Pencil in some time to breathe in deeply–it may very well be the most productive moment of your day.
At six o’clock every Thursday evening, about 20 people visit Tom Davidson-Marx’s Manoa living room, settling into chairs, couches and floor cushions. Th ey then proceed to—what surely looks like it from the outside—just sit there for the next hour and a half.
But, Davidson-Marx insists, there is much more going on than what appears on the surface. They’re not just sitting there; they’re meditating.
It is a relatively simple practice: It involves, mostly, sitting, breathing and thinking.
“Basically, you are left alone with your mind for about an hour or so, and in that time, you start to see how your mind works,” says Davidson-Marx, who decided to start his home-based group, Aloha Sangha (alohasangha.com), after studying meditation for three years at a Sri Lankan monastery. “You start to see yourself underneath the veneer that you paint yourself to be.”
Davidson-Marx says that meditation has all sorts of positive impacts in his life, and he certainly isn’t alone in these claims. An ancient practice, meditation has entered the mainstream, becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Its benefits have been extolled by everyone from celebrities to CEOs. A survey by National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that 18 million adults practiced meditation in 2015. A lucrative industry has sprouted up around the practice; according to an IBISWorld study, the industry brought in $1 billion in 2015.
The practice may just be gaining ground now, but it has been around for thousands of years. Psychology Today traces its origins back as far as 5,000 BCE, evidenced in cave drawings. Over the years, meditative principles have been incorporated into various religions, including, most prominently, Buddhism. By the early 20th century, the practice made its way West, and by the 1960s, it saw the first wave of its current popularity.
Various studies have found a myriad of benefits associated with meditation. It’s been linked with reducing pain, increasing focus, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing creativity and more.
Those who practice meditation claim that its benefits are a catchall.
For Margy Hamai of Bodhi Tree Dharma Center (bodhitreehawaii.com), which offers a range of meditation classes, the practice helped her solve a work problem simply by encouraging her to clear her mind and approach it from a new angle.
“You’re able to find more different, creative solutions because you are not stuck in one mindset,” Hamai says. “If your mind is more relaxed and more open, then more different thoughts come up, various different solutions come up, and you can handle things in a different way.”
At Bodhi Tree, Hamai says that her students come to the center for all sorts of reasons—including many that use meditation as a way to get through the harder times in life, like death, divorce or other periods of transition. “Mediation helps you to let go of things that are troubling you,” she says.
For Davidson-Marx, meditation pulled him out of something of an existential crisis. He discovered meditation nearly 40 years ago, shortly after graduating college. He had all the trappings of what a college grad should want—he landed a good job and was about to go on to law school—yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
But when he started meditating, he realized this dissatisfaction was coming from negative thoughts of his own, and meditation helped him push those unwanted thoughts aside.
“I was left with something else,” he recalls. “It’s hard to describe, but just a sense of happiness and peace.”
The recent surge in the popularity of mindfulness and meditation, practitioners speculate, has to do with the chaotic pace of modern life.
Raised in Nepal and India by Tibetan parents, Lobsang Dhonyoz grew up meditating every morning from the time he was just 6 years old. Now the owner of Ocean Queen Himalayan Handcraft Tibetan Shop, Dhonyoz moved first to New York City when he came to the United States.
He remembers being shocked at the go-go-go haste of it all. He muses that that is why meditation is becoming so popular throughout the rest of the world—that people have too much stress in their lives.
Meditation, he says, helps people control their minds and regain their focus. Dhonyoz recently held a moonlight meditation workshop at Th e Kahala Hotel as part of their spa program.
Hamai makes a similar postulation. “People are under a tremendous amount of stress,” Hamai says. “Work is much more demanding, everything is so speeded up, and people just have so many directions they have to go in one day. “I think that is why meditation has become so important—we’re just going too fast.”
Davidson-Marx echoes the sentiment. “What I found is that people like to come [to my class] because it gives them a break,” he says. “I like to call it taking your brain to a spa because it kind of refreshes your brain to take a rest.”
But given all that busy-ness of day-to-day life, how are people supposed to find the time to meditate?
Dhonyoz says that it doesn’t have to be too lengthy. Even just a few minutes are helpful. “People think that you have to sit for two or three hours—we don’t have to do those big, big things,” he says. “When you look at the ocean, close your eyes, listen … We have so many things on our mind—shut down for a couple minutes, just shut down. Keeping your mind shut for one minute or two minutes just makes you so relaxed.”