Exercising Your Meditation Muscle

Every health care practitioner, Mom and Dad, teachers and the many people who promote the well being of others help spread the great advice: ‘Make sure you exercise!’  Most chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and arthritis are modifiable or preventable with physical exercise.  Adequate exercise when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle definitely decreases the risk of many of these common health problems.  Typically 30-40 minutes of exercise daily with a heart rate for 120 beats per minute is the usual recommendation. 

This information is commonly shared and promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle but what else constitutes a healthy lifestyle? Our attitudes, self-talk, outlook on life, wellbeing, motivation, self-confidence and ability to speak the truth of who we are while exercising our right to choice on a daily basis are all vital to a healthy lifestyle.  There are mountains of research and books written by scientists on the effects our thoughts and emotional states have on our health. Having conflict within ourselves and within relationships is a fundamental aspect of being alive but often we lack the skills to deal with them and were never taught the importance of understanding and resolving those inner conflicts.  

A common theme in our society is an over active mind.  In Chinese Medicine, which examines the world through the lens of polarity - how opposites engage in the dance of creation - light and dark, sun and moon, male and female, peace and war, views our over active minds as a deficiency of Yin or over active Yang.  Yin being low manifests as difficulty sleeping, inability to sit still and be reflective and engage in non competitive activities for example.  Usually we are depleting Yin which is the reflective, the potential, the space for creativity, the silence, the dark, the feminine through excessive Yang activities like too much light, internet surfing, constantly engaging in iChat or facebook, over consumption of TV, and competition.  These bright, active things are all Yang in nature and doing them without strengthening the Yin or simply do them too much will deplete the Yin - the calm, collected, the ability to sit with things.   

Yin and Yang are like two huge opposing muscle groups except you can’t exercise them in the usual ways.  Meditation and prayer is one of the most important ways to exercise and strengthen Yin.  Sitting and doing nothing (I mean nothing - no TV, no knitting, internet or reading or talking) is a form of meditation and to do this for many of us is a challenge and the perfect place to start exercising your meditation muscle.  The active mind is a powerful force and for many people it is on a runaway train to further depleting Yin and your ability to access your inner self, your emotional core, and to know your own mind and make conscious decisions that reflect exactly where you want to go with your life and feel the way you want to feel.  

Don’t under estimate this - sitting and being with yourself and having control over your own thoughts is a skill and it really is like a muscle.  To make it strong you have to exercise it.  This skill set is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle because we usually continue to make decisions that don’t bring us towards health when we aren’t settled in ourselves  - think about grabbing that food you know is bad for you, or engaging with someone online or in life that you know stresses you out but you don’t quite have control over the situation to make things go your way and not be bothered.  Often people don’t even know how they feel because they haven’t taken the time to check in and learn the language of their own emotional selves.   

Every emotion you feel is a biochemical reaction in your body and emotions and thoughts feed into each other as they push us towards one behaviour over another.  For many people scary things happen to them when they are young, or we get into a relationship with someone who isn’t nice to us and our bodies then react to situations that aren’t threatening with the same patterns of insecurity, fear or shame.  And sometimes simply internalizing society's messaging about keeping up with the Jones' or how looking like Canada's next top model should be everyone's personal goal is enough to cause feeling of shame or inadequacy.  Every emotion you feel consciously or unconsciously has a physical counter part in the body.  This is why learning to know your emotions and reactions is vital to well being.  Thoughts and feelings of love and happiness strengthen our bodies and those of anger or fear weaken us.  The meditation muscle is one tool that can be called upon to strengthen our ability to cultivate positive emotions that we must direct towards ourselves - messages of loving yourself, being kind to yourself and being able to feel the full range of the human experience by creating the space, the Yin time, for creativity and emotional awareness.  And as an added benefit you’ll sleep better, accomplish more and create lots of biochemical chances for healing in your body.  The best part is you can do this exercise without moving a muscle!  

For more information on the science behind the healing power of meditation and self awareness check out www.brucelipton.com.