Many people believe meditation to be a mental discipline, only. It seems to be an exercise that targets the thoughts, an ability to let them pass or the possibility of clarifying the mind, among other abilities. The eyes are half-closed, concentration is privileged, the posture is one of stillness.

But as spiritual teachers, philosophers and now scientists have, by now, explained, the mind is not separate from the body, and can’t be separated. Between these two exists a close relationship of mutual interference.

A striking example of how the body and mind find a meeting point in meditation is revealed amongst Buddhist monks. From a strictly scientific point of view, several studies have, over the last 30 years, examined Buddhist monks who meditate for several hours each day. The collected observations are striking.

In the mid-1980s, Herbert Benson, a physician and professor at Harvard University, testified on a breathing technique known as “tummo.” Through this technique, it’s possible to manipulate the body’s temperature. In the Tibetan language, tummo can be translated as “inner fire.” Indeed, a more recent case of tummo has astonished the West: Wim Hof, a 57-year old Dutchman, has been nicknamed “Iceman” because he used the technique to climb Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of shoes (in 2007). He also spent more than an hour immersed in ice (in 2008), among other feats.

Other research has noted the incredible transformations that take place in brains that are used to meditate. In 2011, a neuroscientist at the University of New York, Zoran Josipovic, led a study using MRIs to find evidence of the effects of meditation on the neural circuits that enable attention. A cerebral level requires two networks: an extrinsic network, activated by an external task (serving oneself a glass of water), and another intrinsic network, related to consciousness, our emotions and what we understand as our “inner world.”

For most people, to simultaneously operate both networks is very complicated. But this is not so for Buddhist monks. According to Josipovic, meditation allows them to connect their actions and emotions. These monks can focus simultaneously on what they are doing and what they feel at that moment. Again, according to Josipovic, this way of living these everyday actions translates into a harmonious life, in tune with the present and an overall experience that is much more fulfilling and satisfying.

We might expound further on superhuman qualities, but beyond enlisting extraordinary cases, perhaps we should stop at that adjective. Are Buddhist monks really operating beyond natural limits? Are they superior beings who have transcended human norms? Or perhaps these are all of our true potentials, and which lie dormant awaiting the right habits and life choices, available to everyone, to simply be awakened.

Many people believe meditation to be a mental discipline, only. It seems to be an exercise that targets the thoughts, an ability to let them pass or the possibility of clarifying the mind, among other abilities. The eyes are half-closed, concentration is privileged, the posture is one of stillness.

But as spiritual teachers, philosophers and now scientists have, by now, explained, the mind is not separate from the body, and can’t be separated. Between these two exists a close relationship of mutual interference.

A striking example of how the body and mind find a meeting point in meditation is revealed amongst Buddhist monks. From a strictly scientific point of view, several studies have, over the last 30 years, examined Buddhist monks who meditate for several hours each day. The collected observations are striking.

In the mid-1980s, Herbert Benson, a physician and professor at Harvard University, testified on a breathing technique known as “tummo.” Through this technique, it’s possible to manipulate the body’s temperature. In the Tibetan language, tummo can be translated as “inner fire.” Indeed, a more recent case of tummo has astonished the West: Wim Hof, a 57-year old Dutchman, has been nicknamed “Iceman” because he used the technique to climb Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of shoes (in 2007). He also spent more than an hour immersed in ice (in 2008), among other feats.

Other research has noted the incredible transformations that take place in brains that are used to meditate. In 2011, a neuroscientist at the University of New York, Zoran Josipovic, led a study using MRIs to find evidence of the effects of meditation on the neural circuits that enable attention. A cerebral level requires two networks: an extrinsic network, activated by an external task (serving oneself a glass of water), and another intrinsic network, related to consciousness, our emotions and what we understand as our “inner world.”

For most people, to simultaneously operate both networks is very complicated. But this is not so for Buddhist monks. According to Josipovic, meditation allows them to connect their actions and emotions. These monks can focus simultaneously on what they are doing and what they feel at that moment. Again, according to Josipovic, this way of living these everyday actions translates into a harmonious life, in tune with the present and an overall experience that is much more fulfilling and satisfying.

We might expound further on superhuman qualities, but beyond enlisting extraordinary cases, perhaps we should stop at that adjective. Are Buddhist monks really operating beyond natural limits? Are they superior beings who have transcended human norms? Or perhaps these are all of our true potentials, and which lie dormant awaiting the right habits and life choices, available to everyone, to simply be awakened.

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