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Human beings spend 47 per cent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing right now. This wandering mind is considered to be the cause of unhappiness. Meditation and mindfulness are often used in religious and spiritual practices to calm the mind and reduce stress. Could this be the secret to keep the doctors away?
By
Amy Chien-Yu Wang, Presented by
Audrey Bourget

9 May 2018 - 4:44 PM  UPDATED 9 May 2018 - 4:44 PM

The centuries-old Chinese slow-flowing exercise of Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in motion”.

Tai Chi instructor Chunmei Yang was introduced to the exercise nearly 30 years ago by her master who taught the practice right until the end of his life.

“He was 93-years-old and was still very flexible and healthy with clear mind. So, I had decided that I was going to live a very healthy life because my father had died from living a very unhealthy life, and I wanted to be healthy and fit right into my old age like Master Chen.”

A 2010 Harvard study shows that people’s minds wander 47 per cent of the time.

The Tai Chi philosophy of “Jing”, or quietness, can be the answer to calming busy minds.

“Tai Chi is really focused on being in the moment right now, right here, and that is one of the main aspect of meditation, and this kind of relaxed concentration is released through concentration on the breathing. So, in Tai Chi, breathing is organised in synchrony with movement, and, so, you have to attend to the breathing as well as the movement, so it brings the body and mind into a very relaxed alignment.”

Chunmai Yang teaches Tai Chi to students of all ages – several in their  nineties, and two being centenarians.

The moving meditation has research-backed health benefits for the mind and body.

It can prevent falls, improve arthritis and memory, and delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“It can reduce the stress, anxiety and depression, because it is calming and uplifting, and it improves posture, improves our balance, so when we have a good posture, the ‘chi’ (energy) can flow in our body, so it can prevent sickness and it also improves the muscular strength.”

Contemporary Buddhist artist Karma Phuntsok has been practising meditation for over thirty years.

His daily practice starts with a sitting meditation at five in the morning - involving Buddhist studies and chanting.

“Meditation involves like a mental yoga. It's a physical yoga and mental yoga, so, doing things with your mind, playing games with your mind, and slowly adjusting your mind to a different reality.”

Phuntsok’s meditation is based on Buddhist techniques passed down from the eighth century.  

“I got the teachings from His Holiness Dalai Lama, so there are specific ways of meditating, step by step way of meditating, but you have to hear the teachings, you have to then study the teachings, and then you meditate on those teachings.”

Phuntsok says he still isn’t immune to feelings of anger, jealousy or desire after many years of practice.

But he sees meditation as a way of training the mind to cope with difficult times such as living with an illness or preparing for death with less fear.   
 
“That’s a chance to prepare your mind for harder times. If you have studied those things and if you have meditated, so when you are in pain and so on, you can handle it much easier. If you haven’t prepared yourself, suddenly you’re in pain, and then it’ll be very difficult for you to meditate.”

Brayden Zeer manages Mindful Meditation Australia in Perth, an organisation that takes a scientific approach to meditation.

Zeer has practiced meditation for 15 years, with five of those years spent in a dedicated meditation community, where he explored different forms of meditation.  

“Meditation certainly has its roots in different religious philosophies. All of those religions and all of those practices kind of support the same thing, which is changing how we as humans relate to and deal with the different problems we are having in our lives, also give us tools like practicing gratitude or acceptance so that we can start to experience life in a little bit of a different way.”

Zeer describes mindfulness as a mental skill of attention - basically a shift from an automatic reactive process to a more conscious-directed thought process so that thought can be applied to gratitude or a problem we are experiencing.

“In our brains, it actually grows gray matter in something called the ‘prefrontal cortex’, which is the very front of your brain and that is the area where our personality lives, our values live, where our goals are. And meditation’s actually been proven to increase the density in that area of brain, which helps us self regulate. So, when we are getting stressed or anxious, it strengthens our ability to stop, make a decision and that decision might be to breathe or take some slow deep breathes or close our eyes for a moment and then carry on in a way that's more aligned to how we want to be in the world.”

You can start right now with a simple guided breathing exercise.

“Find a position that's relaxed and alert. We are going to call this your ‘mindful posture’, so this might mean your feet are both on the ground. You might rest your hands on your lap, and just get into a position that's relaxed and alert. It might mean you’re not slouching as much, but you don't want to be tense, just relax, and once you've arrived in your mindful posture, take some long and slow deep breathes in through your nose, almost all the way to the end. Exhaling until almost all the areas expelled. Continue to breathe like this…feeling how your body might shift or move in the chair a little bit. Arriving a little bit more. Take another long and slow deep breathe and when you exhale, let your breathing normalise, and in your own good time, and you can open your eyes and carry on.”