Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last few years (meditating of course), you’ve been reading the huge number of articles touting the benefits of meditating from stress reduction to better concentration.
Here are two more research areas – supporting what cave dwelling meditators have experienced but not read (cave dwellers don’t get good internet reception)- which found that meditation has very real effects on your brain and can be seen on a brain scans (which are not available in caves).
Meditation measurably reduces anxiety.
The medial prefrontal cortex is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from our bodily sensation and fear centers in the brain to the prefrontal cortex are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong neuro-chemical reaction creating a “fear response” and you think you are “under attack”.
Meditation weakens this neural connection and consequently we don’t react as strongly to any sensations we might have . The more we meditate the betterwe weaken this connection and simultaneously strengthen the connection between the part of our brains known for reasoning. So when we experience frightening or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.
Meditation improves memory recall
Researcher Catherine Kerr “found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly that those who did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain ‘their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.
Want to learn how? Check out Joy on Demand, by Chade-Meng Tan, He makes meditation seem fun and easy.
You can also type in “meditation” in our blog post search at the top to find other posts.
Yay. Sure. 100%. When I meditate it’s 50%-50% at best. My monkey mind swings from trees with great abandon, my thoughts rambling, rumbling and wildly roaming.
When the stress, thinking of “doing nothing” for 20 minutes, negates benefits here’s 6 alternative forms of meditation
(I’ve tried five of them- and they work. You can guess which one I’ve ignored)
1. Take a Musical Bath
2. Dance When NO ONE Watches
Dancing is the natural progression from listening to music. Many of us have had the horrible feeling of dancing while being stuck in self-conscious over thinking and paranoid about how we look.
Meditative dance is ignoring everything that is going on outside our own body and becoming one with the music. Flay your arms, sway your hips, roll your eyes – Let go of protecting your self image, have fun and even be silly.
3. Draw with your eyes
Drawing is less about talent and more about learning to see. Thinking actually can get in the way so that’s why this exercise is meditative.
(Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like, it’s the meditative process that counts not the Museum of Modern Art.)
By drawing without looking you use your sight perception to get out of your head- what you THINK it should look like – and be in the moment
- Choose what to draw — a cup, your foot, a chair, it doesn’t matter,
- Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes.
- Arrange yourself so you can see the object you will be drawing without seeing the paper. Put your pencil through a paper plate so you can’t see your paper.
- Focus your eyes on some part of the object and coordinate your eye moving around the outline (contours) of the object with moving your pencil to record what your eyes observe.
- Without looking at your hand, your paper or your pencil focus only on the shape of an object.
Do not look down at the paper as you SLOWLY move the pencil, concentrating on the lines, and contours of the object as you let your pencil “flow” in time with your eyes.
- Continue observing and recording until the timer rings
Just like any meditation practice, this exercise can be difficult at first but will become easier as you learn to shift your thinking from an analytical, labeling mode to one that is more intuitive, MEDITATIVE.
Not only is yoga incredible for flexibility, balance and strength, it’s also one of the oldest forms of meditation. You combining various movements with coordinated breathing to help focus on your inner body.
Watch yoga videos on YouYube, there’s hundreds to choose from – and practice them a few times a week.
Don’t get caught up with all the bells and whistles, yoga is about feeling connected to the earth and your inner body. (The last time I checked your feet were already touching ground.)
5. Meditative Munching
Remember, the power of meditation comes with practicing full focus. When your mind strays return to taste, texture, temperature. Eating in front of the TV, in the car or standing over the sink only encourages the monkeys to leap around.
Eat slowly, savor each bite – focus on the textures, flavors, aromas and the temperature. (And while you’re chewing, feel grateful for each bite of nourishment.)
6. Restore with Chores
(We’ve gone from what I consider the most enjoyable – eating – to the least)
Chores can be meditative WHEN you focus solely on what your are doing. Your monkey mind will try and take over to keep you entertained and stimulated.
Just as in all meditative practices keep refocusing your monkey mind on the task at hand: Washing dishes – focus on the temperature of water, seeing the pot become cleaner and cleaner; Mowing the lawn – examine the cutting patterns, inhale the aroma of cut grass; Making the bed – notice the feel, color, wrinkles of sheets, the tension of folds, your hand motion . . .
(Personally, I’d rather monkey around.)
There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you. and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals.
SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING
As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state. Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.
