The Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation grow over time as a cumulative process, even when you are not meditating. More of the brain is being used while you meditate and this encourages additional utilization of the brain even when you are not mediating. For an introduction to meditation please read my post, What is Meditation? I recommend that you regularly visit this information as motivation to start or continue a meditation practice.  One of the services I offer is meditation guidance and coaching, in addition to custom-designed guided meditations.  Meditation is good for so many things, in addition to its use for increasing intuitive ability.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers the following list of benefits achieved through meditation, both physiological and psychological:

Physiological Benefits of Meditation

  • Deep rest-as measured by decreased metabolic rate, lower heart rate, and reduced work load of the heart
  • Lowered levels of cortisol and lactate-two chemicals associated with stress
  • Reduction of free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules that cause tissue damage
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Higher skin resistance. Low skin resistance is correlated with higher stress and anxiety levels
  • Drop in cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular disease
  • Improved flow of air to the lungs resulting in easier breathing. This has been very helpful to the asthma patient
  • Slows the aging process.

Psychological Benefits of Meditation 

  • Increased brain wave coherence—electric activity of the brain becomes more organized.  (There are several types of brain waves which correlate with different states of mind—beta, alpha, theta, delta.  Beta is the normal, everyday state of waking consciousness that the average person is in most of the time.  Alpha begins to happen when you close your eyes and begin to relax.  Theta is a deeper state beyond alpha that occurs just after waking from sleep and just before falling asleep, also called the hypnagogic state.  Theta is a deep state of relaxation that can be achieved in mediation, it is also the state from which many intuitive insights arise.  Delta is a deep state of consciousness that is reached in sleep.)
  • Greater creativity
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Decreased irritability and moodiness
  • Improved learning ability and memory
  • Increased self-actualization ( self-actualization is a psychological term referring to the goal of becoming more fully oneself and expressing one’s full potential)
  • Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation
  • Increased happiness
  • Increased emotional stability

 

Spiritual Benefits of Meditation (not derived from the NIH, but important)

  •  Meditation helps the practitioner see the bigger context of one’s life and to keep small things in perspective.  Emotional reactions are typically not as dramatically expressed, emotions are dealt with a greater sense of control.
  • Increased compassion for others.  An awareness of one’s emotional responses in the body as well as emotional reactions allows for a greater understanding of the emotional realm, which helps to create compassion for others. Compassion is also created from an expansion of the heart and heart chakra.
  • Deeper understanding of yourself and others and emotional clearing.  As mentioned, emotional clearing is common in many forms of meditation and is very beneficial energetically and ultimately, physically.  Emotions or stress that are held in the body tissues and not dealt with lead to disease.
  • Meditation creates a deeper relationship with God, however you choose to understand that.  It directly puts you in touch with ‘Source’ energy which plugs you in to the Universe.
  • Through mediation it is possible to attain enlightenment/self-realization
  • Meditation helps the practitioner to live in the present moment
  • Discovery of the power and consciousness beyond the ego (here the ego can be understood as the ‘individual I.’)
  • Experience a sense of “Oneness” and peace
  • Better intuition and enhanced psychic ability.  In the Hindu literature, the “side effects” of meditation are referred to as “siddhis.”  Some of these results include things like psychic ability, levitation, and bi-location.  They are not in general encouraged by the literature (as they can be viewed as attachments and obstacles to enlightenment) but it is known and demonstrated that meditation develops intuition.  This is the number one practice that I encourage my students in my Psychic Development Mentoring Program to have in order to develop their abilities.
  • Studies of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in Washington DC have demonstrated that a group of thousands of meditators acting together can actually lower crime rates. Meditation can affect the world around one in a positive way. (TM meditation is one of the most scientifically studied forms of meditation, it involves focusing on a mantra, which is a sound or series of syllables.)

Happy Meditating!  🙂

What is meditation?

Meditation can be broadly defined as the process of learning to concentrate your attention on a single point of focus.  There are many ways of doing this, it is a matter of finding a method that works for you and that you personally resonate with.  Many people have a misperception of meditation as an impossible exercise that requires you to completely clear your mind.  Beginners state that they cannot meditate because their mind is too full of thoughts.  In reality, a completely clear mind does not happen all the time, and it is easiest especially for the beginner, not to insist that this is the goal of your practice. In fact, many unconscious emotions, thoughts, and other psychological information can be dealt with (and cleared) in the process of meditation, and this is completely normal and beneficial. The benefits of mediation accumulate over time as a result of the process of meditation.  So the important thing to remember is to stay disciplined and to go back to the point of focus when your mind wanders.  Think of a thought as an item to put aside in a “basket” in your mind (or another image that works for you.)  You notice the thought, emotion, insight, etc and set it aside, returning to your original point of focus. With practice and time, this process becomes easier, and you will notice your ability to focus improves, in addition to many other benefits. Remember that the “goal” is not necessarily to have a blank mind, the goal is to sit down and meditate, to be with what is, and allow the process to work for you.

 

There are many types of meditations from different spiritual and religious traditions from around the world.  Meditation is especially significant in Buddhism and Hinduism, but there are contemplative traditions in the more mystical versions of Western religions also (Judaism, Christianity and Islam.) Techniques range from noticing and focusing on your breathing, to cultivating a sense of body awareness (for example, of bodily sensations), to focusing on a single external point such as a candle flame, or walking meditation, which focuses on movement.  Not all meditations are still, silent, or internally focused.  Meditations can also be “guided” which involves someone else taking the participant through a visualization for a specific purpose (such as clearing a personal issue, connecting with your guides, exploring past lives, balancing the chakras, or simply for stress relief and relaxation.) I do offer guided meditations that are custom designed to your needs and interests–you come to my office and go through the meditation as I guide you, in a peaceful and relaxing environment.  One of the services I love to offer, that gets you in touch with yourself, and I so enjoy being a facilitator for that! 🙂

 

One of the primary results gained from meditation is the ability to focus and concentrate, but depending on the tradition of the form of mediation practiced, meditation can be said to have different goals (even though many of them have similar effects.)  In the Eastern religious traditions that goal can be said to be enlightenment (or achieving a union with the Divine.)  Meditation however achieves many things and has an amazing list of benefits.  Your goals and reasons for mediating do not have to involve any spiritual or religious ideas or be focused on enlightenment, and you will still gain the benefits. I also coach my psychic development students in meditation, as it is the number one means of developing your ability.

