What Happens When People Meditate for the First Time?

enlightenmentChristina Sarich, Contributor
Waking Times

There have been numerous studies detailing what happens to the brain in long-term meditators, but what exactly happens to people who meditate for the first time?

Sara Lazar, a Harvard researcher, has gained quite some notoriety detailing how the brain actually grows grey matter when people meditate. Other studies have shown that meditation improves IQ, and lessens depression. In addition to these benefits, meditation also:

  • Reduces alcohol and substance consumption, reduces blood pressure (Chiesa, 2009),
  • Decreases anxiety, depressive symptoms, and relapses (Coelho, Canter, & Ernst, 2007; Kim et al., 2009)
  • Helps patients suffering from various types of chronic pain (Chiesa & Serretti, in press)
  • Lowers the incidence of stress (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009)
  • Aids cancer patients (Ledesma & Kumano, 2009)


Most people think they have to meditate for years before they start seeing any of these improvements, but a study conducted by Chiesa, Calati, and Serretti shows that after just eight short weeks of meditation, people start to experience improved cognitive functioning.

Still not fast enough for you?

Meditation for the First Time

Here’s what happens to the brain after someone completes just one meditation session who has never meditated before:

  • People start to become less ‘me’ centered as the brain balances the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which allows us to ruminate our worry, and the Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), which allows us to empathize with others and feel more connected to those who we usually view as dissimilar to ourselves.
  • The fear-center is calmed via the amygdala and the two branches of the nervous system. You know that ‘uh-oh’ feeling you sometimes get? Meditation helps to make sure that you only feel low-level stress when you really need to, such as when you are about to put your hand on a hot stove, or you need to put the brakes on in traffic. Even then, meditation can help take the stress out of stress-full experiences.
  • The very first time you try to meditate, the mind calms down. It doesn’t mean you will experience profound inner peace the first time your bum touches a meditation cushion, but it does mean that you are already setting up new neural pathways that allow positive change. Each time you ‘sit’ again, you enhance them.
  • You’ll feel less depressed. Meditation is getting a lot of press lately because of this study by Mahav Goyal published at JAMA. 47 trials conducted with over 3,500 patients proved that meditation was as effective as anti-depressants. (The effect of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3.) The difference is, of course, that meditation can’t kill you or cause other unwanted side effects, like psychotic episodes, panic attacks, hostility, etc.

Beginner Meditators

Though it takes a few more sessions, here is what happens when you meditate a little more frequently:

  • You’ll feel less physical pain in just four meditation sessions. Brain activity decreases in the areas responsible for relaying sensory information surrounding a feeling of pain. Also, regions of the brain that modulate pain get busier, and volunteers who participated in a study reported that pain was less intense after meditation practice. These results were all reported at an annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.
  • The ‘me-center’ slowly evaporates. As the connection between bodily sensations and the vmPFC withers, you will no longer assume that a bodily sensation or momentary feeling of fear means something is wrong with you or that you are the problem. You can just let it rise and pass, without hardly giving it a second thought.
  • Empathy becomes stronger. The vmPFC part of the ‘me center’ subsides and the dmPFC grows more dominant, which means you can feel others’ pain or sadness, but with the same ability as you’ve learned to handle your own bodily sensations.

Masters of Meditation

Once you’re an old pro at meditation you can look forward to even more benefits, many of which science is still reaching to understand.

  • <Tibetan monks can sit for hours in meditation as easily as most of us can spend the same amount of time sleeping or surfing the net. These monks recently dried wet sheets with their bodies by utilizing a form of meditation called g Tum-mo. Monks were cloaked in wet, cold sheets (49 f / 9.4 c) and placed in a 40 f (4.5 c) room. In conditions such as these the average person would likely experience uncontrollable shivering and suffer hypothermia. However, through deep concentration, the monks were able to generate body heat, and within minutes the researchers noticed steam rising from those sheets. In about an hour the sheets were completely dry.
  • Yogis in India who practice meditation are able to slow their hearts so completely that they are hardly detectableon EKG equipment. In 1935 a French cardiologist, Therese Brosse, took an electrocardiograph to India and studied yogis who said they could stop their heart. According to Brosse’s published report, readings produced by a single EKG lead and pulse recordings indicated that the heart potentials and pulse of one of her subjects decreased almost to zero, where they stayed for several seconds. (Brosse, 1946)
  • A master meditator, Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, is a Jain monk who credits his incredible memory to meditation practice. He can recite 500 items from memory, whether it is a phrase from one of six different languages, a math problem, or the name of a random object. He recently performed this feat in front of an audience of 6,000 to verify his amazing level of skill. It took six hours for the crowd to feed him the list of items, and he recited them back perfectly.
  • Dutchman Wim Hof is able to control his immune system with meditation. He has been in the Guinness Book of World Records 20 times for accomplishments like climbing Mt. Everest and Kilimanjaro in nothing but a pair of shorts and shoes, with no water or food, when temperatures easily reach 50 degrees celcius. He uses a special breathing meditation.

So maybe the first time you learn to control your thoughts by focusing on your breath, or simply observing your thoughts like clouds passing in the sky won’t make you a master meditator capable of these staggering acts, but even with your first twenty minute ‘sit’ you are well on your way to other-worldly abilities.