DOPAMINE & MEDITATION
Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,
Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators. The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.
No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications. Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate.
You don’t need to take off your clothes or use soap or water for that matter. Forest bathing isn’t a bath – it’s a sensory immersion. Forest bathing isn’t a hike, it’s a meander.
The idea is to go slow and let yourself take in nature – the sights, smells and sounds of the forest – notice things you might ordinarily miss. It’s a meditation which helps clear your brain, and see your surroundings with fresh eyes.
The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku — which translates roughly as forest bathing.
“There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.”
One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.
“Researchers were able to document a decrease in blood pressure among forest bathers. As people begin to relax, parasympathetic nerve activity increases — which can lead to a drop in blood pressure.”
“On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest. This might not sound like a big difference, but it can be clinically significant. Most doctors these days agree that people younger than 60 should aim to keep their blood pressure under 140.”
“There’s another factor that might help explain the decline in blood pressure: Trees release compounds into the forest air that some researchers think could be beneficial for people. Some of the compounds are very distinctive, such as the scent of cedar.”
- “Back in 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells .”
- “Another study found inhalation of cedar wood oils led to a small reduction in blood pressure. These are preliminary studies, but scientists speculate that the exposure to these tree compounds might enhance the other benefits of the forest.”
“The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is not new. Most of human evolutionary history was spent in environments that lack buildings and walls. Our bodies have adapted to living in the natural world.”
“If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming”
A Baha’i Bit
Essentially a mystical Faith, the Baha’i teachings focus on the soul’s relationship with the eternal, unknowable essence of God, and recommend daily prayer and meditation to everyone.
Baha’is believe that the human spirit lives eternally, and so endeavor to illumine their souls with spiritual attributes—kindness, generosity, integrity, truthfulness, humility and selfless service to others.
“But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13
“Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, (Baha’i World Faith)
Baha’is accept the validity of each of the founders and prophets of the major world religions, whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization – Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
“Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude… words without love mean nothing.”
The Baha’i Faith, the world’s newest independent global belief system, teaches the oneness of God, the unity of humanity and the essential harmony of all religions.
During the month of November, Baha’i Blogging is hosting a post-a-day-or-so something related to or inspired by Faith. Because so many of you follow both this blog and CATNIPblog Peggy & I will post our “dailies” here and Sunday “retrospectives” on CATNIPblog.com
The hashtag is #bahaiblogging.
We’ve all fallen into thinking “I will be happy when ___________”. Sometimes it’s a mind set we’ve been taught: Eat your vegetables before you can have dessert; There’s no time for happiness just “hard” work. Often it’s simply paddling as fast as we can to keep our head above water.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, maintains we need to get happy first and success will be easier for when we are in a good mood we work better, are more creative, and cope better.
The neurochemistry says it all
“Positive emotions flood our brain with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.”
Smple activities that will increase the “happy” neurotransmitters in your brain.
Recall a memory of something happy or funny
Take a brisk walk
Watch a funny video clip or cartoon
Hang out with someone who makes you smile
Proven ways to increase happiness which take a bit more time and effort:
1. Meditation (“Joy on Demand”, a book on easy ways to meditate)
2. Think of something you can look forward to doing
3. Perform an act of kindness
4.Modify your physical environment (go outside in nice weather, surround yourself with pictures that remind you of loved ones, happy times, trips, read positive magazines, books, videos or surround yourself with objects or symbols that bring a smile.
5. Exercise 20 – 30 min. 3X week
6. Create & nurture relationships.
7. Use your skills and do something you enjoy
The second most important thing (the first being to grieve and forgive myself) was to LEARN SOMETHING FROM MY EXPERIENCE
Learning about myself and (even while enduring the pain) what I gained from the relationship was extremely helpful. Some of my lessons were obvious. It was immediately clear that I had moved away from being the kind of person I wanted to be. The disagreements I had with my boyfriend were not worth the frustrations and bad feelings they created. I realized my priorities had been out of whack and my short-term goals and long-term goals didn’t match. There were other lessons I learned that weren’t as obvious to me and took time to discover. Here are some ways that helped me learn more:
Our conscious minds tend to dwell on the negative. Our unconscious knows the whole truth. The quickest and easiest way to access the unconscious is to meditate. Set aside 20 – 30 minutes every day to sit quietly by yourself (even 10 minutes will help). Pick a time of day when you feel pretty good. Spend a few minutes getting into a relaxed state (there are many books on meditation – I recommend Joy On Demand by Chade-Meng Tan). Just put the question to your mind “What can I learn from this relationship that ended?”. Let thoughts bubble up without trying to figure anything out. Your unconscious mind is very good at finding answers, just give it a little time.
