather variables, daylight, historical crime trends and annual patterns in the District of Columbia, as well as trends in neighboring cities. Consistent with previous research in other studies, levels of homicides, rapes, and assaults dropped by 23.3% during the Demonstration (Hagelin et al., 1998)
Its pretty clear that meditation can:
- Lower our stress levels.
- Reduce chronic pain.
- Regular meditation practice can improve levels of key hormones for healthier mental and physical states. This then can increase our happiness and health.
- Meditation Practice helps us become empathetic and present for the rest of our busy lives and those we hold dear.
- On a global scale, even if only 1% of the worlds population meditated it could drastically reduce the violent crime worldwide.
So if we truly want to change the world, why not learn to “just sit” and teach your children to do the same.
Statista. (2018). Stress levels in employees in North America 2014 | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/315837/employee-stress-level-in-north-america/ [Accessed 9 May 2018].
Grossman P, e. (2017). Mindfulness training as an intervention for fibromyalgia: evidence of postintervention and 3-year follow-up benefits in well-being. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17570961/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17570961/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Tooley et al., (2000). Acute increases in night-time plasma melatonin levels following a period of meditation. [online] Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051100000351 [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Young, S. (2011). Biologic effects of mindfulness meditation: growing insights into neurobiologic aspects of the prevention of depression. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044190/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Guglietti, (2013). Meditation-Related Increases in GABAB Modulated Cortical Inhibition. Brainstimjrnl.com. [online] Available at: http://www.brainstimjrnl.com/article/S1935-861X(12)00153-2/abstract [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Konkel, (2015). What Is GABA?. [online] EverydayHealth.com. Available at: http://www.everydayhealth.com/gaba/guide/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Compton, (1995). 1st ed. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/William_Compton/publication 15400858_Meditation_as_an_adjuct_to_a_happiness_enhancement_program/links/556dee3a08aefcb861db950a/Meditation-as-an-adjuct-to-a- happiness-enhancement-program.pdf [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].
Roberts, (2012). Can mindfulness make you happier? – The Berkeley Science Review. [online] Available at: http://berkeleysciencereview.com/can-mindfulness-make-you-happier/ [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].
McGreevey, (2011). Eight weeks to a better brain. Harvard Gazette. [online] Available at: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Tan, L., Lo, B. and Macrae, C. (2011). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Mental State Attribution and Empathizing. Available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0110510 [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Hagelin, (1995). [online] Available at: http://www.gusp.org/pdf/Hagelin_1993_Natl_Demo_Proj.pdf [Accessed 14 Mar. 2017].
Nyk Danu lives in the enchanted city of Victoria on magical Vancouver island, where she teaches yoga to those who are not human pretzels. Nyks’ classes are filled with Misfits, Underdogs, Rebels, introverts, Geeks and Bookworms.
When Nyk is not hanging out in Yoga studios You’ll find her expanding her personal tattoo collection. Or just as likely curled up at home with a cat on her lap watching Star Trek or immersed in a book.
You can learn more about Nyk and sign up for free audio yoga videos on her website nykdanu.com.
Photo: Deposit photos (author provided)
Main photo: (source)
Editor: Dana Gornall
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