All over the world in ever-increasing numbers, people find their way to the practice of meditation. They discover how amazingly it increases the quality of their lives. In this article, we will explore what really happens when we meditate, how meditation may impact our lives, and how we can potentially maximize our efforts.
What Happens When You Meditate: Scientific Research
The effects of meditation have been well researched in recent decades. Scientists have discovered that meditation actually changes brainwave frequency and calms them down: alpha brainwaves (frequency range of 8–12 Hz) emerge, revealing a state of inner calmness. Even theta brainwaves (4-7 Hz) can be measured, which are slower still.
The changes in brainwave frequency bring about a deep sense of relaxation that has notable effects on the whole body: it calms the heartbeat; lowers high blood pressure, and naturally diminishes physical tensions. Medical professionals in specific cases now prescribe meditation as a treatment.
More importantly, slower brainwaves have been shown to have a positive effect on our psychological and mental health by reducing anxiety, nervousness, and stress. Individuals overall experience an increased sense of well-being.
A personal experiment
One of the best scientific laboratories is our own bodies. By performing simple experiments on ourselves, we can research what actually happens to us during meditation.
Together let’s enter the body-laboratory: Sit up for just one minute and begin to attentively observe your breath. If you manage to sit truly still (through physical discipline) while concentrating as best as you can (mental discipline) you will soon discover two pleasant effects:
1) Your attention becomes more inward.
2) Your body and mind experience a sense of calmness.
The mind constantly wanders. Yes, this is true and it is normal. It is the nature of the mind to think. Yet, by trying again and again (and yet again) to bring our attention back to the breath, the results are tangible – we start to experience calmness, relaxation, and serenity. In the beginning, to be sure, these results may be minimal, but even a tiny bit of calmness, relaxation, and serenity is already a good start.
The breath has a calming effect on us – it is a friendly pacifier, a natural tranquilizer, a quiet life-soother. The breath, when we observe it, also gently leads us inward. If we keep practicing, we will indeed start to feel good… and better!
Make a steady effort to go within, and you will find your greatest happiness there.Paramhansa Yogananda
Imagine your body as a house. Figuratively speaking, without meditation we remain in the cold corridor of the house. By practicing meditation, we finally enter inside a room – a nice, comfortable living room.
There we build a fire in the fireplace. We now can experience the calm, warm, and relaxed atmosphere of the room. Instead of falling asleep in that peaceful ambiance, by practicing complete wakefulness, we absorb it fully and deeply. In other words, we feel peaceful and enjoy it consciously.
In essence, this is what really happens during meditation: we discover a sense of well-being that emerges from inside ourselves. Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the Autobiography of a Yogi advises:
“Meditate regularly, and you will find a joy inside that is real. The joyous rays of the soul can be perceived when you interiorize your attention during meditation. Make a steady effort to go within, and you will find your greatest happiness there.”
This meditative inwardness, happiness, and calmness, often have a number of important repercussions on our outer life.
Let’s look at what happens when we meditate regularly.
How Meditation Affects You in Different Areas of Your Life
Studies indicate that many health problems are related to stress. In fact, our health depends a great deal on the strength of the immune system which is maximized by a calm nervous system. Stress (resulting in agitated nerves) debilitates the immune system. Meditation is an anti-stress, stress management technique that boosts the immune system. Meditation increases the potential for the body to enjoy a state of optimum health and well-being.
Strong and uncontrolled emotions are rarely any fun. Instead, they are easily a highway to trouble – socially, internally, and physically. After an outburst of anger, for example, we probably regret it and try to fix the damage that was done. If, on the other hand, we try and force a lid on those emotions without transmuting them, psychological pressure can build up and manifest as sickness. Both of these tracks may be harmful. Regular meditation acts as an effective preventative system. Many harmful emotional vortexes dissipate and never arise. Life becomes more relaxed, harmonious, and peaceful.
The True Self
Meditative calmness allows us in time to express our true Self which is naturally beautiful. Our character builds and strengthens as we become more peaceful and gentle. Inner qualities such as kindness and acceptance naturally flower from within. In short – by turning our attention inward in meditation, the beauty of our true self emerges.
