Before we get into the ways some of the principles of Buddhism might enhance your health and happiness, we’ll make this disclaimer: We’re not out to change your religious beliefs or promote any particular religion. We’re more talking about how practices such as mindfulness and meditation can co-exist with whatever your spiritual preferences are.
We’re also not intending to make light of Buddhism. Buddhism is the world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists. This religion, dating back to the 5th Century BC, encompasses so much more than what is commonly known or what we’ll cover here.
Often these days, traditional medicine – even among the highly respected experts at places such as Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic -- is incorporating mindfulness and meditation into overall treatment plans and health programs. These are often used in cases of chronic pain and generally recommended for relieving the stress that usually comes with a health problem. Meditation helps create more space in the mind to distance from negative thoughts and feelings. This allows us to see things more clearly and increase our compassion and wisdom.
Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, didn’t create the meditation practice so often associated with Buddhism, but adopted it and, through his life, invented a set of practices centered on the goal of transformation. According to Daniel Scharpenburg, a long-time teacher of Buddhism, “Our goal in Buddhist meditation is to create, spread and experience less suffering and ignorance.”
A baby boomer named Toni Bernard has written several books on the subject. While in the midst of her career as a law professor at University of California-Davis, and serving six years as the law school’s dean of students, she was diagnosed with a condition that made her switch paths. Already a practicing Buddhist, she used those principles to navigate through her new reality. Her first book, How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, won two Nautilus Book Awards in 2011.
In 2013, her second book was published: How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow, and her third book is How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. You also might be interested in the blog she writes for psychologytoday.com – her most recent is titled “How to Use Mindfulness to Lose Weight.”
To read more about how meditation works as medicine, click here.
If you've never meditated but are curious about it, there are endless resources online and apps you can download that will guide you. While breath meditation is the most well-known form of Buddhist meditation, it’s not the only one. So do your research and decide if it's for you!