Monday, July 2, 2007

The power of meditation

I HAVE often described yoga as meditation in postures; tai chi as meditation in motion; and qigong as meditation in action.

Indeed qigong has yoga-like postures, tai chi-like slow movements, and kung fu-like fast and forceful movements. If you go back to history, Shaolin kung fu was the martial arts component of qigong practised by the monks of the Shaolin temple. It is the meditative discipline of qigong that allows the kung fu exponents to do extraordinary feats.

What is common in all these arts is the power of the conscious mind. I know you are more familiar with the concept of the power of the sub-conscious mind, but in reality, the conscious mind is even more powerful.

Recent studies have shown that meditation can improve several medical conditions, including pain management and lowering blood pressure.
While so much has been talked about what the subconscious mind can do (for example, whatever the mind conceives and believes, it can achieve), the expected phenomenal results are usually subjective, and not in real-time, meaning, if 10 people are put through a test to conceive and believe in something and none achieved the results, it can be simply concluded that they probably didn’t really believe that they could achieve the desired results after all, or that they will achieve the results someday.

Nobody can delve into their minds to confirm the real situation. And nobody can prove that the results will never happen in the future because nobody knows everything about the future.

I want to bring you back to reality, that is, to remind you that by increasing the level of awareness to the actual things that are happening right now (not imagination or visualisation) – your thoughts, your breath, your body and your surroundings – you can harness much more of the power of your mind. Then you will realise that the conscious mind does not play second fiddle to the subconscious counterpart.

While modern-day prophets, clairvoyants, and psychic detectives like Edgar Cayce, Jean Dixon and others have to search into the deep recesses of their subconscious minds (often messages or visions come to them during sleep, trance or other altered states of consciousness) and they have little control over what kind of information is received.

Many years ago, one of my patients was suffering from postnatal blues and became psychotic. She threatened to kill her own baby, and was at the same time shouting “Pinatubo! Pinatubo!”

Nobody knew what she was talking about. Many months later Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines started to rumble and spew smoke. The rest is history. This is one example where the subconscious mind becomes very receptive only when the conscious mind malfunctions.

Our aim is to train the conscious mind to have the highest receptivity, and be able to receive, collate, compute, and understand all the important and necessary information received, and then translate all that to wisdom so that the best actions or responses can be made.

However, we cannot be inundated by too much information. Our minds will be overloaded, and our lives will be stressful and messy. I already have an overload of emails, but all that is in the computer. Imagine the same situation clogging up our minds.

So “important and necessary” information means these will benefit us, the society, and the environment around us.

I have previously described how my Sufi grandmaster received spiritual knowledge through direct transference from his own master’s mind, all done in the conscious state, just like transferring data by infrared or Bluetooth on your handphones!

To be ready for that, he had undergone many years of spiritual training which included many long sessions of spiritual meditation or zikr.

Qigong is meditation in action.
Most of us have heard of the amazing stunts that Yogis can do. These masters undergo years of meditation and strict spiritual or altruistic lives.

I have also described several psychics and healers who operate at the conscious level, as opposed to others who function only in altered states of mind.

There are also mentalists who are gifted or have consciously trained their minds sufficiently that they can bend spoons (psychokinesis), make distant objects move (telekinesis), read minds (telepathy), predict the future (clairvoyance or prophecy) and perform other supernatural tasks in the fully conscious, normal state.

Our own Robin Lim is one such mentalist that we should be proud of.

Meditation and continuous awareness

In many previous articles I have described meditation methods and exercises (see for previous articles), including the meditation in Kundalini yoga, Chakra meditation, spiritual meditation practices, and others.

Meditation is being continuously aware of yourself and your surroundings. The more details about yourself that you are aware of, the more intense is the beneficial effect. For example, most people are not even aware of how they breathe (chest or diaphragmatic, or how deep or shallow). Breathing is a subconscious effort.

However, switching to conscious breathing, starting from being aware of the air passing into the nostrils, filling the lung spaces while expanding the chest and upper abdomen, (usually in shallow breaths, but sometimes in deep inspirations), and then slowly releasing the air, will turn the entire process into a meditative exercise.

Now the mind is fully aware of many things that are going on. Compare that with the usual situation where a person may be breathing exactly the same way without his or her mind being conscious of it at all.

The benefits of meditation

Eastern traditions have long extolled the goodness of meditation and the benefits are many. Now all these claims are beginning to be substantiated by scientific studies and I shall report some here.

Recent studies have shown that meditation can improve several medical conditions, including pain management and lowering blood pressure.

One long-term study showed that people with normal to high blood pressure who practised daily meditation were 23% less likely to die from any cause than those who did not.

This was more than that achieved by other non-drug therapies, such as exercise, weight loss and salt restriction.

Besides improving cardiovascular problems that can lead to poor brain function, meditation may also reduce levels of cortisol, the ubiquitous stress hormone. Excess cortisol can impede cognitive abilities such as memory recall.

Researchers have also found an association between meditation and an increase in the thickness of the cortex, that part of the brain that handles our higher functions of intelligence, innovation and creativity. This suggests that regular meditation may slow down the natural thinning of the cortex that occurs in ageing.

Qigong is meditation in action

By now, those of you who have been practising qigong will know that you are required to be fully aware of as much of the goings-on in your body as your mind can cope with. The level and multiplicity of awareness will improve as you practise.

Every posture and every movement is a conscious movement, much as the Bharata Natyam dancer must be fully conscious of every hand gesture and every clang of her ankle bells.

When your mind is in complete control and in full awareness of your body, you are in a higher level of meditation than just being aware of your breath or your mantra.

The next level is to connect and be aware of your life-force, the “qi” that is sustaining your life, and powering every cell in your body. This requires training of the conscious mind.

Once you can connect with your qi, then you will learn to control it and direct it to different parts of your body. Later you will learn how to direct it to other people, or other objects.

The walking meditation

The most intriguing qigong exercise is the Amazing Qigong Walk. Imagine being in full meditation, yet you are gently walking, and gracefully swaying your arms while nurturing the qi to circulate inside and around you.

When carried out in the fresh environs of a park, among the trees with birds chirping and the breeze whispering in your ears, this walking meditation is heavenly bliss.

And the qi it generates is very strong. That is why it is practised by the members of the Cancer Recovery Clubs of Shanghai and many other cities in China. Shouldn’t you try it too?

  • Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong.

    The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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