With life in Arabia more demanding than ever, meditation might be the key to warding off depression.
Life in modern-day society is overwhelming, whether you are on the go in Dubai or part of the competitive landscape of Riyadh. From the moment you wake up, the balancing act between family, work and finding a moment for yourself begins. On social media, too many appear to strive to keep up with the Joneses, let alone the Kardashians. According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people globally suffer from depression. Of this figure, nearly 50% also endure anxiety disorders. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that those suffering the most are between 18 and 25 years old, with the median age being 32.5.
“Distraction has become the go-to coping mechanism for people trying to deal with stress, creating deeply rooted negative patterns of managing problems,” says Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi, a hypnotherapist, holistic wellness consultant, and founder of Illuminations Wellbeing Center in Dubai. “In spite of consumerism reaching its peak and material aspirations having been achieved, many people are discontent and unhappy,” she adds. “Not dealing with stress leads to it seeping into all areas of our lives, causing us to question every choice we’ve ever made and not being able to pinpoint the cause of our pain.”
Enter meditation. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in the US reported that in 2012, 4.1% of adults regularly medidated. This figure increased to 14.2% in 2017, suggesting that people, including celebrities like Rami Malek, Madonna, Bella Hadid, and Hugh Jackman, are recognizing stress as a gateway to depression and are looking to resolve it with an approach not typical to conventional medical care. Hadid has a meditation playlist to help her sleep, while health and fitness expert Jay Cardiello recently suggested to Malek that he use the first eight minutes of the morning to “create a personal incantation and give gratitude.” “Every time Malek came to a workout, I could tell if he was winning the day because of the mind frame that he set,” Cardiello says.
“Meditation is the act of being aware, with gentle alertness of your breath, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations,” explains Madeeha Afridi, a counseling psychologist at The Lighthouse Center for Wellbeing in Dubai. Meditation can also include mindfulness, where you observe your thoughts and emotions but let them pass; transcendental meditation, where you chant a personal mantra for 20 minutes, twice a day; guided meditation; and breathwork. “Meditation allows us to expand our awareness inwards so that we can explore the power and influence of our mind and body and the energies that flow through us,” says Kiran Punjabi.
Meditation, as well as yoga, look to restoring and maintaining the equilibrium of the mind and body, yet there are differences. “Meditation is unique in its benefits in the way that regular practice can alter the regions of the brain that directly impact how positively we think, feel, and make healthy and supportive choices in all areas of our life,” says Afridi. This is attained by slowing down and controlling your breathing. Be aware of a calm consciousness of your breath, emotions, and bodily sensations. Only then can you achieve stillness of the mind.
Over the past 40 years, some 340 independent scientific studies have supported these findings. A recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences journal showed that undertaking integrative body-mind training helped control anxiety and lessened the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Reducing stress and anxiety levels are just a two of the benefits of meditation. Afridi also lists improved anger management, enhanced memory, concentration, focus, and decision-making abilities, emotional regulation and flexibility, higher creativity, weight and pain management, and improvement in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorders as some concerns that can be improved with regular meditation. Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, which teaches transcendental meditation to thousands of people each year, notes the effects it has on the brain and how they last even after we stop meditating. “During transcendental meditation, the brain connects together,” Roth explains. “Because of neuroplasticity, those connections we have in meditation last in daily life.”
Even when understanding the benefits, many multitasking women find it difficult to practice meditation. Some feel guilty even allotting 10 minutes to themselves; others find clearing their minds next to impossible. “If you find it hard or boring to remain still, don’t worry,” suggests Kiran Punjabi. “Simply start with two minutes a day, focusing either on your breathing, a particular sensation in your body, or an object outside of you.”
Meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace can help introduce and train beginners to the skill. The Calm app suggests “connecting your meditation practice with something you do every day,” which will make it easier to build a sustainable and consistent practice. For example, meditate after breakfast, or showering, or on your lunch break.” Afridi agrees that these digital resources can support with learning and sustaining a regular meditation practice, “especially in the early stages of developing the habit.”
“Anyone can meditate,” says Afridi. “The youngest client I taught was two years old.” Starting at a young age can help people find a deeper connection with the world around them and those who develop the skill of meditation can move on to other forms of the practice, such as walking, eating, and even sleeping mediation. As with every skill, everyone’s abilities are different. Afridi warns that it’s important to drop the idea that we have to “attain a level where meditation becomes art” – especially for those who have perfectionist tendencies. “The fewer rules we set around meditation, the more inclined we will be in wanting to meditate, feeling the myriad of benefits the practice gives us.”
5 STEPS TO LIBERATE YOUR MIND
1- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably
2- Close your eyes – use an eye mask if necessary
3- Breathe naturally. Do not control your breath
4- Focus attention on your breath and how your body moves with every inhale and exhale
5- Maintain for two to three minutes
6- With time, try to maintain the practice for longer periods