I enjoyed this light and well written book. The author, who wrote a prior bestseller, Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World, is clearly a long-term meditator with experience in Tibetan Buddhist traditions. That said, he doesn’t try to sell a particular belief system, but rather focuses on making the case for why meditation is a good thing before giving instruction on simple methods for how to meditate.
Michie claims that "…meditation is probably the best chance you’ve got to combat stress, cultivate happiness, enhance our performance, realize your goals, and attain master of your mental, emotional, and material destiny." Without bar charts, the book manages to lay out clear and simple evidence to support all of these. In short, meditation
- lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- boosts immune system
- decreases risk of heart disease and cancer
- increases the neuroplasticity of the brain
- slows down aging by increasing production of DEHA, a natural steroid that reduces with age but has many beneficial functions
- increases happiness and relaxation
- reduces the need for anti-depressants
Aside from the evidence on physical benefits, the chapter on psychological benefits of meditation quotes more mindfulness based experts than esoteric teachers. To that end, the Nuts and Bolts section suggests a Religious Option, rather than a mandate. Useful though are the discussions on the benefits of increasing gamma waves, which are higher in people that report more happiness. These findings are evidenced by EEG and MRI studies in monks and other subjects.
The how to section argues for simple breathing practices, gives a helpful meditation checklist and moves on to more awareness oriented practices before going deeper with more advanced breathings, body and walking meditation instructions. Thankfully the author does some explanation of visualizations, in and out of the context of religious imagery and goes a step further than some other books by introducing the ideas of analytical meditation.
In the chapter on Seven Ways to Turbocharge Your Meditation, Michie prescribes making it part of daily life, meditating on the spot and finding a group to practice with, for example. Quoting the Dalai Lama, "Inner progress comes step by step," the author gives some practical advice for measuring one’s progress. Of particular interest are the Nine Levels of Concentration, which are a good way to judge one’s state of mind no matter how long one has been meditating.
The book closes with some advice for using meditation to heal and a Troubleshooting QnA section, followed by a chapter called The Big Picture, which is a nice summary of the findings as well as a bit of a philosophical exposition, well placed at the end of the book.
Overall I recommend this book to any beginning meditator and found some useful information that I have found occasion to share with others.