Your Body and Brain on Meditation

Meditation  
May 2013,  Week 2


So by now hopefully you’ve experienced it – the peace and centering that comes from taking a few quiet moments to yourself.  If not, maybe you’re still not sure what all of the buzz is about, or maybe you’re unconvinced that making time for meditation is worth your time and effort. (If you missed last week’s MindPooling post introducing meditation and mindfulness, you can find it here, along with some helpful links to help you get started at the end of the post).

If you’re in the “not certain” group, the only way to know for sure is to try a few meditation sessions or develop some mindfulness practices and see for yourself (see the link to guided meditations at the end of the post “Do You Meditate?”). Trying to describe meditation is like trying to describe crème brûlée (I’m something of a fanatic about this dessert) to someone who has never tasted it:  I can list the ingredients, tell you how it was prepared, and compare the taste to another food, but you can’t really know what it is like until you try it for yourself.

If you are in the “unconvinced” group, or maybe you’re convinced but you’re having difficulty making meditation part of your regular routine, looking at the science behind meditation may help.  You have likely heard about (and maybe experienced) the reduction in stress and anxiety that comes with meditation, but did you also know that a regular practice can have physical impacts on your body?  For example, researchers are finding that meditation can:

  1. Reduce your blood pressure,
  2. Change the structure of your brain, increasing the connections (and size) of the areas responsible for decision making, attention, and memory,
  3. Affect how your genes are expressed,
  4. Decrease the occurrences of stress-related illness, and 
  5. Slow down the aging process.
Researchers have also found that you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to gain these benefits — meditating just 30 minutes a day is all it takes!

If you have tried meditation but are still having difficulty making it part of your routine, here are a couple of additional tips:
  1. Schedule it. All healthy behaviors need to be scheduled until they become a habit. Ideally you should schedule it at the same time every day, and connect it to something you already do every day (like after you brush your teeth).
  2. Work up to it.  Thirty or forty minutes of meditation will be hard if you’re just starting out.  Start with just 5-10 minute sessions, and add 5 minutes a week.
  3. Start with guided meditations.  A guided meditation, especially one geared for beginners, will give you the assurance that you’re “doing it right”.  It will take a few sessions to get the hang of it, so be patient with yourself.
  4. Make peace with restlessness.  It’s completely normal for everyone, even experienced meditators, to feel restless while they are trying to sit still.  One way to help with this is to do some gentle stretching beforehand (yoga is actually a physical preparation for meditation).  When you do start feeling restless (because it will happen sooner or later!), don’t react — see if you can just notice what restlessness feels like in your body.  Some people have found that this is particularly challenging for them, so do your best to keep working with it, and keep in mind that restlessness has never killed anyone, so you’ll be fine!

Activities for Meditation, Week 2

This week’s activities have been selected to help you:
  1. Understand how meditation can affect your health and well-being,
  2. Be more aware of how your thoughts affect your emotions and actions,
  3. Experience how focusing on one concept like gratefulness can affect you.

 

When you have one minute…
Learn more details about how meditation affects your body and mind:  Mindfulness Meditation Could Lower Cortisol
When you have 15 minutes… 
Spend some time noticing how your thoughts affect your emotions, and how your emotions affect your actions.  If you’d like to take it a step further, experiment with the idea of “not believing everything you think” and choose an opposite thought to one you just had. Does it change how you feel?

“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of compassion for all human beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.” – Saying of the Buddha
When you have 20 minutes or more…
Try a gratitude meditation!  Many people report that gratitude meditations have a strong influence on how their body feels, and helps them meet the challenges of the day with more compassion and strength.  Here’s a description of the process as provided by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in “The Tools”:
  1. “Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you’re grateful for, particularly items you’d normally take for granted.  Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item.”
  2. “After about thirty seconds, stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness.  You’ll feel it coming directly from your heart.”
  3. “As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving.”

And don’t forget…. Please share your experiences and thoughts with others on the “Teach Your Own” page on Facebook here:  Teach Your Own.   You can “Like” the page if you’re interested in receiving the next MindPooling postsThe final two meditation posts this month will discuss mindfulness and meditation for kids!
Note:  If you’d like to learn more about MindPooling, check out the MindPooling Overview.

About Lori Dunlap

Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director and adjunct faculty member. In addition to homeschooling her two sons, she writes regularly about education and parenting issues. You can read her blog at www.teachyourown.org, or connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeachYourOwn

Posted on May 7, 2013, in Education, Health, Mindful Parenting, Mindfulness, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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