Today is a special day. Almost 30 years ago to the day, I formally learned to meditate in Cambridge, Mass. I had tried meditation before growing up in India, been preached its many benefits by my dutiful mother, even studied some of the early scientific research around it in medical school, but it wasn't until years later when I was stressed-out physician, often abusing alcohol and cigarettes, that on a recommendation from a friend I turned to meditation as a tool for reducing my stress load.
My life has never been the same. And so today in many ways is a celebration of my discovery of meditation. And here are the three things I am doing in observance of that celebration:
1. The Chopra Center, which I founded over 15 years ago, is launching the 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which invites you to participate along with me in a free daily meditation program. The challenge will make meditation a part of your daily routine, and may be the fastest way to reap the many physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefits of its practice. For both beginners and longtime practitioners of meditation, the challenge promises to deepen your experience, expose you to different types of meditation, and open you to a community of others who share your interest in meditation.
2. "The Meditator" -- a playful, guided daily meditation launches on my new YouTube Channel, The Chopra Well. Every day, "The Meditator" will enable you to join along for a short guided meditation situated somewhere in the world. The show is meant to be a primer, offering those who have never meditated before a very easy way into the practice, and those that already are experienced meditators a fun way to share meditation with their friends.
3. To commemorate the launch of The Chopra Well, I will be guiding a live meditation that you can join online by logging into The Chopra Well. Some of my family and good friends, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox, journalist Lisa Ling, author Paulo Coelho, cancer activist Fran Drescher, inspiring yoga extraordinaire Eddie Stern and social media expert Eric Handler will be joining me in the meditation. We will also be discussing our collective belief that if we are all more personally mindful, we can -- and must -- activate social transformation all around the planet.
So because today I will be putting so much personal emphasis on meditation, I thought I would also address the questions I most often get on the practice of meditation. I hope you will join me in all of the exciting activities listed above, and I promise if you do, you will start to experience transformation in your personal life, and together we will also start to transform our collective experience.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an expansion of self-awareness.
Why should someone meditate?
Meditation has several benefits, physical, and emotional, and spiritual. On the physical level, it is effective as an anti-stress process. It quiets the body, improves cardiovascular function, modulates the immune system and enhances self-repair mechanisms. There are thousands of studies that validate the physical benefits of meditation. Most recently there have been studies that show increased activities of the prefrontal cortex of the brain along with enhanced immune functions and increased levels of the enzyme telomeres which lengthen the telomeres at the end of chromosomes, suggesting increased longevity through the adjustment of our biological clock.
On the mental level, meditation enhances emotional wellbeing and is associated with a restfully alert mind.
On the spiritual level, by expanding self-awareness, meditation gives us access to the qualities of our consciousness such as insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, and freedom of choice. It also reveals to us the inseparability of everything in the universe and therefore shifts our identity to transpersonal to universal.
Are there different types of meditation?
Yes, there are several types of meditation:
- Transcending meditations, which usually involve the use of a mantra or sound. However transcendence can also be achieved through any of the five senses and there are techniques for all the five senses.
- Contemplative meditations that involve self-reflection and self-inquiry.
- Mindfulness meditations (also referred to as vipasana) that make practitioners aware of various aspects of their experience. These include awareness of the environment; awareness of the body, including internal organs; experience of mental space, including sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts; and awareness of relationships. Mindfulness brings insight spontaneously and therefore mindfulness meditation is also referred to as insight meditation.
- There are also meditations for enhancing specific aspects of emotional and physical wellbeing and for increasing the experience of love, abundance, joy, equanimity, compassion, and empathy.
- In addition, there are meditations that enhance mind-body coordination, use breathing techniques, and specific gestures and interoception. These procedures -- frequently known as mudras and bandhas -- give us the ability to influence our internal organs including heart rate variability and blood pressure.
How often should I meditate?
A daily practice is best, and should be included as part of a normal routine that includes slicing up our time in various areas of life: sleep time, exercise time, focused work time, relationship time, mindful eating time, play and creative time.
So there is a personal benefit to meditation, is there a social or communal benefit?
When a large number of people reach expanded awareness through collective meditation, there is improvement in the quality of society. Some studies have indicated the following:
- Decreased crime rate.
- Decreased recidivism in prisoners.
- Decreased hospital admissions.
- Increased economic and career wellbeing and productivity.
- Decreased absence in the workplace.
- Decreased incidence in alcoholism and other addictive behavior.
 "Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on recidivism among former inmates of Folsom prison: Survival analysis of 15-year follow-up data." Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 1987: 36, 181-203.
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