Having a daily meditation practice has always been a good idea. However the events of the last 18 months have highlighted just how crucial it is to be taking care of our minds and emotional balance on a daily basis.
The Benefits of Meditation
The scientific benefits of meditation are extensive and well-documented. And the reports of meditators are compelling. When you know what you’re doing, meditation works. Sleep and energy levels improve. Anxiety reduces. Stress levels go down. Immunity is strengthened. Digestion is more balanced. The ageing process slows. Mental clarity and focus sharpens. And the list goes on.
And there’s another benefit that’s often over-looked and yet in these rapidly changing times it’s more important than ever. It is the ability to remain calm in the face of change.
Everything is always changing
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that things can change quickly and often in ways that we didn’t see coming. The amount of change everyone has dealt with would have been unimaginable a year ago. But the truth is, change is always happening. It is the constant in life – relationships, careers, economies, governments, our very planet – always changing.
Your own body is a perfect example of this constant flux. The body replaces itself with a completely new set of cells every seven to ten years. Some cells change in just a few days. You’ll have a new stomach lining within five days. Skin cells rejuvenate every two to four weeks. Your bones take a bit longer, although they’ll be fully renewed within ten years. Your body today is very different to the body you had last year.
Everything and everyone is changing – at all times.
So the question is: Are you able to handle these demands? Are you able to navigate the twists and turns of life without being thrown off balance? In short, are you able to adapt whilst staying calm?
The importance of adaptability
In his book, Stress Without Distress, the Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye wrote: “Adaptability is probably the most distinctive characteristic of life.”
Known as the ‘father of stress research’, Hans Selye, was the first to use the term stress in terms of how humans respond to demands. He identified a three-stage response in the body to stress, which he called the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’. The first stage is the Alarm stage (fight-or-flight reaction), where there is an initial hyper-excitatory reaction to the demand. When you’re under prolonged stress you enter the second stage of Resistance – your body is no longer in alarm and begins to relax. While it might look like you’ve successfully adapted to the stressor, this is not the case. It’s simply that the effects of stress are continually sapping your strength, just as the light of the torch gets dimmer if you leave it on all the time. Then the third stage is the stage of Exhaustion, which Selye termed ‘a kind of premature ageing due to wear and tear…’. This is when adaptation energy is depleted, and the symptoms of alarm return.
Think of your adaptation capacity like a bank account – your Adaptation Energy balance. If your Adaptation Energy balance is in the black, with lots of zeros on the end, you’ve got plenty to draw down upon. When a change in expectation comes along, you’re able to meet it without being drained and thrown off course.
But if your Adaptation Energy bank balance is in overdraft, meeting a demand is going to be tough. You don’t have the energy to draw down upon to meet the change. You end up over or underreacting, and gaining stress. If you come under more stress while you’re in the stage of Resistance, your ability to adapt drops dramatically. Then the exhaustion stage sets in even more rapidly.
When you’re tired and stressed your ability to adapt to the demands of life goes down. Without adequate rest and recovery mechanisms, the body’s capacity to adapt is finite.
However change does not necessarily equal stress. For one person a new situation may be experienced as stress, for another it may be seen as a challenge. When we cannot meet a challenge and adapt to it, our system gets overwhelmed and that is when we get stressed.
This is where meditation is key
Every time you meditate it’s as if you’re topping up your Adaptation Energy balance. Because the deep rest of Vedic Meditation gives you energy. This provides a buffer zone between you and the demands you’re facing. It gives you the ability to be on the front foot and stay calm and responsive in the face of change. It gives you the space to see the broadest possible view of what’s going on.
This combination of stability and adaptability is essential for balance and success in life. The more we can adapt to demands while maintaining our equanimity, the more we align ourselves with the direction nature is going. And then we exponentially increase our capacity to catch the subtle cues that nature is offering. Fear subsides and a more frictionless flow begins to emerge.
The practice of meditation is crucial to this process. With every meditation, your ability to adapt increases. You let go of the excitation chemistry of stress and as a result you’re calmer and more stable. Rather than getting caught in speculation about the future, you stay grounded in what’s going on now.
Jillian Lavender is the co-founder of the London Meditation Centre and the New York Meditation Center, where she teaches meditation full-time. Jillian has combined her passions: experience from teaching thousands of people, real life stories, and the science and benefits of meditation into her new book, Why Meditate? Because it Works, available here.