Stress levels among women have been rising steadily for the past five years, outpacing men's, says the American Psychological Association's 2010 survey. Fifty percent of the women surveyed say they lose sleep at night because of stress, and report that fatigue interferes with their willpower to exercise, choose better eating habits or make healthy lifestyle changes.
Other surveys have found that nearly twice as many women than men are affected by depression and anxiety. It's no wonder that closing the eyes and diving within -- to a place where stress and fatigue melt away -- has gained such widespread appeal among women.
The women's meditation classes that I teach have shown me that more and more women are placing tremendous value on quiet time. As a typical class begins, women turn off their cell phones and chat with one another while finding their seats.
"Barely got out of the office," says an attorney, stretching her legs.
"Sorry I'm late, had to drop off the kids," shares a mother of four.
Meditation begins and the air quickly changes. A palpable silence fills the room as the group settles inward, their world of cares gently receding.
After just a few class sessions, they can meditate easily on their own at home, during a break at work -- anywhere. Although these women have jam-packed schedules, twice-daily meditation has become an essential part of their routine.
Why They Come
Women attending my weekly introductory talks on the Transcendental Meditation technique are of all ages and backgrounds. Most are indeed seeking relief from daily stress, but they also come for help with depression and chronic anxiety. Some are struggling with addiction. Others were sent by their doctor because of hypertension. Many seek to connect with a deeper part of their being -- something sublime within them that they intuitively know exists, if they could just find a way to access it.
The beauty of meditation is that it serves all of these women.
During meditation, the mind can transcend its busy, agitated state and experience inner silence; the body relaxes and deep-rooted stresses dissolve. The transcending process takes one's attention to the mind's deepest level, one's inner source of energy and intelligence. As a result, all outer aspects of our life are enriched. It's like when you water the roots of a flower: the petals, the stem and the leaves all get nourished from within.
Another way of understanding it is by way of brain function. Research in neuroscience has found that during TM practice, your brain becomes more coherent and integrated -- all the different parts of the brain work together better as a whole. Your brain regulates all other bodily systems, say neuroscientists. More efficient brain functioning naturally results in a healthier mind and body, better able to cope with and overcome stress.
The Ultimate Me Time -- And It's Totally Unselfish
I find that women these days do not have to be convinced that they need more rest and rejuvenation. But many do need assurance that it's okay to take the time.
The flight attendant tells us, "Put your own oxygen mask on first and then assist your child." For the same reasons, as women we need to take time to meditate and nourish ourselves from within, so we'll have the wherewithal to care for and give to others.
We all know that meditation is a powerful stress-buster, and that when we're less stressed we're more emotionally available. But more important, research shows that effective meditation can beneficially impact high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, the three main risk factors for heart disease. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health found, astonishingly, that people practicing the TM technique had 50% fewer incidents of heart attack and stroke, compared to controls. Because heart disease is the number one cause of death among women, here's another obvious case of how meditation can help ensure you'll be there for others.
Activating Your "Inner GPS"
Many of our decisions are based on feeling or intuition. Yet stress and fatigue can cloud our mind and block our ability to access our finer feelings and make right decisions. Meditation can allow us to awaken more subtle, powerful levels of the mind -- the place deep inside us where truth dwells. Even new meditators report that their insight improves and they begin to see more of the bigger picture. It's as if we're activating a trusty, built-in navigation system.
Back to my meditation class: The time passes without much awareness of body or environment, so absorbed are these women in their inner being. I ask the group to slowly open their eyes and the room begins to stir.
Emerging from meditation refreshed and recharged, they tend to linger a little while in the peaceful silence. Someone says, "Whew, I needed that."
They're off to their pick up their kids or stop at the grocery store or get back to the office. Their responsibilities are the same, but they all say something is different in their life since learning meditation.
"I feel less anxious."
"I can see what's really important."
"People don't get on my nerves."
"I find myself cooking something new -- I feel creative again."
Deep within all of us is a secret place of solace and rebirth, and, with a little guidance and an effective technique, any woman can tap effortlessly into that and gain the strength, energy and wisdom to be who she wants to be.
Video: Women and Meditation
1.Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 302-318, 1999; International Journal of Neuroscience 14: 147-151, 1981; Cognitive Processing, 11:1, 2010
2.Archives of Internal Medicine 166: 1218-1224, 2006; Circulation 120: S461, 2009