These days, meditation is (pardon the pun) a no-brainer. Everyone pretty much agrees that you should do it, and that it will be good for you. But it’s very important to get into the details, because this will motivate you to actually do it. How much time do you need to set aside? Well, meditation is like food. Any amount will help you when you’re starving. But 20 minutes a day will provide you with the benefits described in this post.
There are also different kinds of meditation, with different effects on the body, mind, heart, and soul. (Here’s a post on the importance of some of these differences, and why Heart Rhythm Meditation is ideal for most people practicing meditation today.)
- Lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure can be an issue even for young, active people. For those who are overweight, or are suffering from the effects of a diet high in salt and fat (like most of us here in the US), blood pressure can easily get too high, resulting in an increased risk of heart disease. One of the key findings of several studies is that slower breathing has a significant impact on blood pressure. In fact, there is a device that uses timed tones to help you slow your breathing. This device is used in the studies I mentioned, found here. Of course, you don’t need a device to slow your breathing: that is exactly what happens in Heart Rhythm Meditation.
- Regulate your immune system. Heart Rhythm Meditation seems to have a powerful effect on the overall immune system. Though we do not have studies that document this, we notice the effect from observational reports of our students, and our own experiences. My practice of HRM has helped me through many periods of high stress without illness, even while being exposed to people with infectious conditions. (Illness can also be a valuable learning experience, of course.)
- Have more energy. Some kinds of meditation (including HRM) create the right carbon dioxide balance in your body, so that your cells can absorb oxygen. The way you breathe has major implications for the way your body processes oxygen, which has a big impact on your thinking and your energy level.
- Create a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. This happens in meditation when the pattern of the heartbeat is regular and wave-like. The heart rate can change quite a bit from beat to beat, which is called Heart Rate Variability. The study of HRV is a rapidly-growing field, and at this point, it is clear that when the HRV is too low, it’s a danger sign for the heart. (Too much HRV is also hard on the heart.) This is discussed in more detail in Energize Your Heart.
- Make your heartbeat rhythmic. Related to the point above, the way you breathe has a big effect on your heart rate, soothing arrhythmic patterns in the heart rate, which can be caused by stress. (Not all kinds of meditation, even those that are heart-based, do this, which is why we spend a whole course teaching this breathing technique.)
- Tame anxiety. Slow, deep breathing, which is a key part of HRM, is wonderfully effective at regulating anxiety. If you are prone to anxiety, you know it can build up under your radar, then kind of explode all at once. It’s far better to manage your anxiety every day through some slow breathing and concentration on your heart than it is to all of a sudden realize that your anxiety is out of control.
- Integrate your experience. Much of our waking time is taking in sensory impressions in the form of our experience. But in order to learn life’s lessons, we must have time to process these experiences, to sort and file, placing in categories what we have learned, or re-evaluating old categorizations. The most difficult of these to understand is the process of identity. Who am I now? Who was I in the past? Who am I becoming? How does this fit in with my understanding of how the world works? These are basic question that concern my identity, that have come up, in one form or another, all my life. I suspect the same is true for you. Meditation is a powerful way of processing experiences and integrating them. The same thing happens during sleep, but it’s a lot less efficient, which is probably why advanced meditators can thrive with very little sleep.
- Know who you are. Closely related to the last point, it is of vital importance to know yourself, and meditation is a key method for doing this. Meditation is the most rapid and effective method of self-knowledge that I have ever come across. And meditating on your heart is the best way I have found to meditate, in a lifetime of trying different things. (I was lucky enough to grow up with meditation.)
- Discover and appreciate your inner qualities. We do things, we experience things, but what is the common element? What are the qualities you possess that manifest in many different ways? For example, you may have a great sense of honor, which leads you to take an unpopular stance on principle, which then affects your relationship with your community, making people upset with you, perhaps even costing you important opportunities. If you miss the inner quality that led to the outer consequences, you’re missing a lot. But if you can see your sense of honor as a guiding theme in your life, you discover who you are on an essential, inner level, and life makes sense in a whole new way. (This is why we teach a system of archetypes.)
- Heal your wounds and resolve your issues. Everybody has long-standing issues that they struggle to resolve. For me, one of them was my parents’ divorce when I was 4, and the resulting sense of instability, to which I responded by a combination of withdrawal into an inner world, repression, and development of self-reliance. The point is, everyone has one or more issues, and these are connected to times when we were wounded, and the ways in which we responded to the pain of loss, disappointment, separation, and so on. Meditation is the most rapid way of understanding and resolving these issues. And it’s particularly interesting that the understanding you need is not as detailed as you might think. Unlike traditional talk-based therapy, you don’t need to go over and over the same ground, talking about issues endlessly. You need to identify the pain, move into it, experience it, and allow the pain to move and transform into other emotions. It may come up again: you do the same thing. Feel it and deepen it. Working in this way, you resolve issues in a fraction of the time that you could through therapy or any other cognitive-based approach.
- Develop your inner qualities. Much of what I’ve said so far is about the past. A whole other set of uses of meditation is about the future. Each of us has a sense of who we’d like to be. Many of us have a sense of self-disgust, a feeling of being fed-up with the way we are now, which is a form of longing for the self we know we can become. This is why we teach a framework for understanding what are different inner qualities, and a set of spiritual practices to bring out the qualities, such as working with the elements, the energy centers, the egos, or with sound practices.
- Connect with other people. It may seem odd that sitting quietly by yourself would be a good way of connecting with others. But recall that most of our issues with other people have to do with our own self-imposed limitations. We can’t forgive what someone has done. We are hurt and can’t heal from it. We feel disrespected. We cannot absorb and assimilate the energy that someone else is giving us, because it is in the form of criticism or negativity. Meditation is a great way to dissolve the inner turmoil that separates us from other people.
- Accomplish goals. Like the point above, it may seem contrary to think sitting still and ‘doing nothing’ will help accomplish a goal. But meditation is the ideal time to think deeply about what you seek to accomplish, and feel the process deeply, from your desire to achieve it to your feelings about the process itself. Meditation charges your inner battery, allowing you to better withstand the challenges that are part of doing anything difficult.
- Prioritize. One of the most difficult things to figure out is how we spend our time, and is it in line with what we say are our priorities? It is often the case that we spend copious amounts of time on unimportant things, leaving vitally important things starved for our attention. Meditation is a time when that which is truly important can become clear.
- Understand complex situations. The world is full of complex situations that we must navigate, from relationships with family, colleagues, companies, or in the politics the emerge in different groups, or within ourselves in terms of our goals and aspirations. Meditation is an ideal space to understand complexity and to thrive in complicated environments.
- Enlarge your sense of reality. Meditation is a way to experience the true nature of the universe. We cannot truly understand ourselves without understanding the nature of reality. Life is one, but we cannot see it, because we are so intoxicated with our own little corner of life. A key reason to meditate is to discover the larger reality that we miss when we are so caught up in our own drama.
- Communicate with God. As the experience of unity is repeated, it opens and deepens into a two-way communication. The being of the universe is God, by whatever name we choose to the One Being: God, Brahma, Dieu, Allah, the Void, Energy, or any other name. We long to realize that God is within us, to hear the voice of God, and then to speak in the voice of God ourselves.
- Discover your unique purpose in life. It is only with the experience of unity that we can truly understand how to use our unique gifts to contribute to the unfolding experience of the One Being.
- Develop a sense of spiritual guidance, a way of communicating with the guiding spirit behind all life, that guides all of life toward its greatest growth and fulfillment, much like the sense the body has which allows your body to grow from a single cell to a fully-functional organism.
- To change the world. Meditation is about changing your inner world, in order to build the world of peace and love that we all know is possible. Without that sense of peace within, there is no way to create it in life. But with that sense, we can have a much greater influence on the world than we ever thought possible.
So these are my 20 reasons to meditate. I hope you found this article useful. If you did, please consider sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.
What are your reasons to get into meditation or to continue your practice?