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Op-Ed: Why 2015 is the year meditation will make its mark

The benefits of mediation have long been extolled by those who apply it to their daily lives, but it’s only more recently that the rest of the world has begun to take note. From magnates like Steve Jobs attributing their enormous success to meditation to celebrities you wouldn’t expect to find doing the downward dog praising the virtues of this ancient practice (hi, Arnold Schwarzenegger), it’s been hard to ignore the shift in public perception over the past few years.

While previously dismissed by many as a “hippie” activity only suitable for new age enthusiasts, more and more public figures, businesses and organisations are jumping on the meditation bandwagon. Within many large corporations meditation — and in particular mindfulness therapy — is being implemented to reduce stress and enhance focus. By large corporations we’re talking large: AOL, Apple, the Huffington Post and Nike all have company mindfulness programs with great success, and Google has even created a Head of Mindfulness Training role.

With the recent news that several troubled San Francisco schools have been transformed by implementing meditation programs, it seems only likely that the prevalence of meditation will be even more apparent this year. So what exactly is it about mindfulness that has enticed so many? Are the benefits more physical or psychological? And just how far are these benefits actually proven?

Quiet time

Meditation has long been used to treat depression, stress and anxiety, but more recently it has been used to treat behavioural disorders with extremely effective results. The San Francisco Public School District has paired up with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education and initiated a 15 minute daily meditation programme for four of its schools. Considering the success seen by each school, it’s surely a given that this curriculum will be rolled out to many more schools in the near future.

Visitacion Valley School in San Francisco was the first school to implement “Quiet Time” and over four years saw suspensions drop by a staggering 79 percent. Attendance levels and academic performance also increased perceptibly. The nearby Burton High School (once dubbed “Fight School”) saw suspensions drop by 75 percent after adding a meditation class to their school day, and these similar results pave the way for more schools to follow suit. The effects of “Quiet Time” are so drastic that surely the idea of mandatory meditation in schools is not too far off.

In addition, a study of more than 3,500 participants experiencing either mild anxiety or depression found that meditation had an equivalent effect on mood as prescription medications. Just half an hour of mindfulness meditation each day has been shown to improve anxiety and depression, and researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that practicing meditation can also help to alleviate stress.

A digital respite

While meditation has certainly been embraced by society recently, the theory that it can cure disease may still be sniffed at by most, but in 2015 it seems some scientists are giving this theory faith. The most well-known example of this is seen in the fascinating case of Tibetan Lama Phakyab Rinpoche, who credited meditation for curing not only his TB but also the severe gangrene that had crippled him.

Other examples of the physical rewards of meditation are less drastic but still significant. Simply by reducing your stress levels, meditation can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on your health, as stress is strongly linked to many conditions including heart disease, skin disorders, arthritis, asthma and even cancer.

Aside from the recent case studies that have shown how meditation can be successfully used within schools and businesses, what else could be causing the shift in the public perception of meditation? Much can be put down to the hectic and digital-focused world that most of us now live in: we are working harder and longer than ever before; we are also sleeping and relaxing far less.

The majority of people check their phones at least once every seven minutes and so we are in a state of perpetual stimulation. Being constantly contactable in such a way significantly affects our ability to focus and unwind, and so it’s likely that this is a hugely important factor in why so many people are embracing meditation so warmly.

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