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The Simple Truth to Modern Meditation

02/20/2015 11:10 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

Trend Spotting -- something new is bubbling up in the world of meditation.

It's not on the horizon -- it is, as they say, in the here and now. It is an informal collection of practices called Modern Meditation, and it is a modality that is quickly spreading as a part of the overlapping yogic and meditation tradition of North America. No, it is not replacing traditional meditation. It is weaving them into a contemporary tradition that is refined for the realities of the world we have created.

Every region of the world has adapted meditation to fit the needs of its people. It is usually done by those who cannot find what they need in the long-steeped traditions of traditional meditation. It is how Zen meditation arose in China during the 6th century, it is how Transcendental Meditation came into popularity in the 1960s, and it is how Modern Meditation is coming into practice today.

Modern Meditation has materialized from people seeking a more flexible and contemporary practice than traditional meditation can offer. Having experienced the sequencing of yoga assanas, having little time to sit in practice, and finding that the benefits of meditation can quickly fade in the busy 24/7 world of today, a diverse group of people have created shorter meditation modalities by layering traditional techniques together. The result is a highly individualized practice that meets the needs of those practicing it.

This can include 3x3 Meditation, Goldie Hawn's MindUP, The Simple Truth Method, and even The Path. The result is a series of contemporary practices that are refined to meet the challenges of the 21st century world we all live in. Not only are they attracting new participants, they are showing results. In the MindUP program, 78 percent of respondents said, "it made them happier," 82 percent said, "it gave them feel a more positive outlook."

A recent article released by Carnegie Mellon and published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that just 25 minutes for three consecutive days alleviates psychological stress.

It is important to note that Modern Meditation is not reinventing meditation. It is simply refining the way it is practiced to best fit today's world by realizing that in today's 24/7/365 digital world of micro-bursts, the 3,000-year-old practice of sitting, breathing, and letting go, is simply not always the most effective way to deliver meditation to the masses. Instead, by adapting and sequencing traditional meditation techniques to the realities of the modern world, today's teachers are reaching more practitioners in more varied ways.

Modern Meditation is a unique form of meditation that has quickly spread throughout North America. Embraced by studios and practitioners in the United States, Canada, and Europe, it differs from more traditional forms is three ways:

• Sequencing traditional techniques to create a single, unified practice
• Separation of techniques from non-secular rites normally associated with meditation practices
• Incorporation of science to quantify meditation practices

Traditional Techniques/Unified Practice
Modern meditation follows in the yogic tradition of creating a sequence of asanas to form a single practice. In the same way, modern meditation incorporates a series of meditation techniques to deliver a single practice to deliver a deeper experience. Often this includes combining such practices as Vipassanna, Samatha, and Pranayama as well as mindfulness meditation. There are a number of independent studios and organizations now teaching modern meditation as well as with conferences such as Wisdom 2.0 and even with such franchises as Unplug.

Non-Faith-Based Approach
I say non-faith-based approach rather than non-secular, because there is a level of spirituality involved in Modern Meditation. Traditionally, meditation is taught within the construct of religious or philosophical traditions and schools of thought. In modern meditation, the physical technique is practiced free from the dogma and rituals that are central to many traditional practices. Modern Meditation instructors and practitioners often remove the rites and layers that have complicated traditional styles, to deliver a simpler and more streamlined process that better fits today's lifestyle, whether from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist faith.

Western Science/Eastern Philosophy
Meditation has undergone scientific studies since the 1950s; however, the resulting outcomes of this research has been unreliable until very recently. It has also not been used to augment many traditional styles. It is only in recent years that modern science has begun researching the effect meditation has on the brain and body. In many ways, neuroscience is defining the scientific study of the nervous system, as well as the development of Modern Meditation.

There has been a dramatic increase in the past 10 or 20 years of studies on the impact of meditation upon one's health. These include the use of fMRI and EEG applications to prove meditation's ability to reduce stress, overcome bad habits, and transform the lives of its practitioners qualitatively and quantitatively.

For instance, brain scans have revealed that meditation can reduce everyday worries and can lower anxiety by 39 percent. Several studies by Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn showed that eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation produced significant increases in left-sided anterior brain activity, which is associated with positive emotional states.

Because of this, Western science now supports the use of traditional practices in a modern format, and has driven practitioners of Modern Meditation to combine Eastern philosophy with Western science to deliver a uniquely contemporary approach to meditation based on scientific research.

Organic Growth
While the concept of applying modern techniques to traditional meditation developed organically in both academia and yoga studios, the term Modern Meditation first actively appeared in 2010 in the book The Simple Truth: Meditation for the Modern World. It has since gained a following and continues to grow organically across the United States and Canada as a uniquely North American practice.

As reported on in CNN, Psychology Today, Harvard Review, The New York Times and The Daily News, its practices help to reduce stress and improve performance. Executives including Rupert Murdoch, Bill Ford, Oprah Winfrey, and Larry Brilliant have incorporated similar techniques into their work. Jon Kabat-Zinn that have made mindfulness-based programs increasingly important in the Western world.

An example of Modern Meditation in the workplace, can be found at the West Coast publishing company New World Library. Every morning employees gather for a voluntary 10 minutes of meditation. This meditation group was first proposed as a 21-day meditation experiment. Results were so positive that they decided to make it an ongoing part of every workday. "Our '10 at 10' mediation has become a wonderful part of our company culture," says Marc Allen, New World Library publisher. "Everyone involved says that starting their day in this way helps them focus, be more productive, and stay connected to their coworkers. It helps us become a stronger and more cohesive team."

From a psychological and physiological perspective, meditation may induce an altered state of consciousness or altered neuro-physiologic states, these altered states are not the goal of Modern Meditation. They are a wonderful byproduct.

In the end, it is as if the Buddha himself foresaw the rise of Modern Meditation when he said to always question teachers, to turn away from outdated traditions, and that everything changes. Yes, even though the Four Noble Truths are still noble, and the Eight Fold Path remains the right path to walk upon, perhaps today is the day to refine your own practice to better suit the contemporary world you live in.

References

Psychology Today -- Meditation for Modern Life Dr. Robert Puff Ph. D.

Buddhism in America, Revised and Expanded -- Columbia University Press; revised and expanded.

  • Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: The Direction Buddhism in North America
  • Carl Bielefeldt is professor of religious studies and co-director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University
  • Donald K. Swearer is the Charles & Harriet Cox McDowell Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College
  • Wendy Cadge is a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department at Princeton University
  • Jan Nattier is associate professor of Buddhism at Indiana University at Bloomington:
  • Charles S. Prebish is professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University: