Meditation has so many physical benefits that even Homer Simpson would be keen to benefit from them, if only he could get off the sofa. I’ve already blogged about some of these (http://davidmichie.com/what-are-the-main-physical-benefits-of-meditation/).
But why does meditation affect you physically? How is it that, by attaching the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair, and focusing your mind on an object of meditation for ten minutes, measurable physiological changes occur?
The very fact that we might ask this question shows how deeply engrained our dualistic notion of mind and body actually is. It was Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, who in 1637 got us going on a concept which still holds sway today.
Many people hold the unspoken view that mind and body are quite separate. They’ll say things like “He’s broken his leg and a couple of ribs – but he’s okay,” as though the fractured bones have little or no relevance to a person’s systemic wellbeing.
But a short while later, without realising any contradiction they might say, “She was really embarrassed and blushed deep red.”
Hang on a moment! If mind and body are entirely separate, how can embarrassing thoughts cause the blood vessels in your cheeks to dilate?
The truth is that mind and body, far from being separate, form a systemic whole. Something that affects one, affects the other.
In the West, with our externally-focused, materialist heritage, our default mode is to look first for physical solutions. Even when we acknowledge we have a mental problem – say depression or anxiety – we readily accept the idea of the physical solution of medication to deal with it.
But instead of always looking to the physical to affect the mental, what about the other way around? For the truth is that what happens in our mind can change our physical state, quickly and profoundly. If you doubt this, consider sexual arousal. Merely the desirous wish to have sex with someone can be enough to trigger a chain of complex changes in your body. Without the wish, even the physical presence of that person will fail to trigger arousal.
Cognition creates change. Every thought has a physical imprint. Almost all the time this process occurs below the threshold of our awareness. But we can take conscious charge of it, manipulating our conscious state to optimise our physical as well as our mental well-being. This is meditation.
Rather than working at the physical end of our mind-body system, we are operating at the mental end. Getting our mind into its most peaceful, coherent and optimised state, thereby conveying precisely the same impacts on our body.
It’s no coincidence that meditation and medication are only one letter different. Both come from the Latin root medeor, meaning ‘to heal’ or to make whole. For centuries the West largely forgot one half of the equation. (To which one might say ‘Doh!’)
One of the reasons is so exciting to be alive today is to witness the rediscovery of meditation as a tool to effect holistic change.
You’ll find a lot more of this in my books, Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate (Australia), Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate (USA) or, if your prefer a cat’s eye view of the subject, The Power of Meow! More details at http://davidmichie.com/books-audio/
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