You’ve heard about the benefits of meditation, you know individuals who meditate, and you’ve read that it fosters life-transforming qualities. Yet, there remains a bit of mystery surrounding meditation.
What happens to your body during meditation? Is it natural to meditate? Is there a right or wrong way to meditate? And what exactly is meditation?
According to Lorin Roche, “The word meditation is just a name we give to the situation where we give the nervous system, the brain and senses a chance to tune themselves up. Meditation is giving total permission for the nervous system to do its healing thing. And since this is an innate thing, the body and brain are very good at it. People are naturally good at meditation, like cats are naturally good at hunting mice.”
Seeing that meditation is instinctive and natural, when you meditate you are giving your body something that it intuitively wants and needs; thus introducing the importance of “the mind/body healing dynamic that we already have within us that is a part of our genetic heritage.” And when we don't meditate, it is as if we are "meditation-deprived."
So what are the measurable physiological responses of your body during meditation?
“Research shows that once close your eyes to meditate, your body begins to shift into a state of restfulness that is much deeper than deep sleep, and yet you are awake. Going along with the restfulness is a whole set of changes: blood pressure decreases, your heart rate decreases slightly, your breath rate slows, and your muscle tension decreases. Within the first 3 minutes, oxygen consumption drops by 10 to 17 percent. Oxygen consumption is a good indicator of how much work the body is doing, and when you are resting, oxygen consumption drops. Within several minutes the body begins to shift into a state profoundly different than waking, dreaming or sleeping, but having qualities of each. Meditation is the mirror image of combat mode, the stress response. In terms of survival, it is about giving the organism a chance to more quickly recover from fatigue and stress and train itself to be more efficient at dealing with stress in the future.”
Within minutes of measuring physiological changes in the body during meditation, it has been found that the following decreases occur:
Metabolic rate decreases
Blood pressure drops
Heart rate slows
Muscle tension relaxes
Stress hormones are lowered
During meditation, you’ll find as your physical body begins to relax, your mind is a bit slow to follow. What happens is the physical component of your body beginning to relax initiates a sort of mental seesaw (if you will) between stillness and recalling why you were feeling stress in the first place.
“What is going on here is that your body’s survival wisdom has hijacked your meditation time for its own purposes. Nature is not stupid. Your body knows that you are not going to go into physical combat with the person at the office who sets your nerves on edge. Or, you are not going to be in physical combat in the next couple of seconds, so turn off the stress juice. The body is saying, “Stop yelling at me to get ready to fight or flee.” This hidden agenda of the body is not an enemy to meditation. In fact, it is a great ally, because it is only through this sort of de-hypnosis, the deconditioning, that you can learn to stay relaxed during your daily life and really enjoy the benefits of meditation. Your body will use the relaxation and safety of meditation to review all the times during the past when you pushed the panic button.
Everything that bothers you, all the stressors you encounter in daily life, will come up to be reviewed during this relaxed state. This is to give you a chance to renegotiate your responses.”
The same effect takes place on the emotional side. As you begin to relax, you may feel safe and secure, and then suddenly recall something that was emotionally bothersome. “Your body will bring up for your review every emotion that you felt but did not express completely. Whatever your natural responses were during the day, that you could not or chose not to express, will flow through your body and you will feel them. If there were shocks during the day, when you really let go you may cry, shake, shudder, moan, or laugh. Or you may just feel an inward gushing of emotion and show no outward sign.”
What often may leave you feeling as if you’re not meditating correctly is the simultaneous presence of dual emotions, stress and relaxation.
“The paradox is: you cannot relax without letting go of tension. In letting go of tension you remember all the things you were tense about.”
Simply put, “in meditation, the mind-body system instinctively enters a deep state of safety and relaxation, and then replays portions of what is stressing you -- so that you can learn new, more elegant, more adaptive, more powerful responses.”
Over time, after you have found a technique of meditation that suits your individual needs and have spent time in daily practice, you will begin to see the physiological, emotional and mental benefits of meditation all culminating in a more relaxed and healthy individual who is able to move gracefully with life, instead of going against it.