The days when spiritual exploration of the eastern tradition required a visit to a guru at a remote ashram are long gone. Meditation has gone mainstream.
That couldn’t have been more clear based on the hundreds of local meditation advocates and practitioners who gathered for a national initiative last week to raise awareness about the health benefits of the practice and join a collective meditation live-streamed across the country.
Last Wednesday’s America Meditates, broadcast from Denver, brought together Americans in churches, schools and town halls in 120 cities. The event was led by meditation expert Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who guided the Delaware devotees at John Dickinson High School and around the country through a peaceful, 30-minute meditation.
Meditation now rivals yoga as one of the most popular types of complementary health practices in the U.S – so says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report generated last fall by the organization indicates that meditation among American adults increased more than threefold from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017.
That dramatic change and the growing acceptance of meditation was noted by many who attended last week’s nationwide exercise.
Hockessin resident Swany Yeleswaram has been practicing meditation for several years and recently became certified as a meditation teacher. He said that several large-scale crises and personal suffering could be aided effectively by meditation.
“We are facing an opioid crisis, large numbers of people who are depressed, and you have other health issues that are linked to stress, anxiety and mental health issues that can be aided by meditation,” he said.
Yeleswaram is also a member of the Art of Living Foundation, a volunteer-based educational organization founded 40 years ago, which organized the local Americas Meditates event. Their workshops aim to help participants reduce stress, raise their energy and provide a clear, positive state of mind.
They also hope the growing practice of meditation will help reduce violence across communities. “There are studies that indicate that when 1% of the community meditates, it actually benefits the entire community,” said Yeleswaram. “There are a lot of intangible benefits that come out of meditation, and that’s the reason we think meditation can be part of the solution.”
Kennett Square, PA, resident Madhuri Karode quit her job as an IT professional a few years ago to focus on teaching meditation full time and says acceptance for the practice has grown in recent years. “When I learned meditation 18 years ago, it was not popular. People would say to me, ‘Why are you meditating? What’s wrong with you?’”
Karode now teaches meditation to the general public, university students and prisoners in Delaware’s Department of Corrections. She leads stress management and resilience training classes for officers, staff and inmates at Delaware’s Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution and detention centers in Philadelphia. She said the meditation techniques in penal institutions are more like life skills that help inmates better handle stressful situations they face every day.
Benefits reported to Karode by the staff and officers from DOC include improved sleep, increased energy levels, increased calmness and relaxation as well as “increased awareness of the nature of their own mind, emotions and the discriminating faculty available to every individual,” she said.
“We also had an officer share that his mindset changed so much as he practiced the techniques regularly that he was able to also motivate himself to be disciplined about the food he ate and go to the gym regularly. As a result, he lost a lot of weight and was feeling really good physically and mentally,” said Karode.
Shipla Garg, MD, board-certified in family practice and palliative care, works at the Wilmington VA Medical Center and says the benefits of meditation are long lasting. “It is possible to improve memory and learning skills through meditation,” she said.
Garg also maintains that meditation decreases the aging process and chronic health conditions. Symptoms like lack of sleep, pain, anxiety, depression and symptoms of PTS can experience tangible improvement with meditation, she says. “Studies show that meditation decreases the level of inflammatory markers in our body. So that leads to a reduction in all of these chronic health conditions,” she said.
Those passionate about the benefits of meditation are aware of the skepticism many still have about the practice. But they say the gradually improved awareness of the health benefits and the fact that nowadays many will know at least one friend or relative who meditates will slowly help change perceptions.
“People have different ideas of what meditation might be,” said Garg. “Some people think that it is to be thoughtless, which is very difficult. In my opinion, learning the technique, which is very simple and effective, is very helpful in promoting the message that anyone can meditate.”