 

Meditation and the Brain

Neuroplasticity means that the actual physical structure of the brain is malleable and is impacted by our experiences. This implies that directing our experiences, for example, in the form of emotional regulation, can actually change the structure of one’s brain.  Repeated patterns of behavior can create more long-term changes in the brain and develop and strengthen new pathways and connections of neurons. This is exciting as it illustrates that a human being is not merely destined to its biology, but is capable of impacting it to the extent that the human will can reach.  The brain is also constantly regenerating, so the good news is that we can change our brain structure at any age based on our experiences in the present moment.

Resilence and recovery from negative emotional events is associated with greater use of the pre-frontal cortex.  Effective emotional regulation in these situations is also associated with lower levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone in the body which can be toxic at higher levels.  Cortisol can also interfere with learning and memory.  Therefore, anxiety and stress can decrease our cognitive functioning in addition to its negative effect on the body.

The findings of neuroscience are applicable to the practice of meditation.  Meditation is capable of changing the structure of our brains, particularly because of its affect on the process of emotional regulation and its potential assistance in recovery from negative emotional states.  Studies of regular, long-term meditators have demonstrated the impact of meditation on their ability to become more emotionally balanced.  Meditation practices are also increasingly used as an adjunct to therapy and has been demonstrated to assist in recovery from trauma.  Meditation can strengthen areas of the brain that can help us to learn and cultivate different qualities—such as compassion, patience, and inner peace.  Through a regular meditation practice, certain qualities can build over time. Loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness and open presence meditation can help develop these qualities and many more.

Long-time meditators can become less impacted by stress (due to the relaxation response, and emotional regulation) and therefore have greater physical and mental health.  Because stress interferes with cognitive function, meditators can also become mentally sharp as a result of certain forms of meditation, such as focused awareness.  Studies have demonstrated that focused awareness increases the ability to concentrate.

It is useful to know that helpful qualities can be learned through experience, and that methods such as meditation that achieve these results can be taught.  Traits that we once considered to be a part of our personalities, perhaps at birth, are now understood to have the potential to be deliberately cultivated through a contemplative practice.  This has enormous implications for the fields of education, health care, and psychology.  Integration of contemplative practices in these fields would likely achieve excellent results for practitioners as well as students, patients, and clients. This is why I consider meditation the cornerstone of my work and I teach it to all of my Psychic Development students.

Meditation, Intimacy, and Isolation

Cultivating a meditation practice can create intimacy and connection or isolation if it is used in an unhealthy way. When we begin to awaken through meditation, it has an effect on all of our relationships, because we are beginning to change our own self-concepts. Realizing the ground of our being beyond the ego, typically we become more aware of the interconnected nature of humanity. We become aware that this ground of being supports all life, and this creates reverence for all of life in our hearts—beyond those that we love to those that we are more indifferent towards, towards other species, and potentially even those who have hurt us. This can bring a great capacity for love, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness to our lives. Relating to others with a greater sense of respect and recognizing their inner nature as divinity, we are better equipped to deal with relational challenges that stem from our differences.

Paradoxically, meditation can also help us to develop a degree of detachment in the form of spaciousness. Recognizing that there is an unchangeable, eternal nature to reality, we can be more likely to accept the nature of our emotions, thoughts, and sensations without becoming completely overwhelmed or unconsciously controlled by them. Typically a regular meditation practice helps to sustain emotional regulation and can lessen our tendency to dwell on negative emotions or thoughts. My experience is that meditation can create more room for joy, and reveals love at the base of all phenomena. Meditation has a way of taking us out of our heads and into our hearts. Mindfulness can help us to learn to sit with what is in a state of acceptance that can bring greater insight and understanding of ourselves as well as others. We may realize that any harm that we do to another, is harm done to ourselves, and vice-versa.

However, it is possible to use a meditation practice, or any spiritual thought or discipline, to serve our own ego’s fears. We may have a conscious or unconscious intent to escape our own shadow sides and that of others and may feel that meditation can help us do that. Or we may use our practice to glorify ourselves as “spiritual” beings on a higher plane than our fellow humans. In these examples meditation could be very isolating.

If we become very identified with transcendent awareness to the extent of losing touch with our ego and its contents we run the risk of disconnection with ourselves, our own lives, and with others. It is possible that our negative behaviors towards others and our deeply engrained ego patterns could become dominant if we give them less attention. Or we may use our practice to shirk away from a world that we are afraid of becoming too attached to because of its impermanence. We might not want to deal with our feelings, make difficult choices or changes, or become aware of our responsibilities towards all of life. In my experience, however, a regular practice can make it difficult to do this, as it makes one more aware in general rather than less aware of oneself as well as others.

Meditation as a spiritual practice has great potential to intimately connect us to the great web of life and to live a life of greater harmony in relationship to others. But it also brings many challenges that require us to honestly examine ourselves, our fears, our desires, and our behaviors. As long as we meet these challenges with mindfulness and compassion for ourselves, we are able to benefit through the strengthening as well as the transcendence of our egos.