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If you have been following this series on the health benefits of meditation, then hopefully you have given meditation a go by now, and as you meditate and relax, you may well have asked yourself ‘What is actually happening here?’
What is happening is this – The Relaxation Response is kicking in, thanks to your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is the opposite of your Sympathetic Nervous System.
When you meditate, or rest effectively, the Parasympathetic Nervous System takes over and gets to work reversing the ‘flight or fight’ stress response, counteracting its effects, relaxing the mind and taking your body on a healing journey back to a balanced state of homeostasis.
This is the Relaxation Response. It is proven scientific fact.
This is the single most tangible thing that beginning a regular practice of meditation can do for you and your health. Meditation can be of great help if you are a person who has trouble switching off the mind and unwinding. Even if you are a fairly chilled-out person, you will still benefit from the deeper levels of relaxation, and the healing that this will encourage.
How To Achieve Biological Balance
The Relaxation Response is important in achieving biological balance, or homeostasis.
It is when you are moving towards this state of homeostasis that your body sets about repairing itself and combating pathogens. In order to achieve this desirable state you need to learn to relax. Sounds obvious, but in fact it is a skill that many people need to consciously learn.
The idea of relaxation being a barbeque with friends or walking the dog just isn’t enough – helpful, yes – but not enough. Your mind keeps busy with worries when you walk the dog, and you just plain distract yourself from ‘your-self’ when you hang out with friends.
When you meditate you can measurably feel deep relaxation taking place. Firstly, when you sit down, take stock of yourself. Is your mind racing? How would you describe your mood? Are you irritated or stressed? Excited? Happy? Bored? Depressed?
Then notice physical things about your body like tense shoulders, headaches, or other discomfort. Even those of us who are particularly young and/or fit will notice the subtle imperfections inherent to life in the physical realm when you take the time to meditate.
The Many Benefits of Meditation
So to sum up: the benefits you can gain from meditation are increased physical health and increased mental health. This means that if it is possible that your body/mind can heal or recover from any condition or ailment, then a regular, effective meditation practice will assist this process to occur in a more dynamic and expedient manner. It does this by allowing the immune system to do its job better, and by helping you to be happier and less stressed.
But: an important point – meditation isn’t an instant cure-all. There are generally no easy ‘outs’ in this life – the fact is benefit must be earned, health must be preserved and damage is often hard to undo.
Encouragingly, meditation can represent a major breakthrough in your life. You are unlikely to suddenly meditate your way from down-in-the-dumps to on-top-of-the-world in your first sitting, but you can expect to make some leaps forward in your progression through life.
Beginning to understand and practice meditation can be a glorious eye-opening experience. It can take you (or rather you can take yourself) on a long and interesting journey inwards towards a more positive frame of mind and a happier, healthier and probably longer life.
Seamus Anthony is a writer, musician and entrepreneur. He is the author of “Psychedelic Meditation: How to Get an Awesome Cosmic High Without Drugs” and one half of the action at Rebel Zen.