Meditation has the potential to provide profound benefits in all areas of life. This article has a limited scope of talking only about its health benefits. By doing this it is by no means undermining other benefits of meditation.
There have been many experimental studies demonstrating the health benefits of meditation, especially related to lower blood pressure, heart rate and other similar measurements. Many people have personally enjoyed improved health and many others just believe in it. Here I explain this somewhat scientifically.
My goal is that after reading this article, rather than wondering –
‘Does meditation really provide the vastly claimed health benefits!’,
you should be saying with conviction –
‘Obviously meditation would provide health benefits. How can it be anything else!’
First I talk of couple of concepts and then put them together.
1. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book Psycho Cybernetics writes “Mind can’t really distinguish between actual experiences and a synthetic visualized experience.” He further explains that brain consists of a conscious and a subconscious part. The subconscious mind obeys and performs like a machine, whatever the conscious mind tells it to perform. Further, the way to communicate to subconscious mind is by feelings and imagination. For example, if we tell our subconscious that we are under danger, it will not act on it, but if we feel the danger, the subconscious will automatically start working to avoid the danger. It does it in the best possible way known to it. The part of this sentence ‘the best possible way known to it’ is very significant, as we will see a little later. The conscious mind, using our senses, receives all the inputs from external world, does analysis and makes conclusions. These conclusions turn into feelings and trigger the subconscious appropriately.
2. We human beings have survived and evolved over hundreds of thousand years of life full of danger and hardships. One of the things that have been responsible for it is our ability to fight dangers. This is done using fight or flight response. This has been the key to survival all along. If ancient man saw tiger in front, he had only two choices, either to fight it or run away. No doubt, our body, when under stress, undergoes numerous changes and becomes prepared for both – fight or flight. This is an established fact in medical community with enormous published material.
3. Another integral part of the functioning of subconscious is to prepare the body for long term survival by making it immune to diseases and environment. Subconscious is quite good at prioritizing its goals. So it is constantly striving to make the body more strong. However, when danger (stress) sets in, it has a choice to make. Continue to prepare the body for long term survival or take care of immediate danger first. Unfortunately the changes needed in body for these two types of objectives are mostly opposite. So the subconscious chooses the clearly superior goal of survival (If you get killed by lion, what is the use if the body had good immune system?). Thus the capacity of brain to make body strong for long term survival diminishes during stress. Stress-Response in fact makes body weak.
4. An interesting point to note is that although the types of stresses man encounters have changed from pre historic times, the method (flight of fight) the body uses to counter danger has not. This is because the genetic changes happen much more slowly compared to changes in socio economic scenarios. The modern man is rarely under stress due to danger to life and rarely needs to fight or flight. The stresses are mostly mental, like danger of losing job, too much work, relationship problems, and financial insecurity and so on. Under these situations, subconscious gets the signal to ‘reduce the stress’ and as per the ‘best way known to it’ it starts trying to reduce it by preparing the body for fight or flight. The end result is that man starts having higher blood circulation, poor digestion, low immunity and many other physiological changes. Interestingly, all these are exactly the changes, the pre historic man needed to be more effective in both – fight or flight. Alas, these changes are not only counter-productive during modern man’s stress, but also the main cause of most stress related diseases.
5. Nowadays, when we are not under any specific stress, we are still trying to accomplish many tasks at once and have many more issues (worries) in mind, which mostly do not have any solution and so require practically no action on the part of subconscious. But still, due to this constant nagging by conscious, these prevent the subconscious from fully concentrating on the other very important task, which is to repair the body and make it stronger for long term survival. The reason being that due to multiple tasks and thoughts that the person is involved with, the conscious mind is bombarding the subconscious with frequent, usually meaningless goals.
Putting it all together
There is not much left for putting it all together. During meditation, the mind becomes calm and has fewer thoughts. In good state of meditation it has just one thought and eventually no thoughts. So subconscious stops getting any orders from conscious and, needless to say, concentrates fully on, the only one task, it has left, which is to make body healthy and prepare it for long-term survival. Most people however, may not reach the state of single or no thought. But even if regular meditation reduces stress or number of undesirable thoughts a bit, it will result in that much more time available to sub conscious for making body healthy.
Once we understand this, it is easy to see how meditation has the potential to increase immunity, reduce onset of diseases and essentially the ability to keep you healthy and live longer and all other health benefits that have been claimed through experience and experiments and more.
Talking about health benefits, I have been experiencing increase in stamina & pain threshold on the days I do pranayama: anulom- vilom to be precise. Due to osteoporosis, I have developed cervical & lumbar spondylitis, which are a constant source of pain & lack of vitality. Simple exercises+pranayama have greatly reduced the need for pain killers, which would affect kidneys.
Talking about various saintly people, I may add that they all have similar grasp but different ways to communicate with masses as the audience has varied requirements, understanding & capabilities to absorb. May be, if these people sit together, their articulation may look more cohesive. Baba Ramdev has turned out to be sooo popular as he has demystified the practices to a large extent. Larger number of people are, therefore, able to comprehend & comply and there are doctors in Meerut to vouch for his effectiveness due to drop in number of their patients. BP & Diabetes have been easiest to handle. Pranayama helped me in BP. As we grow older, there seems to be greater need for external stimuli. When younger, our bodies have better wherewithals to deal with our abuses. Therefore, younger people should commence practice & currently they can benefit by enhanced mental & physical abilities.
The page is futuristic journey.
I mentioned about choosing to be thick skinned. By design & not by default. Another application is called executive aloofness. You do your job diligently, may be under pressure/stress, but try to keep out negativity, thru acquired sense of observer. I have seen some with innate sense of observer, they maintain their composure or rather retain their composure by not letting the circumstances play on their psyche. My way of doing this: take one step at a time, keeping end in sight. But, honestly, I do get rattled at times, which gives me a feedback to OBSERVE. Somehow, suddenly, I get my nerves not only back, but it expands my awareness & I am able to take larger no. of variables, right from that moment. All the tasks come to mind very clearly & get arranged with priority & delegation. Ours is a multi – project environment & this is a constant affair for 10 hrs a day. May be, it afforded me some practice. I attribute this awareness to our combined readings of geeta. We have been knowing this situation classically as “being not part of the problem”- separating YOU from problems to be able to reflect on them. I don’t succeed every time. Complexity of situation actually serves as reminder.
I am feeling so strongly about it as this has been my predicament for very very long. Way back in 1985 or so, my general manager said that I should learn executive aloofness, watching my intense behavior. That was quite a defining moment. Got a eureka feeling. My quest was supplemented by the book you gifted to me- psychocybernetics. These things & more, coupled with Geeta, helped put my thought process together.
Your comments are thought provoking. They are not confusing, I have thought about them, but you put them very clearly.
However, when you talk of “SAKSHI-BHAV” or becoming an observer, you have to be clear what you are trying to achieve. It can give you spiritual awareness and peace. In your daily life, it can make you better equipped to deal with those very things more efficiently to which you are trying not to react to. For example a surgeon can perform better surgery if he is not emotionally involved with the patient. However, this very thing (emotional detachment) can also make you, as you say ‘thick skinned’ or self centered. If you take Covey’s (Seven habit’s of highly effective people) concept of ‘circle of influence’, it has a tendency to make your circle of influence smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, in practical life, with proliferation of spirituality all around (all TV channels have it in abundance), where people only partially understand the deep concepts, this is not uncommon.
Btw, these comments are also there on my blog. If you prefer, you can directly comment there.
On 12/20/2011 9:02 AM, arun_hotmail wrote:
One more thought on your latest:- “SAKSHI-BHAV” i.e. being just a witness of what you are doing or what is going around you, & painting, singing, rolling out rotis & such repetitive actions are only slightly less than meditation, if you please. Practicing SAKSHI-BHAV may seem a bit difficult initially & you may think yourself as being thick-skinned, but that is what one has to practice : being thick skinned, without actually being so. BhagwatGeeta comes in here. You are trying to transcend “being thick skinned”. It is like watching the river flow, people moving in front of you on the street & all such situations, which you have just faced without responding to it. It’s a choice: i.e. of making no response but keeping the power to respond or shall we say, react.
Similarly, repetitive actions seem to put you in a trance as it happens in hypnosis. That is why, they have therapeutic value, even making chapatis.
I sincerely hope that this is not confusing. In case it does, please do me a favor by highlighting the portion & I will elaborate, for sure.
You ignite my mind. I chose to act.
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Thanks and Congrats for giving such informative and useful write up….
..I expect…rather long that you will oblige with your more elaborative / illustrative views on the subject.
.Many philosophers,thinkers and Adhyatma Gurus have put their interpretations on the subject
as per their Divine experiences..Sadhana…Meditation…Tapa..viz. Swami Parmanand, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Baba Ramdev, Nirmala Mata ji…..etc
Some Dharma Gurus claim to utilize even Super conscious mind through Kundilini Jagran…
Its all so mysterious and interesting to go deep into ocean of Sub & Super Conscious Mind !!!
Looking forward more from you !!!
You sorted out one of my another query related to beneficial impact of bhajans & Naam-jap. Both narrow the demand on response system. Thanks & wish you more of writing bouts 🙂