Every Vipassana course is the same no matter where in the world you attend. Recordings serve as the primary teacher, and there’s a resident teacher who meditates with you and is available to answer questions. The days begin with 4:30 am morning meditation and end arounds 8 pm with ten hours of meditation in between. Yes, it’s a lot. But that’s the point of the course, and I have to say that it is incredibly beneficial.
Goenka teaches the Vipassana technique step by step, introducing a new step each day. It takes a couple days to transition into silence and really hone the power of concentration. Moving slowly gives plenty of time to master the method. The Vipassana technique focuses on the connection between mind and body. It teaches observation of body and breath, both of which are deeply entwined with the emotions of the mind. It’s not complicated, but it’s powerful.
The beauty of Vipassana courses is that you don’t need any prior experience with meditation. In fact, it’s better if you don’t have any meditation experience. Mixing methods can impede your progress. Goenka asks that students forget whatever they’ve previously learned about meditation and instead follow his instructions, and his alone–at least while the course is in session.
Is it worth the work?
I won’t sugarcoat it — sitting a Vipassana course was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I thought about leaving for the first six days. Meditating for 10 hours a day was killer. But I stuck it out, kept my vow of silence, and left with a few life-changing realizations about myself and my place in the world. It helped me break free from some of my emotional hangups. That’s really not the point of the course, but it’s definitely a positive side effect.
I think that everyone takes away something different. A drinking and drug-using friend of mine decided to sober up because of the course, and he stuck with it. It’s kind of amazing what can happen when you have solid time to go inward, separate yourself from the influence of others, and observe the fluctuations of the mind.
Sitting a Vipassana course is hard work. But I do believe it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. It’s an opportunity to learn a powerful meditation technique that the Buddha used to reach enlightenment.
And whether or not enlightenment is something that you believe in or even believe you can attain, you can still reap the many benefits of meditation like reduced stress, stronger immunity, stable emotions, and more energy.
So, is the work worth it? Absolutely. It’s a challenge to be silent and sit with the mind, but one that ultimately transforms the self for the better.
Meditating is more restful than sleeping. A person in a state of meditation consumes six times less oxygen than when sleeping. But the effects on the brain go further: people who meditate every day for more than ten years have a decrease in the production of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones associated with disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and stress. And they experience an increase in the production of endorphins, linked to the sensation of happiness. The change in hormone production was observed by researchers at the University of California Davis Center for Mind and Brain. They analyzed the level of adrenaline, cortisol and endorphins before and after a group of volunteers meditate. And they have proven that the deeper the state of relaxation, the lower the production of stress hormones.
Insomnia and Mental Disorders
Deep relaxation techniques, put into practice during the day, can improve the quantity and quality of sleep. This is what a 2008 study from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Illinois points out. Five people, aged 25 to 45 years and suffering from chronic insomnia, underwent meditation for two months. They went to sleep two more hours a day and reached REM sleep levels closer to what they considered healthy.
Those who practice meditation feel less pain. Researcher Joshua Grant of the Department of Physiology at the University of Montreal confirmed this hypothesis by touching hot plates on the nape of 26 people, 13 of them without contact with the technique and another 13 with more than 1000 hours of experience in meditation. The plate was heated to 46 degrees, then 47, and so on, up to 56. All meditators withstand temperatures above 52 degrees.
Reinforcement of the Immune System
The immune system is also favored. “Increased brain activity related to positive thoughts has a direct influence on increased antibody production. Meditation also enhances the action of the enzyme telomerase, “says Judson A. Brewer of Yale. The implications of this discovery are critical for the treatment of malignant tumors. The American Urology Association has already stated that meditation is recommended to help contain prostate cancer.
Meditation brings psychological and physiological benefits. It is used by many therapists, combined with conventional treatment, to lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Meditation is an instrument that helps the patient to open up to the emotions and feelings that arise during psychotherapy. Patients learn to dispel the emotional overload that often accompany the discovery of repressed feelings.
Instead of being thrown back and forth by thoughts, feelings, and emotions, like sailors in a typhoon, the meditators learn to position themselves safely. Calm and alert, they watch these thoughts and feelings pass, like cloud in the sky, without origin or destination. Identifying less with what the mind presents, the patient manages to decrease his sensitivity to problematic states.