Read everything you can on broken hearts. You feel less alone as it becomes clear that many others have been through this experience and you get ideas and inspiration that can make you feel better.
Just writing the story of what happened and how you felt will help. In fact, if you write about it for 20 minutes a day for 3 days helps a lot, according to James Pennebaker, who researched writing about emotional experiences. Putting your thoughts down on paper helps you get some distance from them. Most importantly, spend some time playing “devil’s advocate” with any negative thoughts. Ask if they are really true, completely true. Argue with them.
4. DEVELOP GOALS
Start with qualities, skills and attributes you have, want to keep or expand, then add qualities you want to develop. This will put you at the center of your life (as opposed to centering your life around someone who is not there).
Part I, Healthy Grieving
Part III, Putting the Loss Behind You
It’s well-known that I agreed to do this blog-site if I was amused . . . so far, so good. I’ve added another criteria – find information about how I can lose weight (preferably without dieting, counting calories or exercising). So far NO good.
Admittedly, part of my reason for wanting to lose weight is vanity. More importantly, the other part is for my health.
My body does not bounce back as easily as it once did (even though there’s more to bounce).
I’d like to blame it on genetics but since neither of my parents was overweight I know it’s my lifestyle choices. Here’s my take and confession (in red) on this article about “Six of the top lifestyle habits to focus on”.
1. Fight the dreaded spread
“Fat in the mid-section is metabolically active and we gain more of it as we age. That’s not a good thing. As opposed to the fat we gain in our thighs and rear, abdominal fat can lead to several chronic conditions.” (Totally agree!)
“A 2014 study found that the type of fat we consume might make all the difference. Participants in the study were asked to eat 750 extra calories every day for seven weeks. Those having excess calories from saturated fats had activated cells that promoted fat storage in the belly and increased insulin resistance. However, individuals who had had a high consumption of polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, gained less abdominal fat and were more likely to increase muscle mass instead.”
“Multiple studies have demonstrated this connection between saturated fat intake and belly fat, especially when it is coupled with reduced levels of estrogen.”
(My problem is not cutting out saturated fats – it’s eating too many nuts and seeds. I love the crunch. I think crunching food expends calories)
2. Get your biceps back
“Jump off the treadmill, if want to lose weight. If you change nothing about your exercise routine now, it’s almost a guarantee you will find the pounds creeping up. This all boils down to a loss of muscle mass — a condition called sarcopenia that begins at 40.”
“In fact, up to 40 percent of muscle mass is lost between the ages of 40 and 80. (Ay yi iiii I only have 8 years before all my muscles are gone) This alone is the kiss of death to metabolism. Muscle weighs more than fat making it a metabolically superior calorie burner.”
“. . . attempts to lose weight on low-calorie diets can lead to even more lost muscle. Studies have found that regular resistance or strength training may be a better alternative than your daily runs to preserve and gain muscle — even when coupled with a low-calorie diet. Aerobic exercise is still important, just don’t make it your only form of activity.”
(My core muscles are holding up all the belly fat)
3. Fall in love with plants
“A study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that healthy behaviors, like eating fruits and vegetables daily, significantly improved the odds of successful aging. Plants provide a protective measure against oxidative stress and free radical formation — two things that go hand-in-hand and increase with age.”
“Oxidative stress occurs when the balance between free radicals in the body and our ability to fight against is uneven, with free radicals prevailing. Free radicals can cause disease and there is an association with an increased risk of formation of free radicals as we age. That’s why after a certain age, building up our defenses (through having lots of antioxidants in plants) can help reduce this imbalance and stack the cards in our defense system instead.”
(Many studies focus on the inflammatory process being involved in many chronic conditions, including the fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue and Hashimoto’s diseases I have. I struggle with eating more vegetables and THAT I blame on my father who rarely ate vegetables . . . but lived to 93 . . . )
4. Find your own ‘om’
“The more years we live, the higher our risk of developing a disease, especially heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. All of these conditions are tied, in some way, to inflammation. A 2017 study from Georgetown showed that mindfulness meditation had a significant impact on reducing stress hormones and inflammatory proteins and a 2014 study found that just 25 minutes of meditation a day could alleviate stress levels.”
