The benefits of meditation range from the simple and obvious (greater physical relaxation) to the subtle and less known (inner stillness), but they all support your greater goals—increased energy and improved health. Here are the principal benefits of meditation.
Mental and physical relaxation.
At its most basic, meditation is a mental exercise that helps you achieve deep relaxation of mind and body. It begins with deep breathing and purposeful physical relaxation, one body part at a time. This progressive relaxation leads to slower, deeper breathing, which in turn, promotes further mental and physical relaxation. Finally, as your mind becomes even more relaxed, the chatter of your monkey mind subsides, which leads to a deep healing state. Meditation helps you circumvent the “fight-or-flight” response, a set of involuntary bodily reactions that include increased adrenaline production, heart rate, and blood pressure. Originating from the same “old” part of the brain as the unconscious mind’s survival instinct, these physiological reactions developed to prepare our prehistoric ancestors to “fight” a threat to their existence or to take “flight” and run away from it. Psychological researchers have discovered that stress and other negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and anxiety, produce the same physiological, neurological, and endocrinological changes in your body that the fight-or-flight response does. Furthermore, when you endure stress for long periods, or when you live in a constant state of fear, anger or anxiety, you experience a sustained fight-or-flight reaction, which is not good for you. The fight-or-flight response was hardwired into our brain for short-term use only. frequent or extended adrenaline dumps and increased heart rate and blood pressure can lead to serious health problems. Biofeedback studies have demonstrated that meditation produces physiological changes that are the opposite of the fight-or-flight reaction, including reduced heart rate and blood pressure and regulated production of adrenaline. These physiological changes are also associated with mental and physical relaxation.
Sharpened mental acuity.
Since meditation involves prolonged attention of the mind on a particular point, most people find that it sharpens their mental faculties in general, and even enables them to sustain their attention when performing everyday tasks. After meditating for a while, for instance, you may find you can read for longer periods while retaining more of what you read. Or, you may find an increased facility with numbers. It’s not that meditation makes you smarter or more intelligent. It’s just that you’ll be more relaxed, patient, and able to use more of your mind.
Regular meditation gives you perspective on yourself, your habits, and behaviors. You come to see yourself from the outside; you acquire objectivity and conscious-unconscious dissociation. This detachment from your thoughts, impressions, and emotions diminishes their power over you and increases your power over them. You starve them of attention and energy and gain a firm sense of control over your unconscious mind. Zen Buddhism views the mind as a turbulent pool of water. If you swish your hand in a pool, for example, you stir up the mud at the bottom and make it more difficult to see. But if you sit quietly and observe, the mud will settle; you can see clearly. Similarly, if you act aggressively and try to use your will power to change unwanted thoughts, reactions, and behaviors, or suppress negative emotions and thoughts, all you do is “muddy the pool” of your mind. You can’t change an unconscious thought or clear a negative emotion with a conscious, forceful effort. Your unconscious mind will fight you, clamp down further on those negative emotions, or bury limiting beliefs even deeper in your body. Optimal insight and change are best achieved through calm objectivity.
As you meditate, you learn to keep your attention on each discrete moment as it presents itself to you. You note each breath, thought, and external impression that registers upon your senses objectively and without judgment. You notice and let go of frustration or anger. You gently bring your attention back to your breathing or some other point of focus and remain aware. This is the essence of mindfulness: moment-to-moment awareness that allows you to have true reflection, not only on the inner workings of your thoughts, but also your daily existence. Most of us lead lives that are too hurried and filled with non-essential chores. We have lengthy, personal to-do lists that we make without full consideration of their true value to us. We lead a life without adequate reflection, a life of high stress, little peace and frequently, numerous mental and physical ailments. When you incorporate mindfulness into meditation and daily life, however, you see how many of these activities are actually mindless and unimportant. Mindfulness enables you to see and choose meaningful actions and activities, and then to appreciate better the actions and activities you do choose. By making time for meditation, you make more time for real life in your daily life.
Stillness is an inner state brought about by becoming aware of the space between your thoughts, and focusing on this gap between your impressions. Just as retention, the pause between inhalation and exhalation, is the secret to a powerful pranic breath, the stillness or gap between thoughts is the key to meditation’s physical, mental, and energetic health benefits. As you progress in meditation, your goal is to stretch out that gap, that stillness and then maintain your awareness on that. The reason is simple: When there is chaos in the mind—through constant chatter and the presence of negative emotions, fears and anxieties—true mental and physical health are not possible. Nor are higher goals such as self-realization. But stillness makes these goals attainable. Zen masters used to pose this query to their students: Which is more important, the vase or the space the vase surrounds into which we place the flowers? The answer is that both are equally important. You can’t pour water or place flowers into a solid object. And space needs form around it to be useful. In the same way that aspiring Zen priests were taught to appreciate the space between solid objects, meditation teaches you to be aware of the silence, the stillness, between thoughts.
More overall energy, improved health.
Meditation helps free you from the negative emotions and limiting beliefs that are the root of many physical ailments. The ability to maintain a state of stillness, even for a brief period of time, produces powerful energetic and health changes. The most notable of these occurs when, during Meditation on Twin Hearts, prolonged stillness enables you to draw in through your crown chakra a great quantity of prana. This is healing prana of the highest quality.
General Meditation Tips
1. Meditate at the same time every day, whether in the morning, at lunch or in the evening. Developing a routine helps your practice produce consistent results.
2. Meditate in the same room or corner of a room. This helps you maintain your routine; it also energizes and sensitizes that room or area, thus making it more conducive to the production of clean prana.
3. Keep your primary meditation area physically and energetically clean. As you meditate more, you become more receptive and sensitive to subtle energy, which means you can more easily become contaminated by an energetically dirty environment. Thus, you should practice good energetic hygiene in your meditation area—for example, burn incense, play the OM CD, or other techniques.
4. Refrain from eating a heavy meal before meditating. Physiologically and energetically, your body is focused on digesting food, and this may cause you to get sleepy.
5. Do not meditate out in the sun for prolonged amount of time. The solar prana is too intense.
6. Do not meditate in a state of strong negative emotion, such as anger or fear. Use self-awareness or another clearing technique to diminish the negative emotion before meditating.
7. Refrain from drinking cold beverages for one hour before and one hour after meditating. Meditation generates prana, which is warm. Cold drinks create sudden changes in the body’s temperature and shock the energy channels.
8. Do not take a shower for two hours after meditating. Water washes away the good prana you generate during meditation.
9. Perform some type of physical exercise for five minutes before and five minutes after you meditate, preferably cleansing physical exercises.
10. Don’t fight distractions, noises, or other sensory impressions that may interrupt your meditation. More important, don’t allow such disturbances to make you angry. If the dog barks, or a car horn honks, note it without reacting, and bring your mind back to the focus of your meditation. Don’t give in to the distraction. Don’t give it attention and energy.
You can blend distractions into your meditation this way:
- Acknowledge the disturbance objectively and without judgment.
- Say something to yourself such as, “Outside noises and sounds only make my meditation deeper and my concentration more focused.”
- Gently turn your attention back to the focus of your meditation and continue.