John Kaweske

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Category: Spirituality

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely loud and incredibly close. The title of the 2011 Stephen Daldry film depicts our contemporary culture quite well. Sights, sounds, whirling colors, and pungent smells punctuate our presence on this planet on a daily basis. With our exponentially increasing global population, it seems this commotion is unlikely to stop, and rather will increase as time wears on. As a result, or rather, as a possible result, anxiety disorders have emerged in full force, afflicting both mature adults and less experienced, more vulnerable children. In fact, more than one in four adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 are diagnosed with such a mental disorder.  

Recognizing this issue, our well-intentioned doctors and pharmacists prescribe and refill various antidepressant medications to help these anxious children to cope, but the effects of such medicines are often not entirely understood, and at times can even have negative side effects. With this in mind, a team of researchers at The University of Cincinnati set out to discover new options for treatment. What rose to the top of the list? Mindfulness. Exercises like meditation techniques, yoga, and implementing a nonjudgemental outlook on life are all proving to reduce stress in afflicted children to an unprecedented extent.

This is fantastic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is speculated that as many as 80% of children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and 60% of adolescents diagnosed with depression do not receive the treatment they need. However, although the above evidence and research is in its early stages, it does appear that mindfulness can go a long way in alleviating the stress associated with said disorders. Without having to pay for medication, and instead teaching children to practice some form of meditation, adults may be able to solve their children’s problems without any expensive prescriptions.

In order to come to the above conclusion, the team of researchers in question recruited nine participants, each of whom was between nine and sixteen years of age and had been previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The conditions were not the exact same; some had a bipolar disorder while others had a social disorder while others had separation anxiety. Over the course of 12 weeks, each subject experienced functional magnetic resonance imaging (aka fMRI) while partaking in traditional mindfulness exercises like meditation or something of the sort.

Afterwards, each adolescent reported decreased levels of stress. Although this is not entirely conclusive, it is certainly indicative of the potential benefits mindfulness has to offer children as well as adults. Additionally, the researchers found that there was increased neural activity in the cingulate (the section of the brain that is known to help process cognitive and emotion information). Just as well, there was a surge of activity in the insula, which helps to monitor how the body feels from a psychological standpoint.

It would seem that while mindfulness may not outright cure such disorders, it could potentially go a long way in helping children and struggling adolescents to cope with the overwhelming world around them. Finally, science is catching up with the practice.

While the benefits of meditation are numerous, well-known, and widespread, there is still an incredible reluctance across society to partake. Personally, I think this is largely due to several pervasive myths that unfortunately but effectively modify general belief regarding meditation. In light of these misconceptions, I have elected to put together a list of the most prominent myths so that I can debunk them with evidence, examples, and substantiation.

You must sit cross-legged.

Ridiculous but widely held as a seeming tenet of meditation, sitting cross-legged is not, in fact, required for meditation. An abundance of Hollywood films misrepresenting oriental culture is likely the culprit for this discouraging perception, and by no means should sitting cross-legged continue to be upheld as a dogma of meditation. You need to be comfortable, and if sitting criss-cross apple sauce is comfortable for you, then do so; but if not, then don’t!

You could be lying down, sitting in a chair, standing, or even walking and meditating at the same time.

You must have a blank mind.

While, yes, this may be the ultimate goal, it is not, in the slightest, expected for newcomers to meditation. To achieve a perfectly blank mental slate takes time, effort, and practice. It is not something where you can just close your eyes and miraculously be taken away to a place of pure tranquility. That’s unrealistic, to say the least.

Actually, a fantastic place to start for beginners is to participate in what’s called guided meditation. As the name might imply, you have a mental ‘guide’ who keeps you and your potentially easily-distracted mind from getting off track. In fact, you don’t even necessarily need a guide in-person. If you want, it could just be a recording.

Just so you have an idea, guided meditation generally involves a lot of visualization exercises like full body relaxation. One such exercise is referred to as “earth breathing,” which is essentially when you imagine your body is sinking into the ground beneath you. Ideally, ‘Earth breathing’ is supposed to induce a grounded body sensation and lightness of mind feeling.

You can only meditate alone.

Absolutely not. While it’s certainly an option, and favored by many at that, that in no way means it’s the only way to find some peace of mind, especially if you’re just starting out and are slightly unsure of how to proceed. By joining a meditation group, you are providing yourself with the resources and knowledge of people who have been successfully meditating for many, many years. There is no reason to not take advantage, regardless of what some silly notion about meditation may claim.

While these are only three, there is a whole slew of false beliefs out there about meditation just waiting to be disproved. You can see some more here.

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