The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is not a religion, though many religions practice it in different forms. The Transcendental Meditation Institute says that meditation is, most simply, a way to experience the simplest form of human awareness, where consciousness opens to itself.
In the 40 years that I have done different kinds of meditations, I have noticed that, when I meditate regularly, I am calmer and happier and my life flows more smoothly. Meditation not only significantly lowers physical and psycho/emotional stress. It goes even further to help free us from addictive behavior and opens the way to achieve self-actualization.
The Benefits of Meditation: Relieves Chronic Stress
Imagine you lived long ago. While out hunting, you are being stalked by a tiger. You can hear the tiger in the undergrowth, but you can’t see it. Immediately your body goes into a high state of alert. Your eyes dilate, your muscles tense, and your heart beats faster. Your breathing and blood pressure increase while adrenalin and hormones rush into your blood stream. As the hungry animal leaps out of the under brush, you escape to the nearest tree. When the tiger leaves, (hopefully he does not climb trees!), you breathe a sigh of relief, your body responses return to normal, and you run back to the village to boast of your narrow escape!
Fortunately, being dinner for a tiger is not one of the things that we have to worry about! However, at this time in modern history, our body goes into the same high state of alert from a different kind of tiger. And this one does not walk away! This tiger’s name is “chronic stress”.
Most of us experience some level of chronic stress. As we all know, we live in a world full of stress triggers: from our concerns about global violence, financial challenges, our fast-paced modern culture, managing our relationships, and life’s many other challenges.
When we react to these triggers with stress, we damage our physical, psychological, and emotional health. Stress also keeps us locked in our addictions and prevents us from attaining self-actualization, or, in other words, becoming all that we can be. Fortunately, there is something very powerful we can do to relieve stress: meditation.
One of the most important reasons to start meditating is to protect your body, mind, and emotional well being from the ravages of stress. The Stress Institute at Roosevelt University reports that prolonged stress causes harmful hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to build up in your system. It raises blood pressure, depresses the immune system, and contributes to heart disease. It reduces the feelings of well being and increases negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression. Stress impairs personal relationships.It also causes reduced performance at work, school, and in sports.
Due to the work of Dr. Herbert Benson, an author and Harvard professor, hundreds of studies have been done on the effects of meditation. A few findings are:
- Meditation creates a unique hypo-metabolic state, in which the metabolism is in an even deeper state of rest than sleep.
- The calming hormones melatonin and serotonin are increased by meditation, and the stress hormone cortisol is decreased.
- Meditators secrete more of the youth-related hormone DHEA as they age than nonmeditators.
- Meditators experience 80 percent less heart disease and 50 percent less cancer.
- People with insomnia and chronic pain are also helped by meditation
This is just one among many studies showing how meditation reverses the effects of stress and enhances physical, psychological and emotional health.
The Benefits of Meditation: Overcoming Addictions
A second reason to meditate is that meditation not only relieves the stress that fuels our addictions, but goes one step further by easing the power they have over us. The Transcendental Meditation Institute has conducted over 500 studies in universities all over the world on the effects of their meditation program. These studies now appear in more than 100 scientific journals. Among the long list of benefits was the reduced use of alcohol and drugs. In addition, Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported that meditation can help binge eaters recognize the urge to eat without succumbing to it.
How can meditation free us from addictive behavior?
Stress keeps us in our addictions by triggering uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, many of them unconscious. When these thoughts and emotions arise during meditation, it is easier to see them more clearly. Then, instead of running to food, alcohol, drugs, or shopping for relief, we practice just sitting with them and the discomfort they bring. If we can refrain from repressing, judging, or trying to change these uncomfortable feelings, they tend to dissipate or change on their own. It actually feels like they burn or dissolve in the still, open presence of our awareness. With practice, we can carry this into our life and unhook ourselves from the addictive cycle.
The Benefits of Meditation: Self-Actualization
A third reason to meditate is that it will assist us in becoming self-actualized. One way it does this is to help eliminate the stress that keeps us caught in a spinning and chaotic mind. But the effects of meditation go beyond stress reduction. As shown in Transcendental Meditation studies report, meditation increases intelligence, creativity, learning ability, memory, self confidence, improved relationships and self-actualization.
Maslow says there are two processes necessary for self-actualization: self-exploration and action. Meditation is a great adventure in exploring our self. It allows us to clearly see the mind in action and it’s influence upon us. Unconscious negative thought patterns become conscious. This gives us the opportunity to free ourselves from being victims of our own habitual thinking. Sitting in stillness also allows us to rest in a very deep place within. And, in time, we can begin to move and speak from that place: a place where our greatest creativity, wisdom, and compassion is available to come through us and into our world. This is a great self-actualization and it is available to every one of us.
We all deserve to be free from the damaging effects that stress has upon us. We deserve to live a life free of addictions. Just imagine if we all lived this life sharing our deepest compassion, our highest wisdom, and our greatest joy: what a party!
I hope you can see how immensely valuable meditation could be in your life. There are many kinds of meditation groups to choose from. If joining a group does not appeal to you, there are excellent books and tapes available.
As a baby we needed to learn how to walk before we could run. In the same way, if we are to move through this life with more intelligence, compassion, and grace, we must first learn how to be still. Oh yes! Did I mention bliss?