By Richard Daley
Recently, during a conversation with a group of people, one person began to discourse on “fashionable trends” they considered well-being related.
Essentially, their position was that yoga, meditation and veganism were cool things to do. They then stated that the appearance of these modalities in popular culture would eventually fade out. This was not the first time I have heard this position voiced.
Diet arguments aside, the word yoga was first mentioned over 5,000 years ago in early texts of the Vedic religion and was practiced by the Indo-Aryans in Northern India. Of this religion, and other elements, Hinduism was eventually born. In regards to our internal state, yoga is a spiritual activity which helps many of us on our journeys. Maybe in the current atmosphere it is not always a spiritual journey, but a journey indeed. Yoga is also sought out for its physical benefits, and some simply enjoy it as exercise.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, in varying philosophical and religious traditions.
Modern Mindfulness has been very successful in bringing people from all walks of life into the light regarding the benefits of meditation. These practices indeed may have roots in traditional Buddhist meditative tradition, but most of them have been secularized which helps people connect with meditation without any dogma or worry. It also helps people across all faiths feel comfortable tapping into this valuable practice.
The 72-year old Tibetan monk and scientist Matthieu Ricard has been coined “The World’s Happiest Man” (a title he rejects) based on brain scan studies done on him while meditating. These scans show remarkable activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with positive emotions. These scans also show suppressed activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with negative emotions and the wandering mind.
Both of these practices have been around for thousands of years, and I certainly do not agree that they are trends.
I do think that these two habits can certainly help many of us in becoming happier, healthier people, however that shouldn’t be the core reason we practice them. They are bigger than that. They are a lifestyle choice that brings benefits beyond becoming more kind, and more calm. They give us a secure base, a means to cope; oftentimes the tools to grow out of fixed habits or views and much more.
We tend to label things.
Sometimes we do this to make ourselves more comfortable with our inability to see through our own ignorance. Looking straight at reality may involve a more in-depth look at our own state of being, and may shed light on painful or repressed issues we prefer not to deal with.
Even with positive empirical evidence available, these activities can be seen as weird or unusual to some. They garner tags or labels that do no justice to their true purpose. Maybe the truth is anything that bolsters our well-being is not always well received into the American repertoire of thought. Maybe the truth is that in lieu of self-analysis people seek chemical means of adjustment, or useless material objects to satisfy their craving.
It is sad to say that habits like being a workaholic, going to the bar five nights a week, or the constant pursuit of gratification on social media platforms are not typically victims of these tirades or contentious prejudices.
We have been taught from a young age (some, or most of us) to grow up and find a way to generate money in order to live a great life. Maybe age-old systems of taking care of oneself like yoga, meditation, ayurveda, tai chi or many others, can help us live a great life?
Maybe the anathema of this all, in the view of the capitalist machine, is that these can be cultivated for free. There doesn’t need to be something to buy. A lot of time is spent learning to articulate the ability to generate profits for businesses or to obtain material objects, and somewhere during this process people forget about their own happiness.
Thankfully, and if we choose to, we can look for the communities and like-minded individuals who want to share these skills with us, and we can develop them.
Editor: Dana Gornall