The calm peace of meditation on a spiritual level forms the necessary roots which allow our consciousness to branch out and expand. The most advanced stages of meditation help us to expand even higher, touching God’s limitless presence. Jesus Christ explained this inner expansion beautifully in one of his parables:
“The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field, which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.” (Mat, 13;31-32)
The good news is this: even a tiny little experience of such a divine expansion will fill our daily life with a new light, and with a loving sense of union with everyone.
Daily Life & Challenges
Life is challenging for everyone. Is there ever any shortage of difficulties and troubles? Hardly for very long. Swami Kriyananda expressed it aptly in one of his songs: “Get rid of one, and you face its friend.”
Through meditation, however, we develop an inner “wall” of serenity and relaxation, so that life’s storms are unable to howl at us too forcefully. As we progress, these inner walls become so stable that a “portable paradise” can grow in our hearts, making us happy under all circumstances.
Without realizing it, we constantly carry with us subconscious burdens from our past, called karma. They weigh on us and influence the way we feel, act, react, think, and live. Fortunately, each meditation unburdens us a bit. In Yogananda’s words:
Every time you meditate, your karma decreases, for at that time your energy is focused in the brain and burns up the old brain cells. After every deep meditation, you will find yourself becoming freer inside.” –The Essence of Self-Realization
The present moment is like the sun. We can turn toward it or away from it. Meditation helps us to “sunbathe” in the fullness of the moment as it teaches us to return again and again to the here and now. It helps to keep us from wandering away with our million thoughts into the dim past or the shadowy future.
Everything in the future will improve if you make the spiritual effort now.Swami Sri Yukteswar
More than we often realize, we chisel out our destiny: every day, nay, every moment, we shape our future, through our thoughts, words, energies, and actions. “Everything in the future will improve if you make the spiritual effort now,” the wise Sri Yukteswar promises in the Autobiography of a Yogi. Essentially speaking: if today our life becomes more peaceful and harmonious through meditation, automatically our future will be fashioned into a more enjoyable “product.”
Calmness is a protector of good relationships. By calming us on all levels, meditation will transform us into better partners. As parents, we will become more successful and as colleagues more pleasant to work alongside in the workplace. Be aware, however, some friends might not appreciate these inner changes. Why? Simply because they enjoy the old agitated ways better than the new calmer ones. Maybe they will feel that we have become strange and different. It doesn’t matter: “Go on alone,” as Swami Kriyananda advises in one of his songs.
Regular meditation also strengthens our concentration and turns it eventually into an efficient laser beam. Focus and concentration are vital keys to achieving our objectives and be successful. Focus and concentration also give us the power to reach our goals within shorter periods of time. Think about it – getting things done efficiently during the day can fill our evenings with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, meditation coupled with a few gentle yoga postures might become your secret cure. Insomnia is no longer an issue for many meditators. Sleep itself becomes more refreshing. Remember, however, that during meditation itself, we do NOT want to be sleepy at all. We want to be awake and alert.
Calmness is also the cradle of inner clarity. Meditation, therefore, gives birth to some of the best decisions. On the other hand, inner restlessness can seldom bring forth trustworthy counsel.
There is another factor, often unknown: meditation opens us up to intuitive guidance which, whenever it occurs, offers infallible advice from the superconscious mind. However, it can only do so under the proper conditions – calmness, upliftment, receptivity, & high energy. These conditions are perfectly created by regular meditation.
The more we meditate, the more we will enjoy it. Granted, it is not an easy task as our minds are chronically unruly, but in time it becomes easier and easier. The good news is: even if our meditations often seem to be disastrous – still, just by trying, the positive effects described above will certainly manifest
There is a price for such an increased quality of life: regularity. Remember that the price is not to always have “good” meditations – it is for us to firmly decide:
“I too want to become a smile-millionaire. Therefore every day, without exception, I will sit down to meditate, doing my best.”
Life can indeed become much better – from within. So, experienced meditators: keep going, keep moving, keep advancing, patiently and bravely; and newcomers: if you want to learn a powerful meditation technique, please watch the video below.
Ananda Course in Meditation
A 10-week online course with in-depth instruction in scientific meditation techniques that bring more peace, deeper relaxation, and focused concentration to every area of your life.Learn more