Meditation: Part 1

You bet! But when we first got into meditation, we were more than a little skeptical about many of the claims that were being made (and in some instances we still are). After all, some of the 'high priests' and/or promoters of meditation were promising long life, wisdom, peace and tranquility--all of which were to be achieved in a weekend course.

As far as the weightlifting is concerned, meditation has a possible image problem because it can be characterized as passive, weak, and 'feminine'. If you're like many lifters, meditation sounds like something for sissies or 97 pound weaklings. This is unfortunate. While it's true that most of the advocates of meditation are not heavily into strength training, neither is the general public. Lets not reject the possible benefits of meditation because of negative stereotypes.

Another aspect, which leads to premature rejection of meditation, is its association with Eastern philosophies and mysticism. For example, according to one theory of meditation, we have a feminine power at the base of our spine, which is called the serpent power. At the top of our heads is an even greater power, which is masculine and is called the "lotus of a thousand petals." Between these two psychic power centers are six other centers, which lies one above the other. The idea is to raise the feminine serpent power up through the six psychic centers of the spine until it unites 'with the masculine lotus power at which time full union with the universal self is achieved--or something like that. Now all this doesn't make a lot of sense, and if you think it does, we honestly advise you to get a few extra Spotters when lifting heavy.

We realize that those who pioneered the field of meditation have built upon centuries of experience in sitting around trying to achieve psychic intercourse between their male and female power centers, but unfortunately, their explanations for what they are achieving have not changed over this period of time. That is, most of their theories are heavily ambiguous, metaphysical and unscientific. A lot of hard-nosed Western weightlifters (who can't tell their Yin from their Yang), have experienced the very tangible benefits of science and are understandably turned off by mysticism, but, with respect to meditation, it's not the theory that's so important as it is the results. Original theories of meditation are undoubtedly invalid, but most meditation techniques (that is, what you actually have to do) are quite simple and don't require nearly the special preparation and ability that it takes to bench 200 pounds.

Frankly, if meditation was all that difficult, it wouldn't have the mass appeal that it does since the average person is notoriously undisciplined. However, the average individual is also very hedonistic, and given the appeal of various forms of meditation, it is likely that the practitioner is benefiting in some rather immediate way or else the behavior would soon cease. Keep in mind that if it works, you can accept the procedure (techniques) without accepting the mystical explanations for whatever is producing the effect. Ultimately, we do, of course, want to scientifically understand the process so that techniques can be refined and so we can end up with whatever is essential for achieving the desired results. We suspect that in many instances, a lot of practices are unnecessary and could be dispensed with without reducing the desired benefits.

What mediators are trying to achieve is essentially a state of being which defies explanation; that is, it's sort of like trying to explain a sensation such as color to a congenitally blind person. There is a certain (for want of a better word) mystical experience that often accompanies meditation--a sense of unity or oneness with --whatever. The experience is very real to the individual, yet transcends ordinary experience. Such experiences are called transcendental because they go beyond ordinary sensation. This should not be taken to mean that they are "better" or more desirable. They are simply different. Similarly, it makes little sense to say that seeing is "better" than hearing. So let's not reject meditation techniques simply because the resulting experience is indescribable.

Psychologists have been able to measure some physiological and behavioral changes, which occur during meditative states, and this can serve as an idea for some of the claims made for meditation. For example, several studies have measured subjects who had been practicing Transcendental Meditation for several years. Recordings were taken before, during, and after meditation sessions. The results have consistently shown that during meditation, the respiration rate lower and there is a dramatic decrease in carbon dioxide elimination. Alpha brain rhythms increase during meditation, and the galvanic skin response decreases; this all indicates that the individual is significantly more relaxed.

Some weightlifters we've talked are afraid that meditation would relax them too much and thereby bring about a lackluster performance. In fact, most lifters approach competition with a debilitating amount of anxiety, and their performance would be improved if they could relax because they would be in better control of themselves. Remember that having the ability to relax is just another skill that you may choose to use or not use depending on the circumstances. If you are trained in meditation, at least you will have greater ability to relax when you think you need to. If you don't have the skill, you are more dependent on circumstances and also more vulnerable to control by others, including the possibility of being psyched out.

How do you go about learning to meditate? There are different ways, but in one of the simpler procedures (Transcendental Meditation) you us a word or sound called a mantra, (such as the sound Ohmmm). During your periods of meditation--about twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening---you sit comfortably in a setting, which is free from distractions, and repeat the sound over and over, quietly or silently to yourself. That's it, although it's not as easy as it sounds. Similarly, Benson, in his popular book, The Relaxation Response, advises you to relax your muscles, sit quietly with eyes closed, and breath slowly and repeat the number ONE to yourself every time you exhale. Try to work up to two twenty-minute periods. It does take practice. You'll find that it is very difficult to concentrate solely on your breathing, but with time you'll be able to cognitively remove yourself from your environment and achieve a deeply relaxed state.

There are, of course, other methods for learning how to relax, but meditation provides other benefits. It trains the individual to pay attention. This sharpening of attention lasts beyond the meditation sessions and enables the lifter to be less distracted by extraneous events. During competition, this increases the individual's ability to attend to whatever is best. In our experience, lifters who meditate are better able to control stressors, which have the potential to sap their physical and emotional strength. They are better able to conserve energy for when it really counts.

Yours in Strength,

Dr. Judd













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