About the Author

Christina Sarich is a writer, musician, yogi, and humanitarian with an expansive repertoire. Her thousands of articles can be found all over the Internet, and her insights also appear in magazines as diverse as Weston A. Price, NexusAtlantis Rising, and the Cuyamungue Institute, among others. She was recently a featured author in the Journal, “Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and Healing Arts,” and her commentary on healing, ascension, and human potential inform a large body of the alternative news lexicon. She has been invited to appear on numerous radio shows, including Health Conspiracy Radio, Dr. Gregory Smith’s Show, and dozens more. The second edition of her book, Pharma Sutra, will be released soon.

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  • John Tischer

    What happens when people first meditate, is, for the first time, they see that they
    actually have thoughts. Many people who are given instructions to “pay attention
    to the breath.” and such instructions feel immediate frustration because thoughts
    seem to have such energy and are so distraction. Many beginning meditators complain
    that they can’t “meditate”, because of the energy of their thinking process, and quit
    because they think they are not getting anywhere. The benefits put forth in the article
    are true… but the effects of meditation come only if one practices without expectations.
    The expectations themselves are the obstacles

  • mothman777

    Paramahamsa Hariharananda, the Kriya yoga master, could stop his heart completely, stop his breath completely, stop all brain waves completely and stop all blood flow completely, measured on hospital monitoring equipment supervised by independent trained medical staff, in a hospital setting, such that his readings were exactly those of a dead person, for a full half hour, which really freaked the medical staff out, in a personal account given to me by my Kriya Yoga swami teacher some years ago, who was a direct disciple of Hariharananda, as the medical staff were thinking they should use emergency measures to try to resuscitate him, and then he simply opened his eyes after half an hour, smiled, got up, and simply walked away. This was something Paramahamsa Hariharananda could do repeatedly at will, and after a while, you are indeed able to stop breathing almost, and I experienced that even through TM Maharishi yoga method years before that, with only the slightest sip of air, barely even noticeable, coming in only every two minutes or so, but that is not forced or willed by the way, nor should it ever be so, as that occurs spontaneously when a different type of consciousness is entered into, and the soul and body are nourished by prana from beyond the normal physical breathing process.

    The entire perception of even having a physical body is only a given percept in any case, not being any more than a very dense astral type of dream image itself, and when the external physical senses are created around the soul, then the soul sees the physical body and the material world, and under false egotism, begins to mistakenly and falsely self-identify with the physical body, the physical senses, the physical brain and subtle physical, or astral type bodies which their subtle material senses, as it’s own true real self, when in fact, all those things are merely illusory, to graduate beyond.

    In the Guinness Book of Records, a white belt martial artist, similarly beyond the normal range of physical perception, under the televised supervision of Ross McWhirter, who tested his body for the presence of Hollywood stunt type chemicals to prevent burning, and found none, poured a ladle full of boiling liquid lead over several one quarter inch or so thick bands of leather, and the lead burned through them all instantly, then he opened his mouth, and tipped another full ladle of boiling liquid lead in his mouth and held the lead in his closed mouth for 20 seconds, and then spat it out onto several more bands of one quarter inch thick leather, which the lead burned through instantly, and when Ross McWhirter checked inside his mouth, there was not a single burn in the man’s mouth.

    My first yoga session when I was initiated with Kriya yoga resulted in Paramahamsa Yogananda appearing to me, as a young man, smiling to me and his face was moving around, just like I was looking at him from just a few feet away, but he had left his mortal body quite a number of years before that, and he appeared to me at the end of a black and white conical checkered tunnel. After that, when I meditated, I was often visited by Paramahansa Sri Yukteswar, and Babaji Mahavatar too, and came to see Paramahansa Hariharananda a great deal also, and the rest of the Kriya lineage of teachers.

    Meditation relies greatly not only on changes in metabolism, sense withdrawal, etc., but also on a direct link with the consciousness of someone who exists on a higher plane, to draw the disciple onto a higher plane of consciousness, with different levels of consciousness being attained by centering one’s consciousness in different chakras and using mantras and breathing exercises to alter flow of prana. Ultimately we begin to have a concrete understanding that just as this world exists, other ‘world’ planes exist in different dimensions where we can experience different qualities of consciousness, some much more dense in depth of richness of quality of sense perception than this material world, much more real in fact, and we can prepare to graduate here in this world to move onto those other, higher planes and dwell there, with the consciousness surviving after the dissolution of this present material vehicle, which is, literally just a very realistic dream, a more concrete version of the dream bodies we experience in our sleep at night, but ultimately, the fully awakened senses of the eternal spirit soul itself, beyond the artificially imposed temporal gross and subtle physical senses under maya, are the most alive and the most concrete of all, being extremely satisfying when focussed on their intended sense percept, the sustaining Godhead, Whose soul is actually also the substance of the higher worlds, that Godhead also being able to manifest in a more medium humanlike form also, as Krishna. or Govinda, rather than being manifest just as formless living spiritual planets, living spiritual water, living spiritual sky, and so on, and we can come to associate with many other souls there who are all dwelling in the original dimension that we all came from in the first place, from a plane which never had to come into existence, a plane which naturally fills the entire expanse of the cosmic infinitude, a plane of pure consciousness, of pure intellect, of perfect love, where all souls possess a musical quality, and perfect undecaying beauty, that never becomes hackneyed, always having the quality of eternally new freshness.

    The avadhuta yogi may come to be enlightened without any formal yoga initiation or techniques or external human guru, being spiritually awakened by the eternally indwelling Godhead, who can also appear in nature, like the flowing rivers, the air and wind, the mountains, and in plants, animals, insects, birds and other people all around them.

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