In today’s modern scientific age, one of India’s great contributions to global civilization is coming to the forefront – the practice of dhyan and mansi puja, or meditation. In fact, recent research has revealed that teaching children meditation and encouraging its daily practice provides them with the mental stability to cope with the rigours of today’s fast-paced lifestyle...
Modern life has provided a wide variety of amenities that make life more comfortable. At the same time, the widespread use of technology has impacted children in unforeseen ways. The effects are compounded by academic and peer pressure, resulting in rising numbers of children suffering from anxiety, stress and depression.
Thus, just as the physical development of children is considered important, their appropriate mental development is also essential. For, without mental fortitude, children will succumb to external pressures.
WHAT TO DO
By teaching meditation practices from a young age, the minds of children can be developed. Meditation is exercise for the brain, and can promote development of positive traits, like concentration, decision-making, compassion and others, and reduce negative traits like anxiety, stress, fear, etc.
Children of all ages can benefit from meditation. Many forms of meditation are practiced, of which mansi puja or visualization is an effective type.
By adopting a habit of meditation from an early age, it guides their behaviour and response to life situations as they grow older.
One reason why meditation is effective in children is due to the way the brain develops. In particular, the neuronal connections in the prefrontal cortex develop fastest during childhood. Meditation influences the skills controlled by the prefrontal cortex and helps children to develop self-control, judgement and patience.
In modern society, the challenges facing children are amplified by social media, increasing violence and other factors. Thus, serious mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are affecting millions of children worldwide. Hence, it is the responsibility of parents, educators and society as a whole to equip children with the appropriate tools to remain mentally and physically healthy.
Schools which have begun to incorporate meditation in their schedule report many benefits: better behaviour by children, rise in attendance, improved academic performance, more focus, less stress and depression, and improved psychological well-being. Some schools in America have introduced ‘mindfulness meditation’ and over a period of three years, over 150,000 pupils have experienced its benefits.
Meditation also helps to strengthen the children’s rapport with their parents, improves self-control, builds self-esteem, reduces exam tension and makes them more emotionally mature and robust.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
The best way for parents to teach meditation is to do it themselves with their children.
Due to the naturally fidgety nature of kids, it may be prudent to begin with short sessions of a few minutes and gradually increase the duration as children become more accustomed to the technique.
VISUALIZATION MEDITATION (MANSI PUJA)
Children have creative imaginations and by guiding them, such innate skills can be enhanced. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has outlined a framework for mansi puja (visualization meditation) in Vachanamrut Gadhada III 23. After familiarizing children with this concept and method, let their imagination take control and they will certainly enjoy and revel in their personal connection with God and guru.
Meditation accompanied by mantra chanting and pranayam (breathing control) is also of tremendous benefit.
BRAIN CHANGES DUE TO MEDITATION
During most conscious activities, beta waves (13–30 Hz) are produced in the brain, whereas complex activities such as memory storage and intense concentration generate gamma waves (30–90 Hz).
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, USA, recorded the electroencephalograms (EEGs) of ten Buddhist monks with extensive meditation experience and of a control group of eight college students with only basic meditation training. During meditation, the monks produced extremely high amplitude gamma waves throughout the brain for long periods, while the students’ gamma waves were of much weaker strength and shorter duration.
Research by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, found that by engaging in 20 minutes of meditation daily the benefits can be experienced.
Interestingly, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has advocated daily five-time mansi puja. So, five, five-minute meditation sessions daily will provide immense benefit.
The question then arises that how does the experience of such meditative practices result in benefits during normal daily life.
A study by scientists from the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, concluded that “repeated engagement of relevant brain networks over time induces neuroplasticity changes that mediate positive cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes… [there is] growing evidence that the amount of time an individual spends practicing meditation is associated with activity and connectivity changes in the brain, particularly in attentional areas.”
A recent internationally reported incident demonstrated the life-saving role meditation can play. In June 2018, a group of 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their soccer coach were trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days in the Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.
When found, after nine days trapped amid flood waters deep inside a cave complex with no light and very limited food, the boys seemed to be as healthy as could be expected, in remarkably good spirits, and surprisingly calm.
The reason for their upbeat and calm demeanour: they apparently spent much of their time meditating under the direction of Ekapol Chanthawong, the 25-year-old assistant coach of their team, named the Wild Boars, who was with them. In fact, they were sitting in meditation when a British diver’s team first found them after nine days.
Chanthawong taught meditation and other methods for conserving energy to the boys, which probably helped to keep them alive. The oxygen supply where they were trapped was reportedly down to 15 percent, compared with a normal level of 21 percent. Without meditation, which helps to slow respiration and reduces oxygen intake, oxygen levels would be even lower and the boys might not have survived. Especially, if, without the calming influence of their coach, some of the boys had become agitated and begun breathing rapidly.
So, although modern science has only relatively recently begun to advocate the practice of meditation, Sanatan Dharma and other Eastern traditions have promoted meditation for many millennia.
Realizing its essential role in human life, Bhagwan Swaminarayan actively promoted meditation in the form of dhyan and mansi puja. To facilitate such meditative practices in our daily lives he has insisted on all devotees to perform nitya puja (personal daily puja) and also five-time mansi puja. Thus, by engaging in such meditation everyone can reap its wide-ranging benefits.