Does Meditation Suck?
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Does Meditation Suck?

Research has shown that meditating can benefit one’s health, but some people seem to have negative experiences with the practice. One recent article describes how meditation “really sucked sometimes” for the writer when she first tried it. The article explains that meditation can come with expectations that it will cure every ill, and that these expectations led the writer to have a frustrating experience with the practice. The article also points out that in some cases meditation can exacerbate anxiety rather than alleviate it.

Why does meditation seem to fail some people when it works for others? Does it really suck?

Don’t Call It Meditation

Actually, I’m not convinced that the writer mentioned above was really practicing meditation when it “sucked” for her. Instead, I suspect that she, like some other disappointed meditators, might have been confused about what meditation is and isn’t.

Let’s be clear about what meditation isn’t. Sitting in a full lotus position on the floor with your eyes closed is not meditation, though it may look cool. Meditation is primarily about what’s happening inside of you, so whether you’re sitting on the floor or in a chair, lying down, or standing isn’t so important.

Focusing on your breath is also not meditation. Don’t get me wrong: breathing is a beautiful thing and definitely worth learning to appreciate, but focusing on the breath is a a technique to help us meditate, not meditation itself. If we practice the technique but miss the essence of the art, then our practice won’t yield results.

The Essence of Meditation

The essence of meditation is being in a meditative state of mind. You know you’re in the right state of mind when you are relaxed and focused at the same time. Getting into that state of mind is the crucial first step of meditation practice and where some practitioners may hit a wall.

To enter a meditative state of mind, you have to relax deeply and calm down the rational part of your brain, the part of you that has thoughts and worries (including worries about whether meditation will help you). The writer I mentioned earlier probably didn’t enter a meditative state of mind, which would explain why she was caught up in her own expectations and wasn’t enjoying her practice.

If you meditate for twenty minutes when you have lots of tension in your mind and body, then you are holding tension for twenty minutes. That might not feel pleasant.

But meditation need not be arduous. Entering the right state of mind can actually feel really good, sort of like chilling out in a hot tub.

In Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung we use a technique called Standing Zen to relax and enter the right state of mind for our practice. This technique involves standing, but it also works with other postures. For practitioners in our school, Standing Zen is the doorway into meditation and ensures that we enjoy our practice and benefit from it.

You can learn Standing Zen, and much more, by joining a class.

The Benefits of Chi Kung: What the Research Says
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The Benefits of Chi Kung: What the Research Says

Chi Kung has a tremendous reputation in China, and increasingly, around the world, as a self-healing art. But many of the reported benefits of this art come from anecdotal experience, not scientific studies. For instance, I could tell you about the many ways Chi Kung has helped me, and about how, for instance, Chi Kung has helped ease the symptoms of depression in several practitioners in our school, but these personal accounts do not carry the same weight as scientific research, which is typically done under controlled conditions.

So what does the science on Chi Kung say about the benefits of this art? Recent years have seen a spike in research on Chi Kung and related arts like Tai Chi. PubMed, the online database of the National Institutes for Health, currently lists the results of more than seven hundred studies on Chi Kung (spelled “Qigong” as a search term), a majority of which were published within the last decade. The research on Tai Chi is even more extensive: PubMed currently lists close to 2,500 studies on Tai Chi.

In one study, published in 2013, researchers examined the effectiveness of Chi Kung in managing the symptoms of depression in patients who had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. The findings were promising: the researchers found that study participants who did Chi Kung experienced an “antidepressive effect.” In short, the study provides evidence that Chi Kung may help alleviate symptoms of depression. These results seem consistent with the experiences of practitioners in our school.

The growing body of research suggests that Chi Kung may offer a whole host of benefits, such as:

• better sleep

• better cognition

• relief from chronic pain

• lower blood pressure

• greater strength

• improved balance

• better quality of life

Some of the studies look at the effects of Chi Kung in different demographic groups, such as adolescents and seniors. Other studies examine the use of Chi Kung for patients who are getting treatment for breast cancer, knee arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, and COPD, among other conditions. Browse the research yourself, then check out my upcoming classes.

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How Is Chi Kung Different from Physical Exercise?

Conventional exercise involves stressing the cardiovascular system or working the muscles, but in Chi Kung we relax the body, breath, and mind. When we are relaxed at all levels—physically, emotionally, mentally—we can bring our nervous system back to rest and digest mode, which facilitates deep healing. The more deeply we relax, the more effective our Chi Kung practice becomes.

Shirtless man with bulging muscles strains to lift a tire

Good old-fashioned grit and determination. Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst.

Chi Kung also ranges into territory beyond the confines of conventional exercise. In Chi Kung we develop and apply skills in managing chi (vital energy). Getting the chi to flow is the most basic skill in Chi Kung. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a smooth flow of chi will clear away the blockages that underlie physical and mental health problems. So when we practice Chi Kung to improve our health and happiness, it makes sense that we emphasize developing chi flow rather than, say, building muscle.

Man meditating in half-lotus position with his palms pressed together in front of him

Something a bit more relaxing. Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash.

If you’ve never experienced chi flow, if you’ve never felt your vital energy moving through you, then all I can say is, you’re missing out! Not only does the sensation of chi flow feel good, it helps make Chi Kung a holistic art, one that brings together body, energy, and mind.

The benefits of Chi Kung are also holistic. As a form of mindfulness, Chi Kung improves mental focus and eases the effects of stress. As an energy art, it helps to clear pain and inflammation, improve sleep, balance your metabolism, and establish an emotional equilibrium, among many other benefits.

How do you know if you’re practicing Chi Kung effectively as an energy art? If you don’t feel any obvious sensations of chi, that’s okay; those sensations will vary in intensity and may be quite subtle. But if you feel refreshed and energized after a session—like you’ve had a massage and a cup of coffee—then that’s a sign that you’re working with energy. More broadly, take stock of the progress you’ve made since you first started training. If you can identify a reduction in tension, pain, and inflammation in your body over time, then you’re on the right track.

In my Generating Energy Flow course, I teach students basic skills in managing their energy, from entering into a meditative state of mind to letting the energy flow freely in order to clear health issues. With our cost-effective method, you can get the benefits of an energy art in just 10 to 15 minutes of practice per day.