February 2, 2009

Meditation - A Way Of Life


In response to a comment made on my previous post, I would like to address the topic of meditation. The definition from Wikipedia reads:
Meditation is a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness.

Turns out, it is a practice that transcends all religions and beliefs, and there are so many ways to meditate that it would be impossible for me to describe them all.

Yet, they are all supposed to help us tune out the constant chattering in our minds thereby increasing our awareness of the here and now, of ourselves, and our environment. I believe that the practice of Qi Gong summarizes the basic workings of meditation pretty well: meditation allows you to regulate your own flow of energy, or qi.

The practice of meditation has gained popularity all around the globe, including the Western world, and more scientists are looking into its physical benefits:

“Research has shown that consciousness can be altered by meditation, resulting in greater creativity, peace of mind, and health. In tests done at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, those who meditated showed markedly more electrical activity in their left prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain associated with positive emotions.” (Lost Star of Myth and Time, Walter Cruttenden).

“The random-effects meta-analysis model for systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively, indicated that Transcendental Meditation, compared to control, was associated with [a drop in blood pressure].” (American Journal of Hypertension, 2008).

Another study, held by Richard Cavisdson of the University of Washington, showed that those who meditated created more antibodies to a flu vaccine than others who didn’t.

Granted, there are many who doubt these results and it will probably take many more tests before most of mainstream scientists accept them. However, it appears there is a true, solid link between meditation and the positive health effects seen here (amongst many others not named), including effects on our own brain.

Antoine Lutz at the Waisman Lab for Brain Imaging & Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that meditation causes immediate changes in brain waves, and can also cause longer-term alterations in the structure of the brain itself. These brain structure changes include, according to Sara Lazar of Harvard Medical School, a thicker cortex (outer layer of the brain).

It certainly looks to me like meditation does have its merits and I may get into it one of these days. After all, being a cloistered monk sitting down all day long is not the only way to meditate like I once believed, but it is more than just “simple” exercises too. It is a way of life.

Now, all this makes me wonder: is it possible to consciously control your own energy, your own qi, through meditation? And how far can it go, how much can one accomplish through it? What do you think?

6 comments:

  1. I think meditation forces your mind to focus and this focus is intentionally on something relaxing or non-stressful. Therefore, this active focusing would increase positive brain activity and prevent distraction/stress-inducing brain activity.

    I believe that your own energy, or "qi", is more of a concept than a science. The end result of meditation is controlling mental activity to yield a favorable result. One could argue that a person who is brainwashed to believe in a cult that makes them happy would have lower stress levels and all other favorable physiological effects.

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  2. First of all, I'd like to understand your definition of cult, as the current connotation for it has a tendency to be negative but there are plenty of cults (throughout history) that are fine.

    However, isn't brainwashing somehow stressful in every case? Wouldn't the person know someone's messing with their mind (intuitively and/or subconsciously) and thereby feel the stress of it?

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  3. Brainwashing can be stressful, but some are not so stressful. For example, brainwashing is just like a shower. You feel better after it happening.

    Cults have been predominantly seen as negative in the media, but to the people in them, they are in "heaven."

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  4. I suppose it depends on what type of cult it is, and I doubt everyone in any cult feels he/she is in heaven.

    I still do not see why brainwashing makes you feel better. I feel it is a wrong form of inductrination as it denies the person being brainwashed the capability to make informed choices in the end (as I believe brainwashing's used to control people and not to give them a greater/better understanding of themselves, which is what meditation's for).

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  5. Perception is truth.

    Happy Valentine's.

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  6. I have recently gotten into the habit of going to the beach on my lunch break. I like to close my eyes and listen to the waves and feel the sun on my face and try to forget about all stressful things in my life. I always find that I am much more productive after I indulge in this new habit and I suppose that this is in a way a form of meditation.

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