Science Behind Meditation
Your mind gets a break!
The benefits of meditation have been known for millenia, what is actually happening from a physiological and neurological POV has not been fully understood. With recent advancements in neuroscience and imaging technology remarkable discoveries into the science of meditation are being made daily. One of the most astounding findings is that meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain as well as it’s functionality (via connections). Below is just a small sampling of areas of the brain that have been the subject of recent research.
The highest evolved part of the brain, the frontal lobe is responsible for planning, discerning, judging, list making, attention and self-conscious awareness.
During meditation, the frontal lobe essentially goes “off-line.”
The parietal lobe processes sensory information to build a picture of the surroundings; it also helps to orient oneself in time and space.
During meditation, the parietal lobe slows down significantly.
Read: less distraction
The thalamus is the gate-keeper for the senses; it contributes to our perception of things. It funnels sensory data deeper into the brain and stops other signals (involved in fight or flight response).
During meditation, information from the thalamus is slowed down.
Read: less reactive
The reticular formation is a network of nerve pathways and is the brain’s sentry; it receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond.
During meditation, activity is dialed down.
You reap amazing benefits!
There are many changes in brain function after just 8 weeks of meditation that significantly reduce anxiety. One of the most important findings is the fact that the amygdala (associated with fear and emotions […]
There are more reasons than we could list, but here are a few: it boosts immune function, increases stress resistance, focus, self-control and the ability to concentrate; reduces anxiety, inflammatory processes and perception of pain.
PART I – Get started
Right here, right now!
You can study all the books in the world about meditation, but if you don’t practice, you will never KNOW what meditation is…meditation can only be KNOWN through experience. Start your practice today – no preparation is needed. Over time, you’ll learn to quiet your mind, relax your hips and strengthen your spine to sit upright, and sit for longer periods of time. Have patience and let go of all expectations of what it should look and feel like. Follow our step by step process below.
HOW TO START A MEDITATION PRACTICE
1) This is actually a precursor to meditation for the purists, but it is all on the meditation practice continuum. Set a timer for 5 minutes for your first day. If it is excruciating to sit through, set the timer for 3 minutes the next day and stay at 3 minutes/day until that amount of time feels manageable. If 5 minutes was easy to sit through, try 10 minutes the next day. Practice daily –no excuses. Try not to watch the timer. With every week, increase the amount of time of each sitting by a few minutes (2-5). Don’t increase the time too quickly – there is no contest, no awards given for longest meditation practice of the day. If you constantly watch the timer, waiting for the alarm rather than observing the breath and body, go […]
Exercise & Anxiety
It is well documented in scientific research that regular exercise enhances mood, and “remodels” the brain, making it more resistant to stress. Exercise is an important part of a plan to treat anxiety. The minimum amount of exercise needed to affect the brain and combat anxiety/depression is 20 minutes, 3 times per week. The intensity does not matter as much as the duration; a sustained effort of 20 minutes 3 times a week is sufficient. Regularity is also important; if you skip a week and plan to make it up by exercising 6 times the next week, you will not get the same results. Also, the more severe your symptoms, the more dedicated and regular your exercise routine should be. For severe cases 5 times a week would yield better results than the minimum of 3. Choose an activity that interests you or that you enjoy. You are much more likely to stick with something that you enjoy. Studies show that the profound effects of exercise, when used as part of a plan to treat anxiety, take 3-6 weeks to be noticed significantly in the mind/body. It doesn’t happen overnight – stick with a program.
Try to establish a “flow.” Start slow, and gentle. Gradually build up endurance and strength, and eventually the flow will come naturally. To enter a state of flow you should be challenged, but not overwrought. As we say in Yoga, “find the balance between effort and ease.” If it is too easy, make it harder; if it is too hard, make it easier. As your strength and endurance increase, so will your distance and/or amount of time spent in the activity. Don’t push too hard too fast.
Pranayama is one of the easiest and most effective natural remedy for anxiety. When we have rising anxiety, it feels like the mind is running away from us, and it is scary. The mind and the breath are connected — one cannot run away without the other. Breathing is controlled by both the unconscious and the conscious part of the brain. If we are not thinking about our breath, or intentionally changing our breathing patterns (e.g. holding our breath, taking deeper breaths, etc) then it is under unconscious control. As soon as we intentionally change how we naturally breathe, it falls under conscious control. We can always control the breath, and by doing so we effect the mind. As far back as the Upanishads, the connection between the breath and the mind was noted. Calm mind, calm breath. Think about how agitated the breathing becomes when someone is enraged, stricken with grief, frightened, or any other strong emotion that is a “fluctuation of the mind” (Yoga terminology); then compare that to how calm, smooth, deep and slow someone’s breath is when the are in a relaxed state. When the mind is agitated, so is the breath. You can use the breath to calm the mind — consciously slow the breath down and lengthen the exhalation, and eventually the mind will follow by calming down as well.
