Meditation helped me unlock my potential. Here’s how it can do the same for you.
By Frank Zane Mr. Olympia ’77,’78,’79 FLEX magazine DECEMBER 1989
Superstar bodybuilders understand that the most massive, well-proportioned physique does not necessarily win shows year after year. It’s neither muscle. nor posing, nor dieting that assures longevity in the sport. The winning advantage that repeatedly carries a bodybuilder to the top is an aspect of conditioning that many also-rans neglect –training the mind.
While most bodybuilders readily emphasize the importance of sleep during a training phase, not nearly enough of them stress the need for relaxation during waking hours. And fewer still rely on meditation, the most effective method of all for producing states of deep relaxation. Meditation, a practice that has existed for thousands of years, is the continued concentration on a single stimulus, mental object or bodily sensation. Ironically, it’s resurfacing today as a new phenomenon, one that can generate well-being and the power to excel beyond normalphysical limitations.
I used meditation when I first began weight training at the age of 14. At that time my training consisted of lifting weights, running and the meditative techniques known as yoga. After discovering the benefits of the technique, I became intrigued with the philosophy behind meditation. Meditation does not utilize the brain in the same manner as the usual process of training.
The ultimate goal of meditation, in fact, is thecomplete absence of intrusive thoughts. Meditation calls for creating, both mentally and physically, a relaxed state, a condition that excludes distractions. It’s similar to the type of state required when you are in a training groove; nothing distracts you, and you are focused totally on thetask at hand. The ideal place to meditate is a peaceful area (either indoor or outdoor) — eventually the place should become associated with your practice of meditation. You should view meditation as nutrition for the mind, for it provides the mental energy necessary to develop and control the mind itself. The ultimate key to meditation success is, first, to find a form of meditation that works for you and, second, to practice that form daily.
SELF-INDUCED DEEP-RELAXATION MEDITATION
The most popular technique of meditation can be referred to as “concentrative meditation.” The process requires you to concentrate on a stimulus: the repetition of a sound (in certain cases called a mantra) or your own breathing pattern. Because breathing is a natural and accessiblestarting point, I’ll teach you how to use it as the object of concentration. To begin, sit in your designated place, keeping you back straight. Close your eyes and breathe normally through the nostrils; place your palms facing upward on your knees. The goal is to count each breath, starting with one. When you reach 10, start counting one again. repeat this cyclical process for approximately 20 minutes. If you lose count or count beyond 10 or a thought interrupts the counting process, don’t become impatient with yourself. This is a normal response pattern from a brain that is not accustomed to such intense concentration. Should your efforts to count be impeded, simply relax, acknowledge this has occurred and start the counting process again by returning to the number one.
STAGES OF ABSORPTION
Within the concentrative meditation there exists three levels of absorption, each leading to a more profound state of relaxation. The first level iscalled the intrusion stage. During the early phases of meditation, you’ll notice that the mind wanders. It likes to be occupied, entertaining you with an assortment of possibilities: the events that occurred to you a day earlier, what you plan to do today, something someone said to you, a song, a dream and so on. An entire waterfall of thoughts may come cascading into your consciousness as you count. It’s not possible to escape such thoughts or groups of thoughts, particularly during the early days of meditative practice; and you shouldn’t try to escape them. You can’t. The point is to acknowledge their existence, then return to the counting process. Whatever happens, you should not get carried away with the distractions.
The second stage of absorption is called off-sensation. As you become progressively absorbed into counting the breaths, your body will become increasingly more tranquil. Eventually, you cease to be aware of your bodily sensations, if you have learned to minimize movement duringmeditation. When off-sensation occurs, it’s an extraordinary state, as if the body has fallen away.
During the early stages of meditative practice, off-sensation may not readily be experienced. But as your concentration improves, you will begin to reach off-sensation often, and with practice, you will begin to reach off-sensation often, and with practice, you will move into off-sensation sooner during your 20-minute sessions. Ideally, you want to reach this secondary stage, also known as the relaxation response, within the first give minutes.
As you continue through this phase, making sure to continue counting the breath, you eventually pass into the final stage, absolute peace. Here, it’s almost as if the mind has fallen away as well as your body, leaving behind nothing but complete openness. Without realizing it you will have ceased counting, and in its place will be overwhelming serenity, or oneness with life.
BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
Can daily meditation sessions truly offer you a superior edge in reaching the ultimate heights in bodybuilding? The answer is an unequivocal yes!
Physiologically, meditation helps you become more efficient machine, It has profound effect on those components that promote relaxation: reduced oxygen consumption, improved elimination of carbon dioxide, and lowered rates of respiration. It slows the heartbeat, decreases blood lactate levels (excess lactate in the bloodstream is associated with anxiety), causes a rise in skin resistance and reduces blood pressure.
Additionally, meditation improves hormone function. For example, production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is lowered, which allows you to get maximal bodybuilding effects with lower levels of the substance.
Other physiological changes occur specifically during the off-sensation stage. In a normal thinking state, the brain waves run at 15 to 35 cycles per second; these are known as Beta waves. When the brain slows down to six to 12 cycles per second, it moves into the Alpha wave stage, and you pass into the off-sensation stage. The slowing of the brain waves produces a level of deep relaxation comparable to deep sleep.Physiologically tests have shown that 20 minutes of meditations in this stage produces a relaxation response similar to one’s hour worth ofsound sleep.
As you become more proficient at meditation, you’ll note other less tangible changes in your life. For example, you’ll become less obsessive in how you deal with negative thoughts. You will not give them power over you, and you life will become less hindered by inaccurate perceptions, irrational judgments and stereotyped rules of behavior. It should be obvious how such changes can improve your precontest period, which tends to be fraught with doubt, worry and second-guessing.
Very often, the mind tends to block out assorted items during the course of the day, yet often, some of what we do notice on conscious level nevertheless affects us subconsciously. During meditation this backlog of unfinished business becomes apparent to us, allowing us to deal with it in our own fashion and to close the subject as it were. After a time, our minds become clear of many such subconscious thoughts, items that no longer have the power to cloud our heads and obstruct our bodybuilding progress.
Paradoxically, meditation is both the practice and the conquest of boredom. As you concentrate on nothing in particular, you learn how to live in the present and without worrying about the past or future. You learn to maximize the moment, seizing it to your advantage. Ultimately, meditation becomes more than a tool to improve your bodybuilding; it become a method for personal growth and personal fulfillment. That alone makes it one of the most important “training techniques” in your bodybuilding repertoire.
Copyright © 1989 FLEX magazine