I know I go on and on and on about meditation but it is such a no-brainer that I cannot understand why the whole world is not doing it. I have been meditating for a few months now and at last I am feeling the benefits I had been promised, I can be more confident in advocating it to all. I think perhaps the hippies gave the the art a sort of outlandish and weird aura with their arrogant and rebellious prancing that most normal folk got turned off by the weirdness of it all and refused to take meditation seriously. Lots and lots of serious and, if you insist, “scientific studies” have been made on the subject and without exception they have been all positive. I googled “benefits of meditation” and got more than 31 million results. Meditating humans in their hundreds and thousands have been surveyed and studied over several years and the conclusions have always been mindbogglingly positive. I am only saying all this in case you refuse to believe me and want “evidence”. It is a funny world. If I said a three headed baby had been born and at birth spoke three different languages from each of its heads, there are people who would take my word for it. But talk about something esoteric as meditation and people glaze over it with polite smiles.
Read the details yourselves but put simply, meditation has the power to change you brain and also change the organs in your body, and that includes sight, hearing, kidneys, guts, lungs, heart, throat and your reproductive organs. It delays aging by changing your telomeres (don’t ask), it gives you a clear skin and it keeps you out of trouble.
That leads me on to the Jump reflex. You might know this better by that awkward phrase “fight or flight response” but I like to call it the Jump reflex. When startled or scared, we jump, right? So why not call it by its true name? Also the term takes us away from all this pseudo-science nonsense. The jump reflex was useful in the primitive stages of our development as human beings to fight the sabre toothed tiger or to run away from it. Below is a list of the sort of things our bodies and brain go through when the jump reflex hits you. I got the list from an article here:
Increased activity will occur in the body
Circulation increases blood supply to brain, muscles and to limbs (more O2). Brain
activity changes: we think less and react more instinctively.
Heart beats quicker and harder – coronary arteries dilate.
Blood pressure rises.
Lungs take in more O2 and release more CO2.
Liver releases extra sugar for energy.
Muscles tense for action.
Sweating increases to speed heat loss.
Adrenal glands release adrenalin to fuel response.
Decreased activity will occur in the body
Digestion slows down or stops – stomach and small intestines reduce activity. We
might feel sick, or be sick.
Mouth does dry – constriction of blood vessels in salivary glands.
Kidney, large intestine and bladder slow down. We often feel we want to go to the
toilet: this is the body’s way of “lightening the load”
Immune responses decrease
Now do really you want to go through all this every time a smoke alarm goes off? Because this is what the body does every time you are startled. I admit there are times when you want all stations on alert like when you are a billionaire rogue trader or when you are an athlete or even if you are trying to get home in the dark on wet roads during the rush hour. But for most of us at most times the startle response is superfluous and leaves us damaged. All that rush of adrenaline, scientists would tell you sloshes about in your system without a job to do, like extra fuel in the engine. This in the long term leaves us exhausted and wasted.
Here is where meditation comes in. It gives us a break. It takes our body out of its constant state of alert and allows it to rest and recuperate like a soldier who needs R&R in between battles. I have been asked why cannot we sleep to have a rest. But sleep does not quite do it. While we sleep, the brain is active going over stuff, organising, processing, cleaning and de-fragmenting itself. I am indebted to another article in The Scientific American for this little wisdom:
“In a recent thought-provoking review of research on the default mode network, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors argue that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN. Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately. These moments of introspection are also one way we form a sense of self, which is essentially a story we continually tell ourselves. When it has a moment to itself, the mind dips its quill into our memories, sensory experiences, disappointments and desires so that it may continue writing this ongoing first-person narrative of life.”
You will find this passage here:http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/
So, we come back to it. Nothing beats meditation. During mindful meditation you are focussing on something, usually your breathing or a chant, a mantra to the exclusion of all else. I have seen dramatic pictures where these clever scientists have photographed a normal working brain along with a brain after meditation. The brain following meditation is empty of all the multi-coloured patches, meaning clutter I guess. Hell I don’t know, but it must be all a good thing. Sorry to be dense.
Most people think of meditation as a mystery. Again I put the blame on those hippies. It is so simple you can meditate for two minutes. All it takes is to try and vacate all activity except the one you are concentrating on. This is not easy for even the best yogis. Thoughts would intrude. You have to persevere at putting thoughts aside and concentrate on your breathing or on the mantra.
I have attained the dizzy heights of being able to meditate for 20 minutes at a time. Half of that time I must admit I find myself straying but I gently bring myself back to focus. It is somewhat like driving where you dare not let your mind go for a walk too for long. You have to keep calling it back to the matter in hand.
You will not believe the list of benefits. I have no intention of listing them here. There are millions of sites out there which will tell you the benefits. I for one know I am more laid back, slow to take offense or respond angrily; I am more detached and at peace with myself and with the world. My friends have noticed a differe4nce in me in these few months. So do not leave it till too late. Sit on the floor, sit on a chair, sit on a cushion, lie back in bed, but meditate!