If you don’t have 25 minutes to spare each day, a 5-minute meditation helps. Or 1-minute meditations can calm your mind. It’s that easy.
5. Think about your magnesium
“Even individuals with relatively healthy diets can be deficient in magnesium. Adequate magnesium is important to protect our bones. In addition to promoting bone health, magnesium plays a role in protecting our brain, heart and nervous system. It’s also associated with keeping energy levels up and bathroom habits regular.”
Women between ages 31-50 need 320 milligrams daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. Magnesium-rich foods include:
- Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, swiss chard and collard greens
- Beans and legumes
(I take my magnesium in pill form – another way to avoid vegetables . . .)
6. Be less happy about happy hour
The American Heart Association found that heavy drinking in middle age — defined as more than two drinks daily — increased the risk of heart attack and stroke (and breast cancer) more than traditional risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease.
(I’m good here . . . wine gives me headaches. Too bad over-eating doesn’t.)
Here’s the article: How to Lose Weight After 40
We have posted about the benefits of meditation and nature. Take just a few minutes to:
Meditate on the sounds and sight of THE HUMMINGBIRD POOL PARTY.
A record 30 hummingbirds bathe together at one time
One of the more debilitating “problems” of having a chronic disease like fibromyalgia is depression. Whatever is going on in my fibro-brain is altering or dampening the neurotransmitters that impact mood. When my fibro symptoms really flare I become depressed – dog food or Depends commercials can bring me to tears and not because I use either . . . Most of the time my fiber-depression is minor and here’s one of the reasons why:
I walk my dog Freddie almost every day in the park. It’s 25 minutes of interval training. Freddie runs like crazy, stops, marks territory, runs like crazy, stops, sniffs, marks territory, runs, stops . . . I hold onto the end of the leash and follow his lead (with the exception of marking territory).
Years ago, I started saying a meditative prayer while on our walks. I repeat, ( sotto voce so as not to make others in the park suspicious I’m a terrorist) Allah ‘u ‘abha (“God is great” in Arabic – it’s more mellifluous than English). Afterwards, I feel relieved (the CALM-kind of relief, not the territory-marking-kind) and have little pain.
I was stunned to read this article on meditation and exercise to find not only am I saving time by combining the two I am self-medicating.
Fighting Depression? Neuroscience Says This May Reduce Symptoms by 40 Percent (in Just 8 Weeks)*
“. . . neuroscience research has identified a stunningly effective yet simple way to significantly reduce depression symptoms: combining aerobic exercise with meditation.
“In essence, neurogenesis researchers hypothesized that as depressive symptoms emerge, the production of new cells decreases. They noted that trauma and stressful life events are already known to impair neurogenesis, and that the literature has already established that aerobic exercise can significantly increase the number of new cells a brain creates.”
The problem is what happens after aerobic exercise: a great number of new cells die just weeks after being created. And if they don’t join the brain’s circuitry, they can’t bolster the brain, uplift mood, help a person experience resilience, or create a more robust sense of wellbeing.
Fortunately, while new neurons can die, they can also be rescued, which is where meditation comes in. It turns out that when novel learning experiences challenge the mind, new neurons are “saved.”
The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, outlined how the research was conducted: The neuroscientists developed a mental and physical (MAP) training plan for participants, which combined focused attention meditation with aerobic exercise.
“During the meditation portion, participants were instructed to focus on the present moment, refocusing on their breathing if thoughts drifted to the past or future. According to research, this helps those with depression (not to mention the rest of us) “accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.” This was followed by 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise.”
“Remarkably, the study found a nearly 40% decrease in depressive symptoms after just eight weeks of the training. They described these results as “robust.”‘
“As Tracey Shors, one of the study authors said, “Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression … But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”‘
“The researchers also pointed out that while the norm for treating depression has involved the prescription of psychotropic drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro, these drugs can have limited efficacy and can also lead to intense and disruptive side effects. Part of the excitement over these results is the fact that the practices involved are free, immediately accessible, and have no adverse side effects.”
*Read the entire article and click HERE.
Soon! Coming to a Computer Near You:
A post “Meditate with the Dalai Lama” that explains how to combine meditation with problem solving.