This time of year is perfect for getting together with loved ones, reflecting, celebrating, acknowledging, re-establishing your practice, and letting go. “Letting go” is a central theme in a Yogic lifestyle, and is one half of the balancing act that includes “dedicated effort” as the other half. In Sanskrit they are:
Abhyasa (dedicated effort) & Vairagya (practice of non-attachment or letting go).
Before you create your New Year’s resolutions (things you are dedicated to accomplishing this coming year), consider making a list of things you are going to let go — guilt, jealousy, resentment, constant worry, or other negative emotions that keep us bound to negativity and therefore bound to suffering. In that list, consider adding some ego feeding things like too much pride in past accomplishments or achievements, sense of entitlement for whatever reason (e.g. wealth, status, etc), over extending personal opinions, or engaging in divisive actions. All of these things keep us from living fully and with a sense of freedom, regardless of our present situation. Once you have let go of some of this emotional baggage, you will have more energy to put toward your resolutions and intentions for a beautiful 2014. This is going to be a great year!
Sundara Yoga Therapy
The Pali word “Metta” is commonly translated in English as loving-kindness. Metta signifies friendship and non-violence as well as “a strong wish for the happiness of others.”1 This feeling is difficult to describe with words, I can personally liken it to a mother’s love for her children or a teacher’s love for her students, but it goes beyond familiarity and extends to strangers as well. In the practice of Metta meditation, one recites specific phrases in order to evoke this heart opening feeling. It is important not to limit the practice to family, religion, social class, or culture. Metta is a tool that permits one’s generosity and kindness to be applied to all beings, no matter who the individual is. This practice, over time, allows you to release hatred and other poisonous feelings, and opens your heart to receive as well as give-essentially making the practitioner more lovable as well as more loving.
After months of practice, you may want to offer Metta to someone you find “challenging” or has harmed you in some way. This should only be undertaken if you feel you are ready. At first your mind will reject the offering, and it is just words without feeling. But over time, your heart will open, you will see the vulnerability in the other person, and feel some compassion, thus releasing you from the poisonous bonds of hatred, fear and resentment. This is the beautiful, liberating power of Metta!
With Much Metta, Genevieve Yellin
Instructions for practicing Metta Meditation:
1) Always start with yourself-recite the following
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be safe
May I love & be loved
2) Offer Metta to a loved one
May ___be happy
May ___be healthy
May ___be safe
May ___love and be loved
3) Offer Metta […]
Research suggests that a daily dose of raw, unrefined coconut oil may alleviate, or regress neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Parkinsons Diseases. Snopes, an internet “truth” seeking website, points out that the claims about coconut oil and AD are anecdotal and that there is “very little significant scientific evidence to back up those claims,” I would argue that that is due to the fact there have not been a lot of scientific clinical trials. The research behind the use of coconut (MCT) is very solid, very promising and warrants a deeper look. In cognitive testing, AD patients that were given coconut oil treatment exhibited increased score/performance on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-cog) across the whole subject group in comparison to the placebo group.(1)
Turmeric & Vitamin D
Scientists from UCLA have conducted research on vitamin D’s role against Alzheimer’s. They found that vitamin D3, together with the curcumin (an active compound found in the spice turmeric), work together to support the immune system’s effect against amyloid-beta protein in the brain. (2)
Another study, published in 2010 demonstrates that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of cognitive problems. Lead scientist, David J. Llewellyn, PhD, of the University of Exeter, England, raises the possibility that vitamin D supplements may have therapeutic potential for the prevention of dementia.(3) As we all know, the best source of Vitamin D is exposure to natural sunlight. People that live in northern climates and/or have limited time outdoors should consider a vitamin D3 supplement.
There are many other natural supplements and foods that have strong anecdotal evidence supoorting their use in treatment for AD patients. The scientific community has taken notice of gingko biloba, vitamin E, and saffron to name a […]
Genevieve Yellin, ERYT500, PYT1000
Integrative Yoga Therapist
Can probiotics reduce anxiety? That is what recent research suggests. Early research on the gut-brain connection that was conducted on mice* found that mice fed probiotics had a significant increase in stress resistance. In other words they didn’t get stressed out as easily as the control group that were not fed probiotics when faced with a stressful situation. More recent studies on humans have found that supplementing with probiotics (specifically Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactococcus lactis, and Streptococcus thermophilus) for four weeks, demonstrated improved processing activity in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotion, sensation and anxiety.
What this means
Though the pathways are still unknown, there is strong evidence that the communication between the gut and the brain is a two way street. It is well known that chronic stress and anxiety have a negative effect on one’s gastrointestinal system, and now it seems evident that a poor gastrointestinal environment may have a negative impact on one’s mental health as well.
How to create a healthy internal environment
There is a correlation between a healthy diet and healthy biota in the gut. Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine (digestive diseases), physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA makes the connection:
“what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora – in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Mayer said. “Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.” The full article that can be found HERE
Put it all together
When dealing […]