Meditation has the potential to provide profound benefits in all areas of life. This article has a limited scope of talking only about its health benefits. By doing this it is by no means undermining other benefits of meditation.
There have been many experimental studies demonstrating the health benefits of meditation, especially related to lower blood pressure, heart rate and other similar measurements. Many people have personally enjoyed improved health and many others just believe in it. Here I explain this somewhat scientifically.
My goal is that after reading this article, rather than wondering –
‘Does meditation really provide the vastly claimed health benefits!’,
you should be saying with conviction –
‘Obviously meditation would provide health benefits. How can it be anything else!’
First I talk of couple of concepts and then put them together.
1. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book Psycho Cybernetics writes “Mind can’t really distinguish between actual experiences and a synthetic visualized experience.” He further explains that brain consists of a conscious and a subconscious part. The subconscious mind obeys and performs like a machine, whatever the conscious mind tells it to perform. Further, the way to communicate to subconscious mind is by feelings and imagination. For example, if we tell our subconscious that we are under danger, it will not act on it, but if we feel the danger, the subconscious will automatically start working to avoid the danger. It does it in the best possible way known to it. The part of this sentence ‘the best possible way known to it’ is very significant, as we will see a little later. The conscious mind, using our senses, receives all the inputs from external world, does analysis and makes conclusions. These conclusions turn into feelings and trigger the subconscious appropriately.
2. We human beings have survived and evolved over hundreds of thousand years of life full of danger and hardships. One of the things that have been responsible for it is our ability to fight dangers. This is done using fight or flight response. This has been the key to survival all along. If ancient man saw tiger in front, he had only two choices, either to fight it or run away. No doubt, our body, when under stress, undergoes numerous changes and becomes prepared for both – fight or flight. This is an established fact in medical community with enormous published material.
3. Another integral part of the functioning of subconscious is to prepare the body for long term survival by making it immune to diseases and environment. Subconscious is quite good at prioritizing its goals. So it is constantly striving to make the body more strong. However, when danger (stress) sets in, it has a choice to make. Continue to prepare the body for long term survival or take care of immediate danger first. Unfortunately the changes needed in body for these two types of objectives are mostly opposite. So the subconscious chooses the clearly superior goal of survival (If you get killed by lion, what is the use if the body had good immune system?). Thus the capacity of brain to make body strong for long term survival diminishes during stress. Stress-Response in fact makes body weak.
4. An interesting point to note is that although the types of stresses man encounters have changed from pre historic times, the method (flight of fight) the body uses to counter danger has not. This is because the genetic changes happen much more slowly compared to changes in socio economic scenarios. The modern man is rarely under stress due to danger to life and rarely needs to fight or flight. The stresses are mostly mental, like danger of losing job, too much work, relationship problems, and financial insecurity and so on. Under these situations, subconscious gets the signal to ‘reduce the stress’ and as per the ‘best way known to it’ it starts trying to reduce it by preparing the body for fight or flight. The end result is that man starts having higher blood circulation, poor digestion, low immunity and many other physiological changes. Interestingly, all these are exactly the changes, the pre historic man needed to be more effective in both – fight or flight. Alas, these changes are not only counter-productive during modern man’s stress, but also the main cause of most stress related diseases.
5. Nowadays, when we are not under any specific stress, we are still trying to accomplish many tasks at once and have many more issues (worries) in mind, which mostly do not have any solution and so require practically no action on the part of subconscious. But still, due to this constant nagging by conscious, these prevent the subconscious from fully concentrating on the other very important task, which is to repair the body and make it stronger for long term survival. The reason being that due to multiple tasks and thoughts that the person is involved with, the conscious mind is bombarding the subconscious with frequent, usually meaningless goals.
Putting it all together
There is not much left for putting it all together. During meditation, the mind becomes calm and has fewer thoughts. In good state of meditation it has just one thought and eventually no thoughts. So subconscious stops getting any orders from conscious and, needless to say, concentrates fully on, the only one task, it has left, which is to make body healthy and prepare it for long-term survival. Most people however, may not reach the state of single or no thought. But even if regular meditation reduces stress or number of undesirable thoughts a bit, it will result in that much more time available to sub conscious for making body healthy.
Once we understand this, it is easy to see how meditation has the potential to increase immunity, reduce onset of diseases and essentially the ability to keep you healthy and live longer and all other health benefits that have been claimed through experience and experiments and more.