Some people may think that meditation and “finding your chi” is for people who are a little off center, or are still living in the sixties. The fact is more and more people are seeing the value of meditation as a way to take the stress out of their lives, increase their mental stamina, and expand their mind and body to what it is capable of achieving.
Many top executives, such as Walter Zimmerman, Chief Technical Analyst for United Icap, find that by taking time each day to meditate the highly stressful job he has it a whole lot easier. Zimmerman has over 2,000 institutional investors, including airlines and oil companies, and gets paid over $3,000 a month by each of them to analyze energy futures. He is a non-stop worker, but he attributes his success not to his ability to analyze charts, but to his 40 minutes, twice a day, of meditation. "Meditation," he says, "is my secret weapon" to be able to keep his mind clear.
Many corporations are finding that meditation is a profitable and useful tool for their employees. It increases productivity, cuts down on errors and sharpens their minds. Companies like Google, Hughes Aircraft and Deutsche Bank have incorporated transcendental meditation into their corporate structure, providing free classes on the premises and encouraging their employees to attend.
Recent scientific studies link meditation to an increase in the size of blood vessels, which allows a better flow of blood to the brain and increases the size of the cerebral cortex. The result is an increase in memory. Through the use of functional resonance imaging scans (fMRI) scientists have been able to see that meditation not only directly affects the function of the brain, but the structure as well. It increases attention, sharpens focus and increases memory capacity.
Throughout history, researchers have found that some of the greatest discoveries have taken place when the scientist or inventor was in a state of deep meditation. It is not limited to academics or entrepreneurs; anyone can expand their brain through the use of meditation.
People who regularly practice meditation have stated they are able to concentrate better, and feel more refreshed, after they complete their sessions. The reason is because they allow their brain to rest when they go into a deeper and more relaxed state. They come out of the session completely rejuvenated.
The brain releases several euphoric chemicals during meditation. These allow the body to feel happier and more relaxed, more than one would get from a nap in the middle of the day. Our mind state releases any subconscious angers, feelings of depression and anxiety that have been built up. Deep meditation has also proven to dramatically reduce, and sometimes even reverse all types of diseases, including cancer.
Last November, Dr. Sara Lazar, a researcher at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, announced that her team examined the brains of 20 men and women who meditated Western-style for just 40 minutes a day. Western-style meditation, also called “mindfulness or insight meditation.” The researchers found the gray matter of the subjects who meditated was thicker than that of people who did not. "We showed for the first time that you don't have to do it all day for similar results," says Lazar.
Previous research on meditation always focused on Buddhist monks, who spent their entire day in meditation. Even more significant, these findings would suggest that there is no thinning of the parts of the brain that normally weaken with age in those who practice regular meditation. “You are exercising the cerebral cortex while you meditate, and it gets bigger,” Lazar says.
The findings here are similar to studies showing that thickening of the cerebral cortex in accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists. “It is further evidence,” says Lazar, that yogis aren’t just sitting there doing nothing."
So, if so much benefit comes for meditation, why aren’t more people doing it? The answer is simple – meditation requires discipline and commitment to be beneficial, and most people don’t want to put forth the effort, even if it would extend their lives and improve their quality of life. It’s like a New Year’s resolution - you want to do it, but soon loose interest because of the changes you would have to make in your life.
The up side is, even if you spend just 20 minutes a day trying to get into a meditative state, the long-term effects to your health could be beneficial enough to make the effort. What have you got to lose? Meditation releases pent up anger and negativity, and it provides for a healthier mental attitude, more focus and mental clarity, and memory improvement.