Everybody’s looking for an edge in life. This is true for all hobbies, activities, and pursuits we undertake, including the ways in which we probe our minds. Despite the noncompetitive, ostensibly relaxing nature of meditation, we’re still drawn to trying to boost our performance and get the most out of our time on the cushion. And why shouldn’t we? Any meditator, from a greenhorn to a Zen master, will tell you that falling asleep during a session isn’t very productive, nor is spending your entire session dreaming about chocolate cake. This is where meditation supplements come in.
While meditation is not about hitting specific goals or reaching new heights of trippy experiences, there’s always going to be an optimal state in which we can make progress. This state can be reached more easily when we do basic things such as sleep our full amount of hours, avoid heavy meals before meditating, and pick a consistent time each day to undertake our practice. In this way, meditating is a lot like lifting weights. We’re aiming for consistency and progress between sessions, even if we’re not straining to achieve something specific.
Because of this, I believe there are some key meditation supplements that can help to optimize our practice and provide a more directed, sharp experience of our sensory perceptions. At this point, you may be thinking it seems like sacrilege to mix supplements and meditation. After all, isn’t meditation supposed to be about the natural state of our minds, however they are?
Yes, of course.
And yet even the greatest Zen monks on Earth still drink green tea to keep themselves on the ball, thus utilizing caffeine—a tried and true supplement—to elevate their awareness. With that in mind, I’ll be laying out my personal recommendations that have helped me in my daily practice, as well as providing my logic for their inclusion. I do recommend taking these meditation supplements in a fasted state, and practicing in the same state, for the best results.
Before we get into the meat of this topic, I’d like to make it expressly clear that I have absolutely zero affiliation with any of the brands that produce any of the supplements herein. I don’t use affiliate links, I don’t have sponsors, I don’t even have name brands of most of the stuff here! My only recommendation is that you search on Amazon for most of these brands, not use GNC, as you’ll get real user feedback on whether it works as opposed to a commissioned store employee trying to load you up with nonsense.
With no further ado, here’s my “stack.”
L-Theanine: This amino acid is becoming more and more popular as a focusing agent, as it has the unique ability to induce relaxation without the typical drowsy effects found in conventional sedatives. L-theanine has been linked to a range of benefits, including sleep quality, anxiety reduction, and blood pressure management. L-theanine is found in green and black teas, and may partially explain why these drinks are so popular among monastic circles. On its own, however, L-theanine doesn’t work many wonders. To get the most out of it, I recommend pairing it with its natural partner in crime, which also appears in green and black tea. I’m talking, of course, about…
Caffeine: This one needs no introduction or explanation. Millions of people around the world depend on caffeine each and every morning to give them the proper kick and get off to work on time. But caffeine also has a dark side that can hinder meditation, and anybody who’s pounded down an energy drink or two can attest to it. In large doses or without the tempering effects of a meal, caffeine can cause acute bouts of anxiety, racing thoughts, and excessive energy. That’s why L-theanine is such an excellent opposing force. It brings out the best of caffeine’s energy-promoting effects while blunting its jagged edges.
Ashwaghanda: This is a supplement I’d file under the category of “use five days, cycle off for two days.” Ashwaghanda is derived from a natural plant source, and has been examined in an increasingly vast amount of studies that explore everything from ADHD treatment to pain management. I personally started using ashwanghanda as a treatment for anxiety management and reduction, and still use it to this day because of its energetic, mood-bolstering powers. Ashwaghanda is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with a variety of changes and physical states that would otherwise induce stress. This makes it an excellent tool for priming your mind and body to probe the sensory appearances in consciousness, and also creates a gentle, borderline euphoric fuzz to sink into, once adequately focused.
Rhodiola Rosea: Like ashwaghanda, this naturally derived supplement is an adaptogen with a shocking number of therapeutic applications. Rhodiola rosea is grown in the cold, inhospitable parts of Europe and Asia, including parts of Siberia. It’s been shown to have incredible effects on treating anxiety, fatigue, insulin resistance, exercise performance, cognition, and much more. Like ashwaghanda, I cycle this supplement on and off to avoid tolerance buildup as well as any unanticipated negative effects that haven’t yet been dissected through studies. To date, however, rhodiola rosea has been a consistent and potent force in aiding my focus and mental acuity both on and off the cushion.
Vitamin D: If you live in a place with even partial cloud cover for a sizable portion of the year, you need to be supplementing vitamin D. It’s one of the most important vitamins for proper brain function, and its deficiency has been linked to all kinds of oxidative stress, depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and so on. Simply put, vitamin D is a must-have for any functioning human, let alone meditators. It may not have the immediate “zing” of the other supplements on this list, but it’s essential, and will make you feel fantastic in the long run.
So there you have it. There’s my optimal meditation supplements list. Let me know in the comments below if you have a different stack, if you have personal experience (positive or negative!) using any of these supplements, or if you simply have a question I didn’t answer in the post above.