Meditation

How Meditation Improves Your Health (Part Three)


Photo by j / f / photos

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.

PS – In case you missed them, here are Part One and Part Two of this “How Meditation Improves Your Health” series.

  • http://StressReliefTraining.com Aaron Gaul

    Stress also shuts down the immune system leaving us susceptible to chronic illness.

    Thanks for the reminder, because stress is automatic and relaxation is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Yes for sure – although another way of looking at it is that relaxation is inherent – we were great at it as kids – it’s more a matter of unlearning mindsets we pick up along the way that keep us on edge unnecessarily.

      • http://StressReliefTraining.com Aaron Gaul

        Good point Seamus. The parasympathetic nervous system should naturally shift to relaxation. However, stress is constant and the need to Get Things Done keeps us at this unhealthy level of stress.

  • Mark

    I still would like to see an instructional guide in the form of video. You say it needs to be learned, so where’s the teaching? It’s like me telling you to do a back flip by just jumping and leaning backwards. Not very helpful.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Hi Mark – I am a writer and, although I try to write in such a way as to inspire visions, unfortunately, being a writer, I find it slightly difficult to actually write a video into existence. There’s another service called YouTube that you may have heard of. Try that :-)

      • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

        Actually, I could have responded with more compassion that. I can be too quick with the sardonic comebacks sometimes (which has landed me in hot water from time to time). I guess the thing is that the article didn’t set out to teach you how to meditate, just to outline why it’s a good thing to learn. You can get plenty of instruction here – http://snurl.com/psymed – if you’re willing to invest. And as for videos – there are plenty I am sure. Google is your friend. Good luck on your quest.

  • http://StressReliefTraining.com Aaron Gaul

    I think you can learn something about meditation from books or videos. However, meditation is a subtle practice that requires new awareness. For this reason I suggest you find a person to teach and guide. I teach Stress Relief Skills — many of which I learned in India. In India you can find a meditation practice (yoga) for just about any purpose.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      A book, an article, a video, a teacher. How is not important (IMO) just to start is the key. Try this: think of a safety pin. Every time you realise you are not thinking about a safety pin anymore, return to the safety pin. That’s one version of meditation that you can try right now.

  • http://goldenzen.wordpress.com Harmony/Goldenzen

    Other than the wonderful benefits I get from being connected to something that makes sense of life, that refreshes my weary phyche, and relieves my anxiety, I think you are right on that the physical benefits are enormous.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Yes – it’s also a cheap night in ;-)

  • http://www.balancedexistence.com Stephen

    Another great article Seamus and a good way to conclude. As far as I’m aware it is the stress activated sympathetic nervous system that impairs things like digestion, immune function, and so forth.

    To Mark, the article was about informing people about how meditation can improve their health. There is only so much that can be included in one post.

    If you want to learn about meditation perhaps you should take responsibility for yourself as an adult and go seek out appropriate sources of instruction for yourself.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Readers could do much, much worse than checking Stephen’s blog for more info on health and meditation. I personally recommend his writing.

  • http://axelg.com/guided-meditation.html axel g

    Hey Seamus!

    Meditation is a beautiful thing.

    To me, stillness is a form of wellbeing.

    When the meditation practice deepens, so does the stillness become more soothing…

    I’m sure this post will inspire many to try meditation +_+

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Stillness is indeed soothing. I liken it to giving your soul a warm bath. Mmmmm… goooood…

  • http://johnlazy.com johnlazy

    Simple way of meditating is give yourself a couple of minutes on your own and ponder on your life.

    • http://www.rebelzen.com/2008/10/how-to-get-high-without-drugs/ Seamus Anthony

      Absolutely – there are no rules. A flipside to this would be to take a couple of minutes to forget your life completely (or at least try)

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com Peter | Pick The Brain

    Thanks for this series Seamus. I’ve been meditating on and off for the past year. I always feel much better when I’m regularly meditating, but for some reason I sometimes stop the practice.

    Why do I stop? I think it probably comes back to not fully appreciating the benefits of meditation. And here I think is the true purpose of this series: to spread awareness of the many benefits related to meditation. If you fully understand the benefits of the practice, you will then make it a priority in your life.

    • http://rebelzen.com Seamus Anthony

      I have come to believe that there are many factors that contribute to the tendency we all have to neglect regular meditating from time to time. One of them is diet – when you are enjoying a dietary phase that includes more of all the fun stuff like meat, sugar, cheese, bread, cakes and booze – a fog tends to settle around the mind and body, making it harder to access the clear space of good feeling that meditation is all about. When you take time out to eat a diet that revolves around less of the above and more veges, fruit and wholegrains, it becomes remarkably easy to slip into a pleasant state of clarity and peace.

      Good luck with all that during the silly season though hey!

    • http://StressReliefTraining.com Aaron Gaul

      Interesting comment Peter. Forgetfulness and meditation seem to go hand in hand. Somehow you remember and it feels like an awakening, then you meditate, then you forget for a while, and then finally you remember and awaken once again. But I would like to point out one interesting item in your post. You talk about the “benefits” of meditation and making it a “priority”. Thinking about the benefits of meditation is a great way to get started. However, sometimes meditation can feel like a lower priority — there is some other priority that needs to be accomplished or other benefit to be pursued. I think that if someone practices meditation for a long time it is neither a benefit nor a priority; it is simply a little like breathing and eating.

    • http://www.pickthebrain.com Peter | Pick The Brain

      Seamus: diet and meditation – that’s an interesting connection. I don’t think I can live without meat, sugar, cheese, bread, cakes, booze, etc…. but I can certainly limit them. Actually I do limit them already, but as you say the silly season is coming and it is easy to forget the good feeling that comes from the right diet. Thanks for the tip.

      Aaron: thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s always interesting to hear a perspective that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

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  • http://talk.thetruthaboutmeditation.com Anna Houck

    Thanks so much for this blog. Learned a lot from this. I also want to know about your view on this: Should meditation be done everyday to see the expected results?

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