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Benefits of Meditating Regularly
A Course in Meditation

by Theodore K. Phelps © 2007
-from Chapter 8 "The Naturals" pp. 231-235

Web readers please note: this text is offered for your information, not as a replacement for a course of instruction. The text is directly excerpted from the book, and certain references do not make sense out of context.

 

Accumulative Effects:
Conditioning & Health

Meditation is not just an experience. Like a meal, it is both an experience and the start of something organic that affects at least the next few hours. Taken regularly, meditation and meals affect everything. If physically we are what eat, then mentally and spiritually we are what we think and feel and know. For meditators, we gradually become what we meditate.

The story of meditation always includes a long view, one that looks ahead by years and decades. We can no more tell its story than we could the story of bonsai (Japanese miniature tree cultivation) without a decades-long view. The effects of meditation compound over time like the conditioning of physical exercise. A 20-minute session on the treadmill and a 20-minute session in meditation both have immediate effects that last for hours. Both invigorate. But neither is primarily a tool for invigoration. They are tools for long-term improvement in health. While the treadmillís specialty is a healthy body, especially the heart-lung system, meditationís specialty is a healthy mind and heart (soul).

I see an interesting difference between meditation and exercise in the way the two bring change into the practitioner over time. For the most part, exercise brings change by challenging a weak or underdeveloped system, such as the muscles, whereas the meditative function brings change by gracing a weak or underdeveloped system. Exercise pulls at us, dragging us temporarily up a hill of performance, beyond the place at which we live and are comfortable; body components respond by becoming stronger and learning the motions they are put through. The Naturals, in contrast, get improved performance by placing us in the target state of mind, body, and heart. They allow us to float up the hill of performance, or down its river.

Goleman said that meditation is "an alchemy of the self: the diffusion of the effects of meditation into the meditatorís waking, dreaming, and sleep statesÖ transforming his experience of himself and of his universe." This is mighty fancy talk, and it tries to raise our sights to a very long view, a view many people donít even believe inóeven some who meditate! But taken down to its simplest, Goleman is also talking about something that happens each time we get up from a sitting of meditation; something of the meditation flows right into our thinking and behavior. This diffusion "alchemy" starts right away, even with the first sitting.

The meditating mind, body, and heart temporarily become in meditation what they will persistently becomeóboth inside and out of meditationóover time. They will become more flexible, lighter, open to others, and able to have subtle thoughts and perception while also being deeply rooted. The deep rest and subtle changes in biochemistry during meditation condition the body to resist stress and disease and to be more relaxed and fluid during complicated and challenging activity. For example, the study on meditation and cortisol I cited earlier showed only small, insignificant declines in cortisol in short-term meditators, but declines of up to 25% in experienced meditators. The quiet, mental expansion during meditation conditions us to be calmer, more thoughtful, and more inclusive during high mental activity outside of meditation. The heart becomes softer, more open to new experience, and more sensitive to what is happening in the environment.


The following kinds of effects may be noticed right away, and they increasingly show up, or deepen in time. None of these factors has a logical ending point and can be expected to show organic, fluctuating growth indefinitely. This is also just a sampling of an enormous range of effects that practitioners, teachers, traditions, and now scientists ascribe to the practice of meditation.

Body

Restfulness: relaxed muscles, warmed hands and feet
Energy: better able to move quickly and accurately
Healing: accelerated healing of illness and damaged tissues

Mind

Peacefulness: more settled around important values
Freshness: a restored or new perspective
New ideas: creative solutions and inventions

Heart

Softness: happier to be with others
Openness: more responsive and balanced emotions
Social awareness: clearer perspective about relationships

The following list shows many of meditationís conditioning effects that have appeared in scientific studies done on meditations of various kinds:

Conditioning the Body:

Greater resistance to stress
Less heart disease
Combating cancer
Lowered cholesterol
More youth-related hormone, DHEA
Better able to sleep
Managing chronic pain and migraine
Faster reaction time
Improved blood pressure
Fewer headaches and colds
Fewer psychosomatic disorders
Improved auditory perception
Improved perceptual motor performance
Improved athletic performance

Conditioning the Mind:

Improved intelligence
Improved school grades
Improved learning ability
Improved recall
Better able to pay attention
More skillful use/activation of areas of the brain
Increased independence
Increased creativity

Conditioning the Heart:

More positive mood
Improved moral development
Less nervous
Less aggressive
Less depressed
Less domineering
Less afraid of death
More emotionally stable
Higher self-regard
Improved self-actualization
More empathizing
More spontaneous
Greater capacity for intimate contact

(Murphy and Donovan 1996)

 


 

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