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Why should we meditate?

By Anita Dudhane
Quite a few people ask me the question, “Why should we waste our time meditating, when we could be doing something else more fun?” At the very least, consider it to be insurance towards the uncertainties of life. Since a freak road traffic accident seven months ago, I have had the opportunity to observe pain – sometimes excruciating and crippling and sometimes dull and aching – but always present. This pain, which has taken away most of my favourite physical activities, especially yoga and now even threatens to take away my very meditation posture, can be overwhelming if taken in its entirety. It can cause despondency, irritation and lead to depression if not watched. But years of meditation practice helps me to break it down moment to moment – to watch the throbbing, the wave, the burn in every moment, to separate the physical from the mental aspects of pain, to see how mental resistance can aggravate it, to relax in the wave instead of opposing it – all of which makes it so much more bearable.
Meditation practice, by breaking it down and bringing it into the present removes worrying about the future example how long will it last, will this be permanent, and so on which can cause even more mental turmoil. Meditation by bringing it into the present removes thoughts of the past, when my body did what I needed it to do, thereby preventing resentment and frustration at its current state. Most important my meditation practice helps me accept the present with a small measure of equanimity, with gratitude that it is not as bad as it could have been and a small measure of compassion for others in the same or worse situations.
This a personal account, but scientific research backs this up. Jo Marchant, a science journalist writes in an article called “Heal Yourself” writes: “There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine recipients and people with cancer, protects against a relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV. Meditation might even slow the aging process. Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, get shorter every time a cell divides and so play a role in aging.
Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues showed in 2011 that levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a control group. As with social interaction, meditation probably works largely by influencing stress response pathways. People who meditate have lower cortisol levels, and one study showed they have changes in their amygdala, a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.”
You may ask how long meditation takes to show these results. You may think that it takes a few years but fMRI studies show that as little as 11 hours of total training, or an hour every other day for three weeks, can produce structural changes in the brain. If physical ailments can be altered with meditation, there is no question that we can handle mental and emotional situations with equanimity, if we meditate